Oil Contamination in LP Gas Systems - Escapees RV Club (2023)

Oil Contamination in LP Gas Systems - Escapees RV Club (1)

Liquid propane gas (LP) packs a large amount of energy into a small package. As a result, it’s an economical choice for RVers, and it is used for heating, cooking and to power the RV refrigerator when AC power isn’t available. My wife, Mao, and I run our business for six months of the year from our RV, never using shore power!

The story begins when we were camped at Boomerville, in Quartzsite, Arizona, for the annual January get-together. Mao and I were performing installations of our product, Fridge Defend®. A group of folks was gathered around having a good time, seeking knowledge and sharing stories while I worked. This is simply the way we Escapees operate, and we love helping other RVers in need. That is what we are about! A gentleman came over and asked me if I was an RV tech. I said, “No, but I can help you with your refrigerator if you have an issue.” I finished my work and went over to investigate his problem.

I learned that he began having problems with his propane system after he filled his LP tank. He had replaced his LP regulator but did not know why it had failed. His main issue was his refrigerator. When he found that it was not cooling on LP, he was wise enough to discontinue its use. I say wise because he could have created a dangerous situation by continued use. I’ll cover this issue more later. Being Boomerville, we were all boondocking. He was able to power the refrigerator with his generator, but no one wants to run a generator all day and night as it’s too much exhaust and noise nuisance for happy neighbors!

Visual Inspection

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Because the refrigerator worked on AC power but not LP, the first thing we did was open the burner housing to perform a visual inspection. We found there was brown oily residue below the burner. This was the proverbial smoking gun! We immediately understood why his LP regulator failed and why his refrigerator was not working on LP. When his tank was filled, he got a batch of oil in the LP. It’s rare, but it happens. The oil can get into the system and destroy the LP regulator, plug burners and filters.

This was the first time we have witnessed such an extreme case where oil actually came out of the refrigerator gas jet and collected on the bottom of the burner housing. The refrigerator was at least 18 feet from the tanks, and it takes a lot of oil to flow this far.

Ordinarily, oil contamination in the LP system is checked for in one of two ways: The first and most scientific method is to do a pressure test somewhere in the LP lines to make sure that the pressure regulator is supplying 11 inches of water column (11″ WC) gas pressure. The LP bottle and regulator are to the left. A drawing of a manometer attached to the LP regulator test port shows the principles behind the pressure test; the purple represents the water in the manometer. One must be qualified to perform this pressure test, so we will not go into manometer details here. What is to be understood from this drawing is that, if the pressure is 11″ WC at the regulator, and then the manometer is moved to the fridge solenoid-operated valve (SOV) ‘gas jet pressure test port’, and say 8″ WC is measured, then lower pressure is measured. The probable cause is a plugged SOV gas filter.

Cleaning the Filter

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Oil Contamination in LP Gas Systems - Escapees RV Club (4)
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This brings us to the second method. After reading the above, one can understand what can go wrong, and then go directly to the suspected problem. This is exactly what we did. We were not carrying a manometer with us; we knew that there was an oil contamination issue by the evidence in the burner of the fridge, so we proceeded to go directly to the LP filter within the SOV valve.

We disconnected the LP supply line from the SOV valve after turning off the LP gas at the tank and bleeding off the residual pressure by lighting a burner on the stove. Once the inlet line is removed from the SOV valve, the Norcold refrigerator SOV has a foam filter that can be removed with a toothpick. (For most Dometic refrigerator SOVs, the filter is ceramic and has to be cleaned in place by flushing with 91 percent isopropyl alcohol.) The Norcold filter was placed into a glass jar with 91 percent isopropyl alcohol.

Finally, because of all the oil in the burner housing, we knew that the LP jet was contaminated. This was quite evident when, after removing the line from the SOV to the gas jet, oil began running out of the line. Once the jet was removed, we could look through it into the sunlight to see how restricted it was. We put it into a glass jar with the 91 percent isopropyl alcohol to soak. Naturally, we flushed out the line from the SOV to the jet, but it was getting dark and we had to finish our job before we lost light.

To finish the job, we installed the Fridge Defend®. Why? As mentioned above, when the fridge is not cooling, it is because the boiler on the refrigerator is overheating. The only way to tell that the boiler is overheating is to install the Fridge Defend®. Thus, as stated above, the owner of this fridge was wise, because he could have overheated his boiler to the point that it ruptured. This is how refrigerator fires occur.

