Outforia Quicktake: Key Takeaways
- To check if a propane tank is empty without a gauge, you can try the hot water technique, where you pour hot water down the side of the tank and check where it changes from warm to cold.
- Another method is to compare the weight of your tank with a full tank or shake the tank and listen for the liquid propane sloshing around inside.
- Keep in mind that propane tanks are filled to 80% of their capacity to avoid explosions due to gas expansion in hot weather.
- Propane tank gauges, such as LPG pressure gauge fittings, magnetic strip gas tank indicators, and ultrasound gas tank level detectors, can provide more accurate readings of propane levels.
- To ensure safe use of propane gas, use appliances with auto-shutoff features, store tanks away from living areas, and install carbon monoxide alarms in boats, caravans, or motorhomes.
If you’re planning a backyard BBQ or camping trip, the last thing you want is to run out of propane in the middle of grilling your burgers or heating up your s’mores.
But how can you tell if your propane tank is running low or if it’s already empty? One important tip is to check the level on your propane gas tanks regularly!
This is just one of the ways on how to tell if a propane tank is empty or getting low. Other methods are as simple as weighing your tank with your hands or as complex as electronic tank gauges using pressure, temperature and ultrasound!
In this article, we’ll explore some easy and reliable ways to tell if your propane tank is empty, so you can always be prepared for your next outdoor adventure.
How to Tell if a Propane Gas tank Is Empty Without a Gauge
Personally, I have never had a tank gauge on any of my gas tanks. I’ve lived full time on a boat for the last 12 years using propane gas. It’s quite easy to tell if your propane is getting low.
My top tip: always carry a spare full gas tank! This is the main reason I’ve avoided inconvenient situations, especially since I don’t always remember to check the level of my gas.
4 Basic Methods to Check a Gas tank Level
Here are some very simple, non-technical ways to check if your propane is running out.
- It smells like rotten cabbages! Propane gas tanks have a stinky cabbage smell to indicate a gas leak. When they start running low, the smell is strongest when it’s at the bottom of the tank. So, you can often ‘smell cabbages’ a little before the gas completely runs out.
- Compare the weight of the tank to a full tank. I usually have a full spare gas tank alongside the one that I’m using. I lift each one manually to check how full the one I’m using is. (Not recommended for those with back problems!)
- Shake the tank and listen! You can gently rock the tank from side to side and listen to hear how much liquid propane is sloshing around inside. This takes a little more practice, but you will soon get the hang of it.
- Hot water technique. If you pour hot water down the side of your gas tank, you can tell how much gas is left by where on the tank it changes from warm to cold.
The Hot Water Technique
The LPG (Liquid Pressurized Gas) in the tank is a colder temperature than the air.
When hot water runs down the side of the tank, it makes the empty part of the tank warmer.
When the hot water gets to the level of the tank with gas in, the cold gas draws the heat out of it. The propane gas then makes the side of the tank cold. So, if you feel down the side of the tank with your hand, you should be able to tell the difference in temperature.
This cold part of the tank is how much LPG (propane) you have left.
This isn’t as accurate as using a tank gauge, but you will at least know whether you can finish cooking your meal or have a shower!
Take note: you don’t need to use boiling water.
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How Much Does a Tank of Propane Weigh When Full or Empty?
The first thing to know is that there are different sizes and weights of propane tank.
The most common sizes for propane gas for camping and vehicles are:
- 100 lbs (45.4 kg)
- 40 lbs (18 kg)
- 30 lbs (14 kg)
- 20 lbs (9.1 kg)
- 11 lbs (5 kg)
- 5 lbs (2.3 kg)
- 1 lb (454 g)
You can buy much bigger gas tanks for homes and small businesses, and even enormous tanks for industry. A tank for heating a home or a cooking business such as a burger stall can be 47kg/103 lb!
The weight of the gas tank on its own (without the gas inside) is called the Tare Weight. The Tare Weight of a container is the weight of the empty container without goods in it.
To find out the weight of the gas you have left using the Tare Weight:
- Check the metal collar on top of the gas tank. There should be some numbers and letters. The letters will say ‘T.C.’ or T.W.’ followed by the numbers.
This means ‘Tare Weight’. So, a 9kg (20 lbs) tank of gas may have a Tare Weight of 8.1kg (18 lbs).
- Weigh the tank. You can use bathroom scales or luggage scales, anything that will take that sort of weight.
- If the tank with the gas in weighs 11kg (24 lbs), take away the tare weight from this. So, if the tare weight of your 9kg (20 lbs) tank is 8.1kg (18 lbs) and the tank weighs 11kg (24 lbs) on the scale, the difference is 11kg – 8.1kg = 3.9kg (8.6 lbs). A full gas tank would weigh 9kg + 8.1kg = 17.1kg (37.7 lb).
- So you have 3.9kg of your 9kg of gas left in the tank. That’s 43% or just under half full.
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Are There Different Gas Tank Measurements for Different Countries?
Propane can also be measured in lbs (pounds) or gallons.
A 20lbs (9.1 kg) tank is standard for small cookers in caravans or motorhomes. A 30lbs (14 kg) tank is often used for BBQs and gas grills in the US.
How Long Does 10 Pounds (4.5 kg) of Propane Last?
