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Can You Refill 1lb Propane Tanks At Home?

1lb propane bottle being refilled

Paying $4-5 per bottle on 1lb disposable propane tanks adds up fast. I can go through a tank per day sitting on my porch with a Mr Heater in the winter. Do you really have to throw out the tanks? Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just refill them?

Can you refill 1lb propane tanks? Refilling a disposable propane tank is illegal, dangerous and could lead to death, injuries and property damage. You should not refill a disposable 1lb propane tank! With that being said, lots of people ignore the warnings and choose to refill their tanks to save money. All you need is a refill adapter and a regular sized propane tank.

From a legal and safety standpoint, you shouldn’t refill 1lb disposable propane tanks since it’s illegal, violates the safety rating and can be extremely dangerous. The pressure relief valve is the primary issue. It’s just a guessing game on how long the valve will last. I’ve had brand new tanks leak and tanks that I’ve refilled 10-20 times that work great.

Propane gas is extremely flammable and leaks can be catastrophic so I don’t recommend refilling the tanks, but many people ignore the warnings and choose to refill their bottles anyway. So I’ll teach you how to refill disposable bottles, check for leaks, reduce the risk of overfills, go over common safety issues, and hopefully avoid disaster.

Refilling Disposable 1lb Propane Tanks Is Illegal and Dangerous

Let’s start off by saying that refilling a disposable propane tank is illegal and potentially dangerous. From a safety standpoint, you should never refill a disposable propane tank. Refilling a disposable tank can cause serious harm and possibly death!

Remember that you’re refilling a disposable tank at your own risk! Read the safety label before thinking about refilling the tank. That should put the dangers of refilling the tank into perspective. You are putting your life in danger and assuming the risk of potential injuries and property damage, by refilling a disposable propane tank.

Propane gas is extremely flammable and disposable tanks are designed to be used once and then thrown away. Refilling a camping propane tank can lead to 5 years imprisonment and a fine up to $500,000.

The main problem is that disposable bottles don’t have the same type of pressure relief valve that you find in standard propane tank and the sidewalls are much thinner leading to pressure buildup during refills. Once the pressure relief valve on your tank wears down it can leak propane gas.

Choosing to refill your tank can be extremely dangerous, so you really need to think carefully before following the directions below. Refill adapters with auto-shutoff features help reduce pressure build up in the tank and reduce the wear on your pressure relief valve. This should help prevent leaks, but they’re always possible.

The following video will go over the dangers of refilling tanks and show examples of catastrophic events. I highly recommend watching this short video before deciding to refill a disposable camping propane tank.

Checking For Leaks

Never light a fire when you’re refilling the propane bottles, check the tanks for leaks after filling them up, and pay attention to the smell of propane during and after refills. Propane has a distinct rotten egg smell so it should be easy to tell if there’s a leak.

All you need is a cheap refill adapter and a regular sized tank to refill your tanks. Just make sure your refill adapter has an auto-shutoff feature so you don’t accidentally overfill the tank, stressing the sidewalls, and pop the pressure valve. The pressure valve is the weakest point on the tank so reducing stress on that will significantly cut down the risk of leaks while refilling your tank.

You should always check for leaks by spraying the pressure valve and main point of connection down with soapy water, checking for bubbles and smelling around the canister. It’s a 30 second test that will alleviate most of your fears. In the rest of this post I’ll go over a few safety tips and while I don’t recommend refilling canisters, I’ll go over the refill procedure.

Can I Refill A 1lb Disposable Propane Tank and What Do I Need To Do It?

According to the law, you need to be able to replace the pressure relief valve on a refillable propane tank. Disposable bottles use a built in pressure relief valve so technically they shouldn’t be refilled. A standard pressure relief valve can last for 20-30 years and 100s of refills before it needs to be replaced.

Disposable 1lb propane bottles don’t use the same type of safety valve, but you can refill them if you’re careful. There’s always a risk of propane leaks when refilling a disposable propane bottle. I would replace my tanks after 5-10 refills or whenever the pressure relief valve starts leaking. Follow the leak test I went over above every time you refill the tanks.

You can extend the life of your tank by not pulling on the relief valve to release air pressure. Push in the center where you would screw in the tank instead.

So now that we’ve talked about the safety issues, what do I need to refill a disposable propane bottle? All you need is a propane refill adapter (this ones cheap), and a standard sized 20lb propane tank. Most propane refill adapters can handle the pressure of 5lb to 50lb propane tanks and you need to flip the tank over so a bigger tank would be a pain.

How To Refill Disposable Propane Bottles Using A Full Sized Tank

Refilling disposable bottles is against the law and potentially dangerous possibly leading to death and property damage. I do not recommend refilling a disposable camping propane tank, but if you’ve gotten this far, you’re probably passed the point of worrying about potential dangers. So I’ll give a brief overview explaining how to fill up your disposable tank and try to teach you how to avoid overfills, check for leaks, and hopefully get you through the process safely.

So how do I refill my 1lb propane canisters?

