Can Propane Gas Explode in the Sun?

Getting a new propane tank to fire up your BBQ parties? In this case, you might want to know how to store it properly to avoid any type of fire hazard. Now the question is can you store propane tanks outdoors?

Can propane gas explode in the sun?

Propane gas can explode when it’s exposed to high temperatures, be it from the sun, fire, or any other source. If it’s stored properly in a DOT cylinder with a pressure relief valve, an explosion from being in the sun is highly unlikely.

However, when propane gas is stored in plastic or other flimsy heat-conducting material, leaving it under the sun for extended periods might cause an explosion as the gas will expand and put excessive pressure on the container.

Let’s dive into the details and find out why propane tanks might or might not explode in the sub. We will also share some effective tips on storing propane gas.

Why Do Propane Tanks Don’t Explode When the Sun Is Shining on Them?

You’ve probably seen people setting up their proper tanks on rooftops where they are exposed to the sun for a long time. Ever wondered why those tanks don’t explode? There are a few reasons discussed below. Let’s take a look.

Propane Tanks Don't Explode

Propane Tanks Aren’t Full

Whether it’s a standard 20-pound propane tank or a 1000-gallon industrial one, it will always contain only 80% of the propane gas of its total capacity as per the rulings of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

The gas can vaporize inside the tank when placed under the scorching sun. Vaporized propane gas will take up more space inside the tank.

So, if the tank is full, it might easily explode when the temperature is high. However, in standard propane tanks, when the gas expands and vaporizes, there is enough space inside the tank. Therefore, the chances of an explosion are very low.

Built-In Relief Valve

Leaving 20% of empty space inside the propane tank isn’t enough to prevent gas explosions. Vaporized propane gas expands and puts a lot of pressure on the tank.

If the extra pressure isn’t released, the tank might explode eventually if it remains under the sun for a long time.

To prevent this, the standard propane tanks have a built-in relief valve. When the pressure inside the propane tank is too high, the valve opens and releases the extra gas built due to high heat.

So, there’s no fire hazard for such tanks as long as the pressure valve is working. Larger industrial propane tanks have multiple relief valves to prevent explosions.

Application of Reflective Colors

Have you ever noticed the color of propane tanks? Yes, all of them look the same no matter the size or application purpose. A mixture of white and silver color is applied to propane tanks to reflect sunlight.

Sky blue, yellow, and other light reflective colors are also used to transport and store propane gas.

As a result, the tank doesn’t absorb the heat coming from the scorching sun. This way, propane tanks don’t easily become hot even when left in the sun for extended hours.

Application of Reflective Colors

Strong Tank Materials

It’s essential to check out the gas tank material before purchasing one. In general, most reliable brands use strong materials such as carbon steel or aluminum. Some manufacturers use composite materials to further strengthen the tanks.

Therefore, even when the pressure rises inside the tank due to high heat, it doesn’t explode very easily.

The Tank Meets the DOT Standards

Some strict standards for the transportation of toxic, flammable, and non-flammable gases have been set by the US Department of Transportation or DOT. Typically, most brands follow the DOT standards to build propane gas tanks.

These containers are tested in real-life conditions to prevent explosions. The tanks can avoid overheating and thermal damage in extreme conditions.

So, no need to worry about leaving the DOT propane cylinders in the sun as they are built to prevent temperature damage.

The Heat Isn’t Intense

Propane tanks will explode only if the temperature rises above 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius). In most areas, heat coming from the sun isn’t so intense that the environment temperature rises above 120°F.

This is why propane gas doesn’t generally explode only by being in the sun.

What About Gas Leaks?

Although propane gas can withstand high temperatures, it can turn into a fire hazard and explode if there’s a leak. As the gas is released into the environment, it’s mixed with the air and becomes flammable.

What About Gas Leaks

Therefore, it can be easily ignited by sources like an open flame or static electricity. If you suspect a leak in your propane tank, there are two easy ways to find out.

Below are the details:

Check If There’s Any Rotten Smell

In general, propane gas is odorless. Thanks to the guidelines set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), suppliers often mix a non-toxic and non-reactive deodorant like ethyl mercaptan.

Hence, the propane gas supplied in cylinders has a pungent smell of rotten eggs or skunks. If there’s a leak in the tank, you can easily identify it from this bad smell.

However, propane is heavier than air and the leaked gas might be near the ground. In that case, you need to get down on your knees and sniff the area close to your floor.