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How Fridge Defend® Helped

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Oil Contamination in LP Gas Systems - Escapees RV Club (7)
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You may ask, with the propane supply partially blocked by oil, how can the fridge overheat? If the blockage was complete, and there was no flame at all, it wouldn’t harm the fridge. However, because of the design of the boiler, too little heat is almost worse that too much! If the flame is too low, the reduced heat at the boiler will still boil off the ammonia without causing the necessary pumping action, leaving the cooling system stalled. No circulation in the cooling system will allow the boiler to run dry and overheat.

We buttoned up the job during a beautiful Quartzsite sunset, started the fridge on LPand checked for normal boiler temperatureson the Fridge Defend® display.Satisfied, weheaded into the desert to enjoy the evening.

The next morning, we called to see how theevening went with the repaired refrigerator.Well, we had an unhappy customer because the Fridge Defend® turned the fridge off during the night. We explained that the jet and/or the filter was probably plugged with oil again, resulting in overheating of the fridge boiler. Hearing our explanation, the customer was pleased to find that the Fridge Defend® had done its job by protecting him and his RV.

We went out to the RV again and did our best to flush as much oil out of the lines as possible and suggested that the owner have the system flushed again if the problem continued.

Conclusion

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Oil contamination can be a problem in LP gas systems. It is introduced during a fill of the LP bottle, and the oil can plug jets and filters in the LP system. Oil in the LP system is particularly dangerous for Dometic or Norcold refrigerators because they have a filter in the SOV valve, and the gas jet is very small. Oil accumulation in the LP jet or filter can result in the fridge cooling unit boiler overheating, and only the Fridge Defend® by ARP can protect the fridge if this happens. The oil contamination can be cleaned out of the system by disassembly and flushing with 91 percent isopropyl alcohol. Acetone can also be used to clean the pipes, but you must not let it touch any rubber or plastic parts. Be sure to leave the LP system open long enough for the solvent to evaporate. If you know that you have oil contamination in an LP bottle, when the bottle is empty the valve can be removed, and the tank can be turned over to flush and drain the oil.

Author

Paul & Mao Unmack

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PAUL AND MAO UNMACK are mechanical engineers. Paul ran an automotive repair business in Red Lodge, Montana, for 20 years before receiving his engineering degree. He has practiced nuclear, fire suppression and industrial process control systems design. Mao designed pressure vessels for ammonia plants, in China, for 12 years, then came to the U.S. to get a master’s of welding engineering. She designed biodiesel plants and worked for a government- funded research and development organization. Paul and Mao run the entire ARP control business while taking on engineering consulting gigs.

FAQs

Why does my propane have oil in it? ›

All propane comes with a small bit of oil mixed in with it from the refining process. A lot of oil in propane is usually caused by repeated overfilling of the tank.

Does propane leave oil residue? ›

The Bad: LPG is prone to oily residues that accumulate to form troublesome deposits that corrode or plug fuel filters, pressure regulators, fuel mixers or control solenoids.

Can LPG be contaminated? ›

Depending on the composition of the LPG product, hazardous unsaturated hydrocarbon contaminants such as 1,3-butadiene, isoprene and benzene, which represent a potential carcinogenic risk may be present in small quantities (ECHA, 2019; NICNAS, 2016).

Can you clean inside of propane tank? ›

The simplest and easiest way to clean your propane tank is using a garden hose and a brush. This method will clean light dirt and grime, but tree sap and mold and mildew will need more muscle. The next easiest way is using a pressure washer.

What is the stinky stuff in propane? ›

Propane gas has no odor. Propane companies add a harmless chemical called mercaptan to give it its distinctive “rotten egg” smell.

Why does my propane leave black residue? ›

When you burn propane, water vapor and carbon dioxide are produced. These molecules are colorless and they cannot be seen by the naked eye. Propane that is burned straight without incorporating oxygen into the process will emit black smoke which leaves soot behind on your outdoor fire feature.

Do propane tanks need to be wiped? ›

The unintentional discharge of propane gas can cause a flammable, explosive environment. To check for leaks wipe down propane tanks and connections with a solution of soapy water. If a leak is present bubbles will form. If a leak is found, turn the valve off and check the system.

Does LPG contain oil? ›

LPG is made from crude oil refining and comes from fractional distillation of crude oil using an LPG fractionation type of LPG manufacturing process (LPG production process). This LPG can be used as is or separated into its three primary parts: propane, butane and isobutane.

