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White gas vs kerosene

I purchased an MSR Dragonfly mult-fuel stove and I am wondering whether to use kerosene or white gas in it.

I'm wondering what your preference might be? I understand kerosene is less volatile, but if it spills it creates a mess and stinks, whereas white gas is very volatile but if it spills evaporates quickly and doesn't really smell.

How volatile is white gas really? Anyone had any bad experiences with it?

All comments are appreciated.

isn't "white gas" just unleaded gasoline? I seem to recall Amoco stations calling their product white gas when leaded gasoline was the norm.

I used to go to the Amoco station to get the gas for my big green Coleman lantern and big green suitcase size, two burner stove.

Unleaded gas odor stays in my clothes and on my skin for hours. I prefer the smell of kerosene. Sometimes it is down right perfumy.

I forget what the Coleman fuel that you can buy at Wal-mart smells like. Is Coleman fuel considered white gas now?

I think white gas is a bit more refined than your standard unleaded at the pump. Coleman fuel, Chevron Blazo, etc. Burns hot and without the extreme sootyness of kerosene (aka parafin).

You'd need to change the jet in the dragonfly to burn one or the other. I think the jet for kerosene has a "k" stamped in it, and has a bigger orifice.

I'd say, depends on where you're using it. White gas isn't as available outside the US as kerosene. Can be had in some hardware stores south of the border. In a pinch, I've burned unleaded gas in my white gas stove (and surprisingly well).

Kerosene is probably cheaper. Really sooty to burn, though.

Resident stove expert Bill S will chime in with the real scoop, no doubt.

-Brian in SLC

yeah, right ("expert" HAH!)

Alain asked - "...MSR Dragonfly mult-fuel stove and I am wondering whether to use kerosene or white gas in it."

First comment - While I like MSR stoves and have several of them (including a Dragonfly), the Dragonfly is far from my favorite stove. I would generally have advised you to get an alternative. A friend did a ski traverse of Greenland a few years ago, with a Dragonfly. Midway, the stove totally failed and they couldn't get it to working until after they got home and could completely disassemble and overhaul it. The problem has to do with the needle valve - it needs frequent maintenance and cleaning, and proper operation of the stove, including shutdown (MSR directions don't describe this). They had an XGK along with them, which they used the rest of the trip.

Anyway, to answer your question - use whatever you have available. As Brian noted, you have to switch jets for the light ("white gas") and heavy (kerosene) fuels. I would have to dig the stove out and look, but I believe Brian is right that the kerosene jet is marked with a "K" and the white gas one with a "G".

Either what is loosely called "white gas" or kerosene will work. Technically, in North America, "white gas" is gasoline with no additives (a mix of heptane, octane, and nonane, plus some aromatics - um, that means ring-type hydrocarbons like benzene, um, what is called benzene in the US, not what is called benzene in Germany - confused? well, you should look on the "stove fuels" website). Ed is right that Amoco used to sell something they called "white gas", although it had several additives in it.

For "white gas", what you really want is the "stove fuel" mix that is sold under the names of Coleman Fuel, Blazo, or more generically "stove fuel" (not "Marine Stove Fuel" - that is alcohol for alcohol burner stoves). This is actually mostly naphtha, plus some additives to keep the jet from clogging (you still have to clean the jet.

Problems for "white gas" are (1) as Brian mentioned, you can't get it in a lot of countries, notably 3rd world countries. In Mexico, you have to go to a hardware store and know exactly what you are asking for, for example; (2) it is really flammable. If you spill it, you can get a huge flame. (3) if you spill it or it leaks in your pack, your pack will smell for the next couple of years, and any food it touches is contaminated and poisonous.

In addition to Coleman fuel, with the "G" jet, your Dragonfly will burn autogas (very poisonous fumes, use only in a well-ventilated area, and only in dire emergencies); avgas (same problems as autogas, only emergencies), and similar products. MSR and other stove manufacturers advise against this. Disclaimer - always follow the manufacturers' instructions. Just because others have gotten away with burning random liquids is no reason for you to try it.