Do the Bubble Test

For this test, you need to make a propane leak-detecting solution first. Follow the steps given below to check if there’s a leak in your propane tank.

  • Step 1: Mix half cup of liquid dishwashing soap with a half cup of water. It creates a lot of bubbles which will help you detect the leak.
  • Step 2: Pour the soapy water into a spray bottle and adjust the sprayer head to create a sharp stream when you squeeze it.
  • Step 3: Spray the mixture near the gas tank where you suspect a leak. Apply the soapy water near the valves and connecting outlets. If the water forms bubbles, there is a leak in the tank.

How Do I Protect My Propane Tank? − Safety Tips to Avoid Fire Damage

If you own a propane gas tank, you must keep it protected from environmental elements that might cause a fire. Otherwise, the gas tank might leak and explode upon coming in contact to open flames.

Below are some effective tips to avoid fire damage from propane tanks.

Protect My Propane Tank

Store the Tank in a Suitable Location

Propane gas is highly flammable, so it should be stored outside far from your house. Your garage or basement might not be the best place to store propane gas for a long time.

Even a small leak and electric spark can cause an explosion. Keep the gas tank outdoors to remain on the safe side.

Although propane gas can withstand high temperatures up to 120°F, it’s not recommended to place the tank directly under the sun. The release valves might go bad or the metal might rust.

On such occasions, the heat will cause the tank to explode. So, store the propane tank in a shade at least 20 feet away from your house.

Keep It Away from Flammable Materials

As mentioned, even a small spark can turn into a fire hazard in case the propane tank leaks. Therefore, you must store it away from any flammable objects and heat sources such as stoves, pilot lights, car engines, spark-producing power tools, etc.

Also, you must not smoke while working near the tank or handling it. Avoid using metal tools on the propane tank as it might create sparks.

Place the Tank Upright

Propane gas is stored in a liquid form inside the tank. If you place the propane tank in a horizontal position, the liquid might leak through the valve and increase the chances of ignition and explosion.

Hence, you must place the propane tank in an upright position and make it stable so that it doesn’t fall.

Avoid Making Any Changes to the Container

Every part of the propane tank is tested and carefully placed to ensure maximum safety. Never try to change, cut open, fix, or modify any part of the container as it might cause it to catch a fire.

Moreover, painting the gas tank is also a big no since color plays a key role in reflecting light. If you need to disassemble or repair the propane tank, take help from an expert.

Keep the Valve Shut

When you’re not using the gas tank, shut it off to avoid potential leaks. If the valve isn’t sealed properly, the gas will spread in the air and explode when ignited. Don’t put excessive force while closing or opening the valve, as it might loosen the seal.

Ensure Regular Maintenance

The key to protecting your propane tank from fire damage is to ensure regular maintenance. You must inspect the container for rust, corrosion, and other environmental damages.

Do the bubble test to check for leaks. Once the propane tank passes the requalification date, replace it with a new one. Avoid using damaged or expired propane tanks.

Are Propane Explosions Common?

No, propane explosions aren’t as common as other gas explosions. According to the sources, about 3,000 propane explosions are reported each year. About 9% of these fire incidents cause bodily injury, whereas the mortality rate among the injured is around 7% or more.

The most common causes of propane explosions include −

  • Open Release or Bleeder valve
  • Failure to detect a leak due to odor fade
  • Manufacturing defects
  • Improper installation
  • Lack of maintenance
  • Negligent transportation

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How safe are propane tanks?

Propane tanks are completely safe as long as they are manufactured following the safety standards. Once it’s in your house, you must store it properly and ensure regular maintenance to safely use the tank for a long time.

2. Is propane safer than gas?

Yes, propane is considered a safer alternative to natural gas as it’s less flammable. Also, propane combustion produces little to no greenhouse gases, whereas natural gas produces harmful and somewhat toxic methane gas.

3. What is the difference between propane and LPG?

Liquefied Petroleum Gas or LPG contains propane, butane, and isobutane, whereas propane gas is completely pure. Propane is more suitable for extreme temperatures than LPG.

Can you leave propane tank in sun?

Wrapping Up!

So, can propane gas explode in the sun? Now you know the answer. Although the chances of explosion under the sun are less, you must not keep a propane tank under the scorching sun for longer periods.

Sometimes the heat causes the gas to expand, and the lack of a release valve can lead to an explosion. Be sure to contact an expert to handle the gas tank to avoid fire damage.

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