If you’ve a camping propane tank that has been sitting in your garage for a long time, I’m guessing you’re wondering whether it’s good for use or expired.
The short answer is camping propane tanks don’t expire, so it’s something you shouldn’t be worried about!
But don’t assume that just any small propane tank stashed for a long time will be good to use.
In the guide below, I’ll detail everything t know about propane tank shelf life, safety, and proper storage.
Do Camp Propane Tanks Expire?
Propane tanks don’t expire.
Propane is an inert gas and doesn’t “decompose” or break down, even after a long period. It’s a stable gas.
While the fuel itself doesn’t expire, the issue usually comes from the tanks. Remember, the tank is metal and can suffer damage over time.
The tanks are likely to malfunction over time and lead to a slow leak of gas out of the can. It’s, however, unlikely that the leak will blow up your house or tent.
I can relate to this because last summer, I came across a Coleman propane tank sitting in my garage for nearly 5 years.
I took the propane cylinder for a one-night camping trip, and it worked like clockwork.
The problem came when I needed to unscrew and pack it. The seal was degraded, and I could smell the slow leak of the propane gas.
I was struck and had to wait until it all dried out.
While, the propane shell doesn’t expire or break down, the pressure relief valve internal pieces, including the float and dip tube, are of concern.
If you shake your Coleman propane tank and hear a rattle, it’s likely the dip tube has loosened and allowed the gas to escape.
So, if your propane storage tank is old, you’d want the valve re-serviced. If it’s faulty, you may want it replaced, but the cost of re-valving a propane tank is just as much as buying a new propane tank.
Usually, I’d recommend that you replace and re-certify your small Coleman propane tank valves every 25 years .
But if you’ve propane cylinders, I’d suggest you check your valves every ten years and be re-certified.
An easy way to distinguish between propane tanks and propane cylinders is a cylinder has a DOT #, while a tank has a CRN#.
Usually, the expiration of propane tanks matters from a legal perspective if you plan to take your tanks on the public roads.
It’s not a legal issue if you’ve a fixed tank.
It’s mostly about ensuring your family’s safety and ensuring the valve is okay.
If you suspect your Coleman propane tank is leaking or the valve is broken, you should put it in a well-ventilated area.
It can be on the outside or inside, but ensure proper airflow.
Also, place it away from all flammable material to avoid triggering combustion.
Finally, it should be stored in a dry and cool place while standing upright.
Still, you must check with your manufacturer to see if your Coleman propane tank has a best-before date.
How Long Does a Coleman Propane Tank Last?
The short answer is it depends.
See, propane tanks come in different sizes and how often they’re used.
The answer to the longevity of propane compares to that of your car fuel. It’s similar to asking how long a full tank of gas lasts… it’s what propane tanks really are.
A full car tank could last weeks if you only work from home but can’t last that long on a long road trip.
Conversely, a 5 lb propane tank can provide energy for several single person meals but will last for a single meal if used to prepare a meal for a group of campers.
I hope you get the idea.
But I’m going to help.
Propane is primarily used for heat and cooking. It’ll consume a lot of it if you’re running it all the time.
The small propane tanks, also known as DOT tanks, come in sizes of between 20 lbs to 100 lbs. However, the smallest propane tank is 1lbs.
Ultimately, a propane tank’s shelf life depends on different variables, including the size of your Coleman stove/gas grill, number of burners, heat setting, and frequency of use.
A rule of thumb is a Coleman propane tank uses two pounds of fuel for every meal in a high-heat setting.
Therefore, if you follow this rule, a 20-pound Coleman propane tank will give you 18 to 20 hours on a medium heat grill.
The larger tank grills and on a high-heat setting will consume more heat and may lower the run time to 10 hours.
In short, numerous variables determine how long a propane tank lasts, including the surrounding conditions.
My ideal way of determining how long a propane tank last is through experiment. Understand your system and how much propane it uses.
Start by looking at the burn rate of your propane stove, pay attention to the different temperature settings, and compare it to the little propane cylinder.
Ultimately, you’ll have an idea of your propane usage because it’s unique for everyone.
How Do I Tell my Propane Tank is Low/Empty?
Weight is the only reliable measure. Most propane tanks have empty/ tare weight stamped as “TW” measurements in pounds.
Weigh your used propane tank, and subtract the tare weight from the total to know how much remains.
But if you don’t have a weight scale, there’re other crude methods to determine the amount or level of propane available.
1) Pour hot water down the side of the tank. Condensation will appear where the propane starts, and you’ll know how much of it is left.
While at it, don’t pour 50-L of boiling water like a psycho. A small cup of hot water is enough.
2) Use the magnetic, color-changing thermometer stuck on the side of the bottle. They work by measuring the temperature difference between the compressed propane and the space above it.
3) Once your tank is empty, dip it in a bucket of water, like those used to store keg. Mark the spot where an empty tank float, and mark where a full-tank floats. It should give you an idea of the propane level.
4) You could also hit/knock your tank occasionally with a grill scraper. The more it rings like a bell, the less propane fuel inside.
Of course, the only full-proof method is the weight method. Others are just different ways and usually a hit and miss.
But in my opinion, a good way to avoid the worry of running out of gas when you’re halfway through your meal is to have a backup.