Kerosene - Kerosene is available in just about every country of the world. And it is generally cheaper than white gas. It is a bit harder to light, so is safer than white gas. That's why it is used on boats so frequently. But it stinks, both just sitting there and while burning. If you spill it, it will contaminate any food it comes in contact with, just like white gas, but the stench in your pack will last not just a year or so, but years and years, plus leaving a non-removable stain. But at least, it won't explode in a giant ball of flame like white gas, just sit there burning away.

You can also burn autodiesel, jet fuel (JP-4 works really well), and some other heavier liquids (again, MSR and other stove manufacturers say use only kerosene specifically intended for stove use - do as they say). But do not, I repeat, DO NOT try to burn marine diesel, especially 3rd world marine diesel, in your Dragonfly. It will clog it up right now.

Remember, as Clyde Soles said in a stove review in Climbing Magazine some years ago, "treat all stoves as the barely contained explosives that they really are."

This website has about the best explanation I have found for the various names and availabilities of stove fuels--
(this url is a shortened version of the original and not the site name).

The site has a chart of four types of fuels, what they are called in different countries, as well as notes and explanations of what is actually in the various types of fuel.

If you are worried about flashovers, etc. from white gas, I have burned what Kiwis call "methylated spirits" or "meths" which is alcohol, in an XGK. It doesn't burn as hot as white gas so you use more of it.

Tom -

Thanks for posting the Australian "Stove Fuels" website current URL. It has moved URLs several times over the past 5 or 10 years, but is extremely useful.

Alain -
about 1 or 2 screen's distance down this webpage, it shows the composition of Coleman fuel. Also, notice that Column 2 (basically the autogas column) and Column 3 (basically the Coleman fuel column) are listed as different combinations of hydrocarbons. Some of the stove manufacturers state pretty strongly that autogas is more volatile and potentially more explosive than Coleman fuel.

White gas is NOT unleaded auto gas, and it contains very little in the way of aromatics. It is a mix of straight chain hydrocarbons. Auto gasoline has aromatics, hence the much stronger smell.

I find that white gas does not cause any long term odor problems. Kerosene does.

Auto gasoline is more volatile than white gas, produces noxious combustion products, and will clog the stove quicker than about anything else. Don't use it unless it is a fuel of last resort.

I don't know what your friend was using for fuel, but I have used my Dragonfly for 7 years on quite a few outings without any issues. It always starts up and runs great. This is with white gas. I would expect maintenance issues with kerosene.

"White gas is NOT unleaded auto gas..."

Actually it is. Here's what Coleman has to say about it-I clipped this email from the International Fuel Names website:

writes.......(Feb 2003)
(Frank Schmidt, Senior Project Engineer, Appliances-Fuels-Patio Grills, The Coleman Co.)
Coleman Fuel was developed in the early 50's as a replacement for "white gas" which in the US was readily available at hardware stores and gas stations. This was the original motor fuel, no tetraeythlead, or additives, also know as casing head gas, water white color. Was also used as a cleaning agent for mostly white materials, also a fuel for outboard motors and early powered lawnmowers. This source started to disappear in the 50's due to technology."

What we commonly call white gas is something else and should probably be renamed, but the name has casually transferred from one product to another and now we are pretty much stuck with it. However, buy a can of Coleman Fuel and you won't see the words "white gas" on it anywhere-I just looked.

See also Ed's post above.

Bill-that's the latest version of the fuels site I know of. It doesn't look like it's been updated in a while.

White gas may have descended from the original motor fuel, but it is, as you say, quite different from today's unleaded motor fuel. It has been many many years since motor fuel had a composition similar to what we today call white gas. My point was, do not confuse the two today, as there seems to be a misunderstanding among casual observers on this subject.

As engine power (and compression ratio) increased as the automobile matured (speaking early years here, not modern), the fuel would not burn properly. It would ignite prematurely. The addition of things like tetraethyl lead and aromatic compunds (benzene, ethyl benzene) increased the octane rating, which allowed the use of higher compression engines.

You could actually use Coleman fuel in your car, but it would not run very well. I have used it, in low concentrations, in car and lawn mower when I had some older stock to burn off. Even at low concentrations I could smell a difference in the exhaust.

The additives in auto fuel to help it burn well in the car are what make it so bad for use in stoves.

