alcohol stove

A photo of a hand holding a trangia alcohol burner

Alcohol is a good alternative to LPG. It is a simple stand alone system, without high-pressure lines, sniffers or tanks

There are four common types of stove alcohol: denatured alcohol, ethanol, isopropanol and methanol.

They're found in hardware stores (sometimes), marine, RV and camping stores. For an alcohol stove to burn cleanly, you need the fuel to be at 90% purity(180 proof), or better. All the stove manufacturer means is that the water content of the fuel should be as low as conveniently possible (below 10%).

Best fuels

Denatured alcohol. Basically ethanol(high-proof alcohol) with additives (10-50% isopropyl alcohol, acetone, methyl ethyl ketone, or methyl isobutyl ketone), made to taste bad to discourage people from drinking it.

Other names: methylated spirits, meths, denatured rectified spirit or bio-ethanol.

Ethanol. A high-proof alcohol fuel which can be distilled from a wide variety of biomass feedstock. It is the next best thing, but is often more expensive, and heavily taxed. It burns cleanly, the flame is colorless (be careful) and it is non-toxic.

Other names: ethyl alcohol, ethyl hydrate, grain alcohol or drinking alcohol.

Worst fuels

Isopropanol. Is sold with different levels of purity (70%, 95%, 99% etc), with water added. It is toxic if consumed, it burns with hot flame, the flame is odorless but it leaves dirty residue(stains pots, and can clog burners).

Other names: isopropyl alcohol, propan-2-ol, 2-propanol, IPA and rubbing alcohol.

Methanol. Was once produced by the destructive distillation of wood, but is now mainly produced industrially by hydrogenation of carbon monoxide. It is often added to denatured alcohol to render it undrinkable. It burns cleanly, it has the coolest flame, the flame is colorless and is VERY toxic if ingested. Methanol is absorbed through the skin, stomach, or lungs and much of it becomes formaldehyde in the body, which changes to formic acid in the liver. Formic acid can cause death or damage to the brain or optic nerve leading to blindness.

Other names: methyl hydrate, wood alcohol or carbinol).

Alcohol Stove Instructions:

An Origo alcohol stove in a sailboat galley, there is a moka pot and a cast-iron pot overtop

Origo model. A non-pressurized alcohol stove performs just as well as LPG. The Origo stove model has either one, or two canisters, that each accommodate 1.2 L of fuel. Each canister lasts 1 week of regular usage, this includes 3 meals a day, plus coffee and tea in evenings. Marine alcohol stoves have fuel cannisters filled with an absorbent material to prevent spillage, an important safety feature if cooking whilst sailing. Fully filled but never used, an alcohol stove canister will dry from evaporation in two or three months.

A photo of an alcohol burner nestled in a woodstove heating a kettle of water

Stand-alone burner. Our woodstove from Navigator Stoveworks makes a drop-in burner that fits into the stove top. Fuel is added to the burner and ignited. The heat vaporizes the fuel and forces it out of 23 or 24 jets around the top of the burner, where it ignites and produces a steady cooking flame. The burner includes a removable "simmer ring", that partially blocks the flame in order to reduce heat the output. On a 2 oz. filling of alcohol the flame will run for 20 min.

We found an Origo Stove for cheap in 2020 with plans to switch away from lpg if we enjoyed the experience, but we found that denatured alcohol was very hard to find, and expensive to get in Canada. We did enjoy cooking with alcohol though. We sold the Origo and instead bought a secondhand drop-in alcohol burner for our woodstove. The drop-in takes up less room, and has fewer parts that can degrade or fail.

In Canada people burn methyl hydrate(methanol) because its cheap and found everywhere, but we don't like the idea of handling this poison. We plan to use our drop-in burner in the summer, but only ever with denatured alcohol or ethanol. Both of these options are more expensive, but we are not willing to compromise our health.