An extra propane cylinder prepares you for the inevitable and ensures you never have to care about the level of the existing propane.
Can you Refill Camping Propane Canisters?
Yes, you can refill the portable Coleman propane canisters from other types and blends. The easiest method is transferring propane from a larger, more cost-efficient tank to your 1 lb tank.
Personally, I’ve bought a new tank in my 16-plus years of camping. I usually get the empty tanks from friends or at campgrounds by the dumpster.
It’s a trick I learned during my Scout Troops days. Back then, we used to go through a ton of propane during the year, and rather than dump them, we would recycle them.
To the uninitiated, plenty of YouTube videos detailing everything to know about refilling a Coleman propane tank.
Most propane tanks, like all refillable propane cylinders. They’re certified to accommodate full and empty pressure cycles without compromising the structural integrity that could lead to a burst.
Now, here’s a step-by-step process I use to refill my small propane canisters:
- Smaller propane tank
- Larger 20-lb propane tank
- Allen key
- Weighing machine
- Attach or thread your adapter on the larger propane tanks. Ensure it’s tight.
- Flip the propane tank upside down. It pushes all the propane down for easier refilling.
- Screw the smaller propane tank on the donor tank through the adapter
- Open the tank. You’ll hear the propane flowing from the donor tank to the smaller tank
- Now, depending on the size of the receiving tank, allow the propane to flow until you stop hearing the hissing
- Close the donor tank and remove the smaller propane tank
- Take your Allen key, and push through the smaller propane valve to remove the build-up air. Press between three to four times.
- Next, repeat the refilling cycle, but this time around, you don’t have to remove the excess air.
- Use the weighing machine to determine the right amount of propane gas to fill. Don’t overfill the tank because it needs some room for expansion.
If you handle the process slowly and thoughtfully, you shouldn’t have a problem.
I’ve heard campers that will freeze their small propane canisters. I’m sure it helps when the tank is low. But I don’t even freeze my tanks.
Plus, it’s cheaper (only a few dollars) than buying a new propane tank. It also doesn’t take quite long.
That said, there’re a couple of precautions to consider when refilling your propane tanks.
- Always do the refilling in a ventilated space, ideally on the outside or in areas with a free air flow.
- Never transport the refilled containers across state boundaries. Some states have laws against that.
- Never refill a rusty, broken, or dented small tank.
- Never leave the adapter attached to your donor tank. It disables the valve safety.
- Don’t overfill your Coleman propane tanks.
If you can’t refill your rust-free propane tanks, you could choose to recycle them at your local big box hardware store. Most hardware stores have tank repositories.
Alternatively, check with your campground to see whether they allow recycling of the disposable canisters.
Finally, after filling my small propane tanks, I usually leave them outside to ensure none of them is leaking. I leave propane tank leakers until they’re empty and throw them away.
How To Tell Camping Propane Tanks are Leaking?
The soapy water I probably the best way to determine whether your camping propane tanks are leaking.
Spray some soapy water on the bottles, and if there’s leakage, you’ll see a bubble forming where there’s leakage.
It’s what a plumber use to check for gas line connection leaks.
I also used this method after inheriting a shitload of half-full/half-empty old propane tanks from my in-laws. I needed to burn them before disposing of them, so I wanted to determine they were not leaking so I didn’t blow the entire neighborhood.
The soapy water method proved quite effective, especially when I applied the solution to the valves.
But that’s not the only way.
You could also submerge the entire propane canisters in water.
A simple water dunk test should reveal leaks, and you should start seeing bubbles forming from the water.
Another way is listening to hissing sounds.
Now, in my experience, there’s always some hissing of escaping gas when you’re screwing the valve. But it stops when the valve is firmly screwed in.
It’s similar to inflating a car or bike tire. There’ll always be a little hiss when connecting the air tube.
However, if the hissing persists after screwing and tightening the valve, it indicates the propane tank is leaking.
The final method is through smell.
If you smell propane and have already tightened the valve, then you might just have a leaky tank.
Safe Propane Tank Transport
Proper propane transport is key.
When transporting a small propane tank, you need to know where and how you position the tank.
The three main ways I’d suggest transporting your tank are:
- Strapping the tank into a sea
- Strapping it down the truck bed
- Use a stabilizer base/metal storage box in your truck
I use the third method. I invested in the squared bases for propane tank transport. It keeps my tanks from rolling and on a stable base.
Also, consider strapping the tanks in an upright position.
Do Small Propane Tanks Expire? Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Do Coleman propane canisters have an expiry date?
A: No, Coleman propane tanks don’t have an expiration date, only the container. The propane in them doesn’t expire. However, the tanks may break down over time.
Q: How long does a propane tank last?
A; the shelf-life of a small propane tank will depend on the usage and frequency.
Q: Is it safe to store propane tanks in your garage?
A: Always store small propane canisters outside and in well-ventilated areas. And in a cool and dry place.
Propane tanks are one of the life-saving and convenient upgrades for any camper.
And the good thing with the Coleman fuel is that it doesn’t expire. However, the Coleman propane tanks are a cause of concern and may result in leakage.
Still, it’s important to handle the tanks carefully and keep them away from flammable materials.