What is the most inherent danger in LPG? ›

LPG vapours can run for long distances along the ground and can collect in drains or basements. When the gas meets a source of ignition it can burn or explode. Cylinders can explode if involved in a fire. LPG can cause cold burns to the skin and it can act as an asphyxiant at high concentrations.

How do I know if my gas tank is contaminated? ›

The fuel contamination is usually discovered by noticing performance changes from the equipment using the supplied fuel. Tell-tale signs are a loss of acceleration and RPM, involuntary or volatile changes in speed, and sputtering. These signs mean that the fuel isn't burning as it should.

What are the signs of propane poisoning? ›

Symptoms
  • Burning sensation.
  • Convulsions.
  • Cough.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Dizziness.
  • Fever.
  • General weakness.
  • Headache.
12 Feb 2021

What happens if propane tank is not purged? ›

If the tank is not purged, then air is the first gas to exit the propane cylinder and your appliance will not function properly.

How long does it take to bleed air out of propane lines? ›

The process of purging your RV propane lines can take anywhere from 30 seconds to 10 minutes. You will know the lines are properly primed when your stovetop burner flame burns steadily. What is this?

How do you clear a clogged gas line? ›

Before doing anything, make sure that the gas supply is turned OFF. Smaller gas lines such as 3/8″ or 1/2″ flexible copper tubing or flexible stainless steel tubing can sometimes be cleared by pushing a wire or a plastic probe through the piping.

How long can a propane tank sit without being used? ›

Unlike diesel's one-year shelf life and gasoline's three- to six-month shelf life, propane can be stored indefinitely so it is highly effective and convenient for both residential and commercial sectors, and the ideal partner in emergency preparedness plans.

Should propane tanks be stored inside? ›

You should never store your propane tank in your living area or in any spot that's attached to your home. Storing propane tanks in a garage or detached shed is the best choice for indoor storage.

Is mercaptan toxic? ›

* Breathing Ethyl Mercaptan can cause headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle weakness, convulsions, and tiredness. Higher levels can cause dizziness, lightheadedness, coma and death. * Ethyl Mercaptan may damage the liver and kidneys.

Can smelling propane hurt you? ›

Inhalation: Low concentrations are not harmful. A high concentration can displace oxygen in the air. If less oxygen is available to breathe, symptoms such as rapid breathing, rapid heart rate, clumsiness, emotional upsets and fatigue can result.

How do you neutralize mercaptan smell? ›

Deomer is a deodorant for mercaptan contamination. The liquid treats odorizer parts, clothing, tools, concrete, metal, and soil. The plant-derived active ingredient of Deomer removes the unpleasant smell by reacting with mercaptans and neutralizes the odor.

Why is my propane stove producing soot? ›

If you are using LP (liquid propane) gas as your fuel source and your gas flame is fully yellow, or if you have a buildup of soot or carbon around your burners, this is usually a problem with air flow or gas pressure, "bad" gas, or the orifices need to be changed.

Why is my propane tank emptying so quickly? ›

The main cause of a propane tank run out is simply improper management. Perhaps sudden cold weather caused an unpredictable surge in your home heating, or the fuel supplier is unable to deliver due to bad road conditions or poor planning. In any case, a propane tank run out should not be taken lightly.

What is black soot? ›

Black soot is a black particulate matter made up of carbon and results from the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels.

How many times can a propane tank be recertified? ›

Requalification/Retesting (49 CFR § 180.205)

Propane cylinders must be requalified or replaced every 5 or10 years depending on the cylinder type, condition, and previous requalification method.

Should you always open a propane tank all the way? ›

You should always open a propane tank valve all the way. Most propane tanks have a seal at the back of the valve that only engages when the valve is open all the way. If the valve is only open a little bit or halfway, this seal does not engage, and the tank might leak at the valve.

Is it better to store propane tanks full or empty? ›

The only time a propane storage tank should be indoors is when it is completely empty. Never, NEVER store a propane tank with any amount of propane inside a home or any type of structure.

Is LPG clean? ›

LPG is a clean burning fuel that is low carbon, emits virtually no black carbon and does not spill. It's use improves air quality, reduces the emissions of GHGs and protects the environment. BioLPG made from renewable source or waste can further reduce emissions.

Is LPG a gas or oil? ›

Well, it's short for Liquid Petroleum Gas. Which is a colourless gas made from hydrocarbon that comes in a pressurised liquid form. LPG itself is usually collected as a by-product of refining crude oil, though it can also be extracted from natural gas streams or petroleum.