  1. Avoid Flames: Never light a fire or stand near an open flame while you’re refilling a propane bottle. Propane is extremely dangerous and there’s a chance your disposable bottle will leak during the refill process. Shut off the valve on your full sized tank immediately if you start to smell propane.
  2. Release The Gas In Your Empty Tank: Take a screw driver or pliers and push down on the valve in the center of the main point of connection (look at the picture above). This will release all the air inside your tank making room for the propane. Don’t pull on the pressure relief valve! Disposable tanks aren’t designed to be refilled so pulling on that valve will damage it quickly.
  3. Cool Your Disposable Propane Bottle: Place your disposable propane bottle in the freezer for 2-3 hours before filling up. I just stick my tanks in the freezer before I head to bed and fill them up in the morning. This forces the internal air to contract allowing more room for the liquid propane.
  4. Fill Up On Cool Days: Propane expands in the heat so filling up on a hot day will limit the amount of propane that you can refill. Try to keep your full sized bottle in the shade and avoid refilling in the heat of summer. Fill up in the early morning or after the sun goes down for a few hours if it’s really hot outside
  5. Attach The Coupler: Attach the refill adapter (I use this one) to the full sized propane tank. Most adapters are designed to handle the pressure of 5-50lb propane tanks. Larger tanks can have a higher internal pressure so they may blow out the pressure valve on the adapter. Plus it would be a serious pain to flip a massive tank in the the next step.
  6. Flip Your Large Tank Upside Down: Flip your full-sized tank upside down so gravity can help force the liquid propane out of the tank. It will redistribute the propane into the bottom of the tank instead of using the internal pressure to force propane out. Disposable bottles are low pressure systems so you don’t want to force from the top into the tank.
  7. Attach The Disposable Bottle: Attach your disposable propane bottle to the refill adapter and full sized tank. Screw it on until you have a snug fit, but don’t put a lot of muscle behind it stripping the threads.
  8. Open The Propane Valve: Open up the valve on your full sized propane tank. You should be able to hear propane start flowing into the tank. It’s not a subtle sound, so there’s definitely a problem if you can’t hear the flow of propane. This either means your tanks already full, there’s a problem with the adapters shut off valve, or the top of your disposable bottle isn’t opening up for some reason.
  9. Shut Off The Valve Once It’s Done Filling: It will take 3-5 minutes to refill your propane bottle depending on the outside temperature. You can fit more propane in the bottle on cold days and less on hot days due to expansion so there’s a little bit of variance. Shut off the valve on your full sized propane tank when you can no longer hear the flow of propane.
  10. Avoid Overfills: Make sure the refill adapter you choose has a built in safety feature preventing overfills. This GasPro Refill Adapter has an internal mechanical shut off valve on the inside of the refill adapter, but some of the cheaper ones don’t have that feature. It will automatically shut off the flow of propane when the internal pressure forces the shut off valve closed. The valve should always work since it’s a simple design, but pay attention during refills. Trust your gut and shut off the valve if it goes longer than 5 minutes.
  11. Unscrew The Disposable Bottle: Your disposable bottle should be full at this point so it’s time to unscrew it. Check the valve on your main tank again to make sure it’s off and unscrew the bottle.
  12. Check For Leaks: Check your 1lb propane bottle for leaks with a spray bottle filled with soapy water. Spray inside the main connection point and around the pressure relief valve. If you see any sign of air bubbles or propane that means there’s a leak. Set the bottle off to the side in a safe area letting it drain and throw the bottle away once it’s empty. Even if there’s no leaks right now that doesn’t mean it won’t eventually start leaking so avoid transporting the refilled propane bottle and store it away from your house in a detached shed or garage. Propane is highly flammable so never light a fire around your stored propane bottles or leaking bottles.
  13. Flip Your Full Sized Bottle Right Side Up: Repeat the refill process on your other empty bottles and remember to flip the full sized propane bottle right side up when your done using it. This is an important step since the pressure relief valve will only work when it’s at the top of the propane bottle.
  14. Store Propane Outside Under Cover: Store your disposable bottles in a detached garage or shed away from your house to prevent explosions in a fire. You can store them in a waterproof container outside if you don’t have a detached building.

Make Sure There’s An Auto Shutoff Feature On The Refill Adapter

When you’re looking for a refill adapter, make sure you purchase one with an auto-shutoff safety feature. It helps prevent overfills and will increase the amount of times you can refill your tanks since it takes stress off the internal pressure valve. Disposable bottles aren’t designed to be refilled so they have thin side walls that can be damaged with overfills.

Refill adapters that don’t automatically stop the flow of propane rely on the built in pressure relief valve on the tank. This works, but pressure relief valves on disposable tanks are notoriously finicky. You don’t want to put unnecessary stress on the valve if you don’t have to.

There are lots of cheap options with a built in safety shutoff, but the Gaspro Refill Adapter is by far the most reliable. It’s the same adapter that you can find at any home improvement store and not Chinese junk like many of the others. Some of the cheaper versions don’t have the auto-shutoff features so make sure you read the product description before purchasing an adapter.