Coleman fuel today is most like dry cleaning fluid. Straight chain hydrocarbons.

Chumango -

Sorry, but Coleman fuel is mostly aromatics. Look at the Fuels website at what Coleman gives as the composition. It is mostly naphtha, which is an aromatic (that is, a ring compound, not a straight chain hydorcarbon).

"The Material Safety Data Sheet for Coleman fuel gives the following composition:
· Solvent naphtha (CAS #64742-89-8) 45-50%
· Aliphatic petroleum distillates (CAS #64742-88-7) 45-50%
· Xylene (CAS #1330-20-7) 2%
· Toluene (CAS #108-88-3) 2% "

Xylene and toluene are also aromatics.

Note in my comments I distinguished between what is referred to in the US and Canada as "white gas" and autogas. As Ed noted, years ago white gas (pure petroleum distillate with no additives) was available. Most autogas for years has had additives, from tetraethyl lead (popularly called "Ethyl"), to the more recent MTBE, ethanol, and methanol, plus all sorts of "detergents" (not your laundry or dish detergents, but solvents of various sorts). Techron is one of these. These additives in autogas will clog backpacking stoves very quickly, plus in many cases, are quite poisonous as inhaled fumes. That's why, except in an emergency, autogas (and avgas) should not be used in stoves, and even then with a lot of ventilation.

On the Dragonfly - the problem is a design flaw that MSR has partially overcome. The needle valve is a screw with several longitudinal channels to feed the fuel to the valve seat (a conical chamber that matches the taper of the end of the needle valve screw). The basic problem arises when fuel is not cleared from the fuel line, and particularly the valve area, when the stove is shut off. The more volatile components of the residual fuel eventually evaporate, leaving behind the less volatile "lacquers" (the higher order ones of those aliphatic petroleum distillates listed above). These lacquers do not readily re-dissolve just from the fuel flow, and will build up with time. This is also true with other stoves, but is not as critical as with the Dragonfly (the Dragonfly's needle valve is smaller diameter, has finer threads, and uses the flutes down the sides, where most other stoves with needle valves bring the fuel in from the side at the conical chamber, plus have larger diameter needle screws). Thus, even with proper shutdown procedures, the needle valve needs to be cleaned more often with the Dragonfly than many other stoves. If you do the shutdown properly, and you clean the needle's threads fairly frequently, the stove works just fine. The earlier versions (which my friend had in Greenland) were more finicky than the present ones.

Even stoves like the XGK and Primus multifuel stoves need periodic cleaning of the fuel lines. They also benefit from proper shutdown procedures.

Proper shutdown is basically (1) blowing out the flame before it goes fully down to the yellow carbon flame (prevents soot buildup in the jet) and (2) clearing the fuel line of any liquid fuel. With the Dragonfly, this means opening the needle valve fully (yes, opening) and shutting off the fuel supply at the pump valve. This allows most of the fuel in the fuel line to be burned off, particularly at the needle valve. With the Primus multifuel stoves, the hose at the pump is a joint that rotates, so the tank is rotated upside down (on the pump, there are "OFF" and "ON" labels - turn it so the "OFF" is up). On the Omni Primus, just as with the Dragonfly, open the needle valve fully during the burnoff process.

One other thing that helps clear the fuel line is to turn the fuel bottle upside down (this means the long axis horizontal, as when you are operating the stove, but with the valve on the pump on the down side rather than up as in normal operation). This puts the pickup inside the tank pointing up into the air chamber. Then open the pump valve. This allows the vapor pressure to push the remaining liquid fuel out of the fuel line (CAUTION - you are pushing a few drops of liquid fuel out - it is still flammable, so do it in the open away from any flames). Again, the basic idea is to clear the fuel line and needle valve of any liquid fuel, hence of any of the "lacquers" that would remain. And this will reduce the amount of cleaning maintenance you need to do.

I'll ditto that my first two dragonflys were POS. Sent them back and they were replaced with new ones. Until I decided to just leave it unused in the garage, or sell it at a gear swap. I've not used one since. One of my main climbing partners had the same experience. We've both moved on to other stoves.