What is inside an LPG? ›

liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), also called LP gas, any of several liquid mixtures of the volatile hydrocarbons propene, propane, butene, and butane. It was used as early as 1860 for a portable fuel source, and its production and consumption for both domestic and industrial use have expanded ever since.

What are the 2 hazards of propane? ›

Hazard statements : EXTREMELY FLAMMABLE GAS CONTAINS GAS UNDER PRESSURE; MAY EXPLODE IF HEATED MAY CAUSE FROSTBITE. MAY FORM EXPLOSIVE MIXTURES WITH AIR.

What is the major disadvantage of LPG as a fuel? ›

Explanation: The major disadvantage of LPG is the reduction in the life of the engine and less power compared to gasoline. The other disadvantage of LPG is a special fuel feed system is required for liquid petroleum gas (LPG).

Which is safer LPG or LNG? ›

LNG, in general terms, is considered safer than LPG. LNG is lighter than air while LPG is heavier. Natural gas liquid (NGL): it may also have ethane, propane, butane and some condensate.

How do you test for fuel contamination? ›

Microbial contamination in jet fuels is typically detected through CFU tests, ATP tests, or Immunoassay antibody tests. The CFU method usually requires sending fuel off-site for testing, which can take up to 10 days.

How do you fix contaminated gas? ›

How to Remove Bad Gas From Your Car
  1. Siphon Gas From the Tank. After the gas tank has been removed, then a siphoning tube can be used to remove the gas from the tank until the tank is completely emptied.
  2. Add Dry Gasoline. Now add dry gasoline. ...
  3. High Octane Gasoline. Finally, fill up your gas tank with high octane gasoline.
7 Jun 2022

Can you get poison from propane? ›

Propane vapor is not toxic, but it is an asphyxiating gas. That means propane will displace the oxygen in your lungs, making it difficult or impossible to breathe if exposed to high concentrations. If you suspect you have inhaled a significant amount of propane, call 911.

Can you get CO poisoning from propane? ›

Inhaling carbon monoxide can be very dangerous for health and may even cause death. Carbon monoxide is released when appliances and vehicles burn combustibles such as propane, wood and fuel oil.

Can you be poisoned by propane? ›

The toxicity of propane is low, so very high concentrations can be assumed in propane abuse. The predominant effects observed in such cases are effects on the upper and lower airways of the respiratory tract and on the brain.

How do you burp a propane tank? ›

On your propane tank, twist the propane tank shutoff valve clockwise until it is totally closed. Next, take the propane tank hose off in the same way you do when you change out the tank. You'll probably hear a slight hiss escape as the excess pressure is released. Like a baby, your propane tank just burped.

What does vacuum purging a propane tank mean? ›

All new tanks regardless of size are vacuum purged at the factory. This means all the air is sucked out and the tank has a highly negative pressure. If the seal is broken ambient air will rush into the tank and contaminate it. The other propane tank purging is with propane vapor.

What temperature is too cold for propane? ›

A propane tank cold temperature limit is -44 degrees Fahrenheit — at that point, propane turns from a gas to a liquid. Propane can only heat your home when it's in a gaseous state, not when it's a liquid. Your storage tank keeps propane in its gaseous form under high pressure.

What does the red line on a propane tank mean? ›

A: A red-tagged system indicates that an immediate hazard is present in your fuel system that requires it be shut down until the issue is corrected.

Can a propane line explode? ›

Since LP gas is stored under pressure in a liquified state, even a small leak can create the possibility of significant gas explosion and fire.

At what pressure does propane explode? ›

Propane pressure levels exceeding 200 psi are likely to trigger a release from the safety relief valve commonly installed on propane storage tanks. This device allows propane gas to safely vent out of the tank if there's excessive pressure.

Why does propane tank feels full but no gas? ›

The bottle feels heavier and obviously is filled with propane but opening the valve produces no escaping gas. OPD valves are designed so that propane will not flow from the service valve unless it is hooked up to a hose end connection. This is the way the OPD cylinder valve was designed.

What clogs a gas line? ›

A gas line can become blocked with dirt or other debris; insects; tree roots; or even water. Alternatively, a gas line can develop a bad dent or kink in the line that blocks the flow of gas through it. The most obvious sign of a natural gas blockage is gas-powered appliances that no longer work properly or at all.