How Many Times Can I Refill My Disposable Propane Bottles?

Disposable propane bottles are only designed to be used once so refilling them is outside the safety recommendations. The side walls are thinner than regular tanks, but the pressure relief valve is the main issue with disposable propane bottles. It will eventually wear down and it can’t be replaced.

Relief valves can last up to 20 years and 100s of refills on a regular tank, but that’s not going to happen with a disposable bottle. Disposable bottles don’t have the same safety rating, but you should be able to get at least 5-10 refills (maybe more) out of each bottle. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but you’ll save a lot of money over the years.

The main downside is the valve will eventually leak and you’ll need to throw away the tank. This can be a serious safety issue if you’re not checking for leaks after refills. You can check the tank by spraying the valve with soapy water looking for bubbles and smelling for propane. Bubbles indicate a leak so let the tank drain naturally outside, and then toss it in the trash when it’s empty. Make sure there’s no open flames in the area around the leaking propane bottle.

I like to rotate through a handful of bottles and mark them with a sharpie every time I refill them. Once they hit 5 refills I toss them out and buy new instead of waiting for leaks. It really sucks when you go to use a bone dry tank that should be full and you need to run up to the store for more. Plus you’re reducing the risk of having a leak while the tanks in storage.

How Many Refills Can I Get Out Of A Full Sized Propane Canister?

Disposable propane bottles are 1lb tanks and a regular propane tank is a 20lb tank. On paper you should get exactly 20 refills out of a standard tank, but it never works out that way. There’s always some temperature variation that will cause you to get more or less propane per fill up.

Remember to freeze the disposable bottles and try not to fill up on hot days. You can go from getting a completely filled bottle to only 40% on a hot day. Propane expands 17 times the amount of water at the same temperature rating so it can make a huge difference!

Make Sure The Tanks Your Filling Are Cool To The Touch

Liquids expand when they’re heated and contract when they’re cool. The difference with propane is that it expands quickly and way more than water. It’s volume increases 17 times the volume of water at the same temperature increase. So a few degrees of heat can make a serious difference to the overall volume in the container. That’s why propane tanks are only filled up to the 80% mark to allow expansion room.

Why is this a problem when refilling tanks? You won’t be able to get as much propane in the tank. You might be able to get the tank 50% full on an 80°F day(if you’re lucky). Cooling down the tanks before fill up will get you to the 80% safety mark.

Keep the full sized tank in a shaded area and place your empty disposable bottle in the freezer for a 2-3 hours before filling up. Freezing the bottle contracts the air in your tank so there’s more room for propane. Try to fill them up on cooler days or you can wake up early before the sun comes out.

How Full Will My Tank Get?

You should be able to completely refill up your tank under ideal circumstances. There will always be some empty space at the top of the tank to accommodate fluctuating temperatures. Most propane tanks are only filled to the 80% mark to accommodate extreme heat fluctuations.

Tanks are designed to handle excess pressure, but overfilling the tank isn’t a great idea. Propane gas expands in the heat and contracts in the cold. They also have pressure relief valves just in case the tank expands past the safety point.

Explosion risk is the main reason why you shouldn’t bring a propane tank in your house, but pressure relief failure is another reason. You don’t want to have propane leaking into your house or garage since it could potentially catch on fire.

The refill valve will shutoff early so you won’t have to worry about this, but it can cause problems in hot weather. Don’t leave your full sized tank or disposable bottle out in the hot sun before a fill up. I don’t recommend bringing a propane tank in your house due to explosion issues, but you should try to find a cool/shady spot to store and fill up the tanks.

You may have to wait until the sun goes down to refill on ridiculously hot days. If you don’t there will be extra pressure from the expanded propane and the tank won’t fill more than 1/3 of the way up.

Can I Overfill A 1lb Propane Tank?

You shouldn’t be able to overfill your 1lb propane tank if you’re using a refill adapter with an auto-shutoff. Some of the cheap adapters don’t have shut off valves so make sure you read the description. This GasPro Refill Adapter is cheap and reliable with a built in shut off valve.

It has a simple mechanical pressure valve built into the unit. When the pressure inside the tank starts to fill up the internal pressure forces the mechanical shut off valve closed. There’s no way to overfill the tank! You could leave your full sized tank for an hour (I don’t recommend it) and the internal safety valve won’t allow more than the specified amount of propane in.

Trust your gut! There’s a certain amount of intelligence that you should have when filling up a propane tank. Refilling a propane tank can be dangerous, so if it takes more than 3-5 minutes to fill your tank, there could be a problem with the internal pressure shutoff valve. Disposable propane tanks have a pressure relief valve built in, but don’t just let it go until the relief valve blows out. That will damage the tank, causing it to leak, it will be dangerous to use, and you won’t be able to refill it again.

You should be able to hear when it’s no longer filling up the tank. If there’s still propane flowing after 5 minutes it’s time to shut off the full sized tank and try to figure out what the problem is. Mechanical shutoff valves are simple mechanisms so there shouldn’t be a problem, but every safety system will eventually fail with enough use.