My current favorite white gas stove is the Simmerlite. Thing was amazing in Venezuela burning only unleaded auto gas (couldn't find benzina blanca). Guy at MSR really didn't like when I told him about using auto gas in it, though. But, its performance was flawless. And quiet (my biggest complaint about the XGK, and, a minor complaint for the Dragonfly, since the major complaint was that it never worked well to begin with).


-Brian in SLC


The composition you give above results in at least 90% straight chain molecules, or iso molecules, not aromatic. The naphtha spoken of is petroleum naphtha, which is mostly paraffinic in nature, with a low aromatic content. The aliphatic compounds are not aromatic. The name comes from the Greek aleiphatos, a term used by early chemists to denote fats.

Coal tar naphtha does contain significant amounts of aromatics (like naphthalene). But Coleman and other white gas come from petroleum naphtha. Petroleum naptha is otherwise known as straight run gasoline in a refinery.

Amendment to the above -

First, it is not a good idea to burn Coleman fuel or similar in your car - when I did it, I only added about 1/2 lter to a tank of gas, so it was less than 2% of the fuel. At this level, it would not affect the fuel characteristics enough to make a difference. But at high concentrations, it apparently can cause problems with the valves (possibly too hot, or lots of pinging) as per the Coleman web site.

Second - petroleum naphtha can contain cyclical compounds (like cyclohexane) in addition to straight chains, but they are not aromatic (no double bonds in the ring). If you look at the Coleman fuel MSDS sheet (more recent than the one listed on the fuels page) it says it is 100% light hydrotreated distillate. Hydrotreating reacts the fuel with hydrogren to remove aromatic compounds (saturates the double bonds) as well as to remove impurities like sulfur.


After years of working around jet fuel which has the stink problems related to diesel & kerosene I’ve found that no amount of washing will remove the smell. BUT, one time through the dryer with 1 or 2 fabric softener dryer sheets & the odor is gone (or maybe masked?).

Not sure if there’s a way to get this to work on a backpack though.


Ahhh...the sweet sweet smell of a benzene ring...

Yeah, I'd think gas, auto or white, would be pretty low in aromatic hydrocarbons.

-Brian in SLC

Thanks for all the good information! Sounds like Coleman fuel/white gas might be the best choice and have the least amount of maintenance issues with my stove.

I like the idea of multifuel stoves though. It's nice to be able to burn whatever you have to in a pinch.

I am curious whether anyone has used the same pump and bottle with different fuels and whether they've required any cleaning in between using different fuels.

I've used the same bottle and pump (old style MSR yellow pump)for white gas(Shellite)and methylated spirits (alcohol)with no problem-however, not at the same time-no mixing of fuels in the bottle. The XGK I have uses two different jets for kerosene and everything else, so I doubt using the same bottle for kerosene or other heavy fuels and white gas or meths is a good idea unless the bottle is cleaned out first to prevent contamination.

I have used the same fuel bottle for light fuels (white gas) and heavy fuels (kerosene, diesel) with no problem. And I only have one pump for each stove. As Tom notes, you do need to empty the bottle to put the different fuel in. Usually, I don't do this, since I have several fuel bottles.

It depends on the stove as well. My brother uses an Optimus Nova, which has a single jet for all fuel types. He sometimes burns a mix of Coleman and kerosene (and it works well). Optimus says not to mix fuels, but I don't know why a mix such as this would matter, since the stove burns both types by themselves, and a mix would have properties in between those of the pure fuels. My guess is that the warning to not mix fuels is geared towards mixing fuels that are quite different.

In any case, if the fuel bottle is emptied of one type before a different fuel is used (assuming petroleum fuels, alcohol would be different) the residual left on the walls of the bottle and the pump should not appreciably affect how the stove runs. The first priming may be rich in the old fuel, but after that the old fuel would be a very small fraction.

Bill - Coleman fuel is, as has been noted, petroleum naphtha, which is almost entirely aliphatic - very little aromatics. That is why it has such a mild odor. I think you were thinking of naphthalene, which is an aromatic - it's what the older style mothballs were made of.

I have mixed Coleman fuel with kerosene in my Optimus Nova and in an older Optimus 199, with good results. You can get away with this if the stove will burn either fuel with the same jet.

September 26, 2021
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