Can propane hoses get clogged? ›

A propane hose can get clogged by debris or organic materials. So it is possible that is why you are not getting any gas through the line. It also could be a faulty regulator, valve, empty tank or a leak somewhere.

What does it mean when a propane tank ticks? ›

If you hear a knocking sound as if something is bumping around inside your tank, there is likely an imbalance of air and gas inside. Another indicator of this is the flame. You should see a blue flame with a yellow tip.

Should there be liquid in a propane tank? ›

Are propane tanks filled with gas or liquid? Yes. The are filled with liquid and gas propane. Almost all of the mass of propane in the tank exists as a liquid and is a liquid because it is under enough pressure.

What are the symptoms of a propane leak? ›

If less oxygen is available to breathe, symptoms such as rapid breathing, rapid heart rate, clumsiness, emotional upsets and fatigue can result. As less oxygen becomes available, nausea and vomiting, collapse, convulsions, coma and death can occur. Symptoms occur more quickly with physical effort.

What causes propane tanks to explode? ›

When the tank gets hot, the liquid propane inside is being heated as well, causing it to expand. The safety relief valve will open allowing pressure to vent to the outside atmosphere. If the pressure level inside the tank level exceeds that at which the safety relief valve can expel it, the propane tank will rupture.

Should a propane tank hiss when turned on? ›

If the pressure in the tank reaches the same amount of pressure of the spring, the safety relief valve is opened. That's when you'll hear a hissing sound coming from the tank. That sound is the pressure in the tank being dissipated.

Should you hear hissing from propane tank? ›

A bleeder valve may also be called a liquid level gauge. It's a small device that allows your propane delivery technician to accurately check how much propane is in your tank. Should the bleeder valve not be closed tightly, a hissing sound can be heard.

Should you close the valve on a propane tank? ›

In addition to safety reasons, for LP (propane) grills, leaving the tank valve on can easily lead to a grill going into reduced gas flow state known as bypass. When in bypass, the grill won't reach its proper cooking temperature range, often getting no hotter than 250 to 300F.

Can a propane tank explode on its own? ›

Propane tanks do not explode. They do not implode and nor do they rupture or come apart on their own. In fact, bringing a propane tank to the point of "explosion" is a tremendously difficult and time consuming task that's not as simple as most people think.

Do you pour hot or cold water down the side of a propane tank to see how much gas is inside? ›

The warm water, cool hand method

This is the quickest and easiest way to get a feel for the propane level in your tank. Simply pour warm water over your tank, and then run your hand along the side of the tank. As you reach the level of propane in your tank, the temperature will turn cool to the touch.

What should you not do with a propane tank? ›

DON'T expose propane tanks to heat over 120˚ Fahrenheit. It may cause a leak or, worse, combustion. DO store propane tanks outdoors. DON'T store propane tanks indoors or in a garage, basement, carport, shed, sunporch, or carport.

What are the 3 ways to detect a propane leak? ›

How to Detect a Propane Leak
  • Warning Signs. The following are a few warning signs of a propane gas leak: ...
  • Odor Fade. ...
  • Other Reasons Why You May Not Smell a Propane Leak. ...
  • Sniff Test. ...
  • Propane Gas Detectors.
14 Mar 2016

Will carbon monoxide detector detect propane leak? ›

But the problem with all of these detectors is that they can't alert for propane. People who use propane for their heating or cooking needs may mistakenly feel that they are protected, when in fact they really are not. A CO detector can't detect a leak in a propane tank, which means homeowners could still be at risk.

What does propane poisoning feel like? ›

Pain or numbness in limbs. Convulsions. Diarrhea. Rapid loss of consciousness.

Will propane tank explode in sun? ›

Can Propane Tanks Explode in the Sun? Yes, they can. On a warm summer day, temperatures can rise quickly. As the propane tank gets hotter, the pressure inside the tank will increase.

How hot can a propane tank get before it explodes? ›

A temperature below 120 Fahrenheit is safe, it does not cause an explosion. If it reaches above 120 Fahrenheit there are high chances that an explosion will occur. If the car temperature crosses the limit, keeping a propane tank for a long time can cause an explosion. Follow recommendations from near propane services.

Is it OK to leave propane tank outside in winter? ›

Storing Propane Outdoors

When storing your propane tanks in the winter, it's important to know that freezing temperatures aren't a problem for propane—in fact, you don't even need to cover your tank when storing it outdoors in the winter.

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