It depends what you’re using it for! To find out, you need your appliance’s BTU rating and the size of your propane tank.
As a large burner or home gas eating system will use a lot more gas than a camping stove, you need to judge this against the BTU rating of your appliance.
You can find the BTU rating on the box your appliance came in, or on the manufacturer’s website. You can also use a handy gas calculator to get an estimate idea on how much propane gas in your tank.
Using this calculator, a 2-ring gas stove would use up 1lb (454 g) of gas in 1 hour if you were using both the rings at full power.
A 3-burner grill gives up to ten hours per 10 pounds (4.5 kg) of propane.
A 3-burner grill will give you roughly one hour of cook time per pound of propane. So, depending on how many burner rings you are using and at what temperature, you would get up to 10 hours of cooking time from 10 pounds (4.5 kg) of propane.
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How to Check a Propane Tank Gauge
Look near the top of your gas tank, where the rubber hose goes into the cylinder. If it is fitted with a tank gauge, so you should see a dial that looks like a speedometer on a car!
The gas gauge usually tells you what percentage of gas is left in the tank. Not how many pounds/kg of gas there is left!
Propane tanks are filled to 80% of their capacity when sold as full. This is to ensure the gas doesn’t explode when it expands in hot weather. So, if your gauge reads 80, you have a full tank.
If your gauge is reading 30 or below, it’s time to go get some more gas!
What Kind of Tank Gauge Is Best?
There are many kinds of gas tank gauge. Here are three of the most common:
LPG Pressure Gauge Fitting
This is good value for money. It fits between the cylinder valve and the gas regulator. It isn’t that accurate, however.
It’s more of an indicator that your gas is running low. Sometimes, these can make the flow of gas slower. You can also use it to check if the gas hose or appliance is leaking.
Magnetic Strip Gas Tank Indicator
This is pretty simple to use! Just stick the magnetic strip onto the lower part of your gas tank. It works by measuring the temperature of the tank. Read the strip on the left in winter and the strip on the right in summer. Some reviews say this is not a very accurate method. You can also reuse them.
One problem I can see is access to your gas tank. You will need to have a good view of the bottom of your tanks. Easy in a camping/BBQ situation. Less easy in the dark depths of a vehicle gas locker!
Ultrasound Gas tank Level Detector
This simple device works by projecting an ultrasound beam through the side of your gas tank. Just like how we can see a baby in the womb!
A green light goes on if there is gas where you have your device is pointed. A red light goes on if there isn’t gas there. You will need to move the device up and down the side of the tank to find the gas level.
This can be a bit of tough if your gas tank is in a gas locker or hard to reach. Also, the angle of the device to the tank needs to be exactly 90 degrees. So you need a lot of space around the tank for it to work.
It will work well enough in a camping or BBQ situation, though!
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Tips For Using Propane Gas
Here are some tips for using propane gas that might help you out:
- Use appliances that shut off when they detect a gas leak.
- Turn gas off at the valves when you go to bed or if you are going out for a while.
- Never use a gas cooker or appliance inside a tent or other small shelter. Keep it outside and use it outside.
- Unscrew or take off gas tanks from your cooker/appliance when you aren’t using it.
- Store the gas tanks away from living and sleeping areas.
- Get a carbon monoxide alarm for your boat, caravan, or motorhome. Check the batteries by using the test button regularly.
- Do the smell test – can you smell a stinky cabbage smell? This is the chemical added to propane to make you aware there’s a leak.
- Keep naked flames and cigarettes away from gas tanks.
Refilling or Exchanging an Empty Propane Tank
In many places, you can exchange your empty propane tank for a full one. Here’s what I do: when the gas boat comes along, we exchange tanks! Easy peasy. This is pretty simple and doesn’t involve anything technical on your part, too.
The downside is that it’s more expensive than refilling your existing tank. You also lose whatever is left over in the tank.
You can also opt to refill your gas tank, which is usually cheaper than exchanging.
You can also opt to refill your propane tank, which is usually cheaper than exchanging. This is a good option if you have a propane dealer near you. In some places, they can even fill it for you! Neat.
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Is it safe to use a gas tank lying on its side?
No, you mustn’t use a propane gas tank lying on its side. You must keep it upright. The safety valves on the top of the tank are designed to work properly if it is upright. If it’s used horizontally, the liquid gas may leak out.
Is propane better than butane gas?
Propane is easier to store at low temperatures and burns hotter. It is more commonly sold in countries which are cold.
Butane is a bit cheaper, but harder to store at low temperatures. Butane can be used for indoor heaters. Propane needs more ventilation to be safe for use.
So, it depends whether you want to use it inside or outside. Also consider what temperature the environment is.
How can I use propane gas indoors?
You can use the propane gas indoors if the actual tank is stored outside. This is the purpose of gas lockers, and why you see gas canisters outside a home or vehicle.
A rubber hose or gas pipe connects the tank to the indoor appliances. This must be checked for leaks regularly by a qualified person.
What is a gas locker?
This is a place to store gas canisters away from an indoor place where there’s more risk if they leak. Oftentimes, it’ll be just outside a main living area and have ventilation at the bottom. This is to allow any leaked gas to seep away.