Skip to content

Safety tips for indoor kerosene heaters

As the temperatures drop, you may be looking for cheap ways to heat specific rooms or spaces in your house. Options such as space heaters or wood stoves can seem like an easy, low-cost alternative, but they can pose safety risks that electric systems or gas and oil heaters don’t. With heating equipment being a leading cause of house fires (and space heaters accounting for 81% of those instances), it’s important that you take all safety precautions to keep you and your home heated safely—especially if you’re using a kerosene space heater.

Never use kerosene heaters as a permanent heat source:

First, understand that any portable heater is not recommended for long-term use. Although these machines can heat spaces well for the cost, they are only meant to be short-term or even emergency solutions while you find a more permanent heating system. Be aware, too, of the legal issues surrounding use of kerosene heaters in your area. Contact your municipality to confirm that kerosene heater usage is allowed where you live.

Install smoke and CO detectors:

Because of their increased risk of causing fires or carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, kerosene heaters should only be used indoors for limited periods of time with consistent breaks in between use. You should install CO detectors throughout your house, especially near bedrooms and rooms closest to the heater. They can be purchased from a local hardware store for as little as $10 but can keep you alert if the level of CO in your house becomes dangerous. It’s important to keep your eye on the heater any time it’s turned on or cooling off. Don’t leave the room or fall asleep while the heater is on—it only takes a second for it to get knocked over or malfunction and cause a fire. If your kerosene heater starts a fire, do not attempt to put it out using water or blankets. Instead, manually turn it off if possible and use a fire extinguisher. Call 911 if the fire persists.

Keep heaters three feet away from flammables:

Be sure your heater stays at least three feet away from flammable objects, such as drapes or furniture, and sits on a level surface. Take precautions to ensure your pets/children do not get too close to the machine when it is turned on or cooling down. Many machines even have cages built in to protect people from getting too close. Do not attempt to use the heater to dry clothes or heat up food—this creates a serious fire hazard. Only use the heater to heat spaces in your home to keep you and your family warm.

Consider safety features:

When purchasing a kerosene heater, these three features are important to look out for:
  • Automatic shut-off function
  • Battery-operated (since this negates the need for matches)
  • Underwriters Laboratories (UL) certification
The two main types of heaters are convective and radiant. Convective heaters, typically circular in shape, circulate air upward and outward and are intended for use throughout multiple rooms or even entire houses. Never use these in small bedrooms or rooms with closed doors. Make sure you purchase one with a fuel gauge as it makes refilling the fuel tank considerably safer and easier. Radiant heaters are intended to warm only a singular room at a time, often including reflectors or electric fans that are intended to direct heat outward toward people. Many radiant heaters have removable fuel tanks, which means just the tank—not the entire heater—has to be taken outside to be refilled. However, this type requires extra caution to ensure that kerosene doesn’t spill. If it does, you should wipe it up immediately to avoid a fire. Non-removable fuel tank radiant heaters and all other kinds of kerosene heaters must be taken outside in one piece to be refilled—once you’re sure that the heater is turned off and fully cooled down. No matter what type of heater you choose, it’s critical that you open a window to circulate air while in use. Make sure the room you choose to put it in has a door that opens up to the rest of your house. Be sure to carefully read the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure you are using and cleaning your machine in the safest recommended way.

Fueling your heater:

Be picky about what kerosene you use to fuel your heater. Certified K-1 kerosene is the only fluid you should use. This can typically be purchased from gas stations, auto shops and hardware stores, but you should verify with your seller that you are buying the highest grade of kerosene. Generally, buy no more than what you know you’ll use for any given season so you aren’t storing kerosene for longer than 3 months at a time. It should always come in a blue plastic bottle; any other material or color of packaging should not be purchased. Kerosene should appear crystal clear, but it is possible that you find some that has been dyed a bright red color. Be sure to inspect the kerosene before putting it into your heater with either color. It should be totally free from any dirt, contaminants, particles or bubbles. If anything seems off about the kerosene, don’t use it. Instead, drop it off at a hazardous waste drop-off site and purchase a new container. Although it’s normal to detect a unique kerosene smell as the heater warms up, if it persists past the first hour of burning, turn off the machine and discard the fuel. Store kerosene in the garage or another cool, dark place away from other fuels such as gasoline. You should never store a heater with kerosene still in it. Using kerosene heaters puts your house at a greater risk of catching fire than most other heating options. To ensure that you’re covered in the case of an emergency, reach out to an independent insurance agent today to learn how Mutual Benefit Group’s homeowners insurance policies can keep you protected.