In emergency situations and dangerous weather, you may need to use a portable stove indoors. But using any type of stove indoors can be dangerous if not done properly. You must choose the right type of stove for indoor use, and understand the risks associated with using it.
Fortunately, there are safe ways to use camping stoves indoors. This guide will explain how to safely select and use a camping stove indoors when necessary.
Why you might need a portable stove indoors
There are several possible situations when you may need to use a portable stove indoors. The ones which affect most people are power outages and winter storms. In some areas, natural disasters reoccur regularly and it’s prudent to be prepared for these. If you camp and travel to remote areas, access to electricity becomes rare so you need to plan ahead for difficult conditions. Here is a list of possible conditions and their specific issues:
- Power outages are increasingly common due to extreme weather, increased electricity demand, aging power systems, and deliberate sabotage. While they are often brief, these outages can last for hours or days in extreme cases. Don’t rely on your natural gas kitchen stove in this situation – most new models require electricity to light the flame.
- Winter storms can threaten electricity, often from damage to local power lines. A severe storm in the south may also disrupt water and natural gas service due to frozen equipment and cascading failures.
- Natural disasters include hurricanes, wildfires, floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, and unusual storms. These potentially devastating events disrupt power and other services. Understand the natural disaster risks where you live or travel.
- Any bad weather when you are off-grid can be dangerous if you are exposed to the elements. Cooking in a cabin, van, tent, or shelter may be the best way to stay safe.
Understand the risks of using any stove indoors
Using a camp stove indoors can be dangerous, so it’s critical to be aware of the risks. Indoor use of these stoves is generally not recommended, so weigh the risk of the situation carefully.
The three biggest risks are fire hazards, oxygen depletion, and carbon monoxide poisoning. Fire hazards occur when combustible materials such as furniture or walls get too close to an open flame or hot surfaces on the stove. You can also start a fire if the stove falls over.
Oxygen depletion – Do not use a stove for heating!
Burning any fuel consumes oxygen in the combustion process. In an enclosed space, this depletes the oxygen you need to breathe, so having enough ventilation becomes critical. If you are only using the stove to boil water or cook food for a few minutes, the risk is fairly low. However, running the stove for long periods (especially for heat) is very dangerous. Avoid this unless you are at risk of freezing! A catalytic space heater powered by propane is a much safer heat source (they are more efficient and include low oxygen sensors).
Carbon monoxide poisoning
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless gas that can reach deadly levels in enclosed spaces without adequate ventilation. Stoves burning liquid or gas fuels normally produce minimal CO, but if the oxygen is depleted they become more dangerous. Maintain good ventilation and be aware of the symptoms of CO poisoning: headaches, dizziness, weakness, confusion, or feeling like you are getting sick.
Your best stove choice – Buy a stove rated for indoor use
The best (safest) choice when using a portable stove indoors is to purchase one specifically designed for indoor use. I highly recommend this for use at home, or if you plan to cook in a van or other shelter off-grid. This type of stove will usually have lower emissions and safety features like tilt cut-offs (they cut off fuel if the stove falls over), making them safer in confined spaces.
Before buying, read the product specifications carefully. Look for language such as “for outdoor and indoor use” or “approved for indoor use” to ensure that it is the right type. Unfortunately, I’ve found stoves with an indoor rating difficult to find. Most of the options are portable butane stoves (like this one) which are marketed for catering and display cooking. In these stoves, the gas canister is inside the stove. These stoves are convenient, just be aware that a pure butane stove will not work in temperatures below freezing. See our article on gas camping stove fuels to understand the issues.
Best camping stove types for indoor use
The safest camping stoves to use are those which burn gas or liquid fuels. These are the cleanest burning and produce the least fumes and CO, making them the best options. Wood-burning stoves should only be used indoors if they feature a chimney you can safely route outside and above the structure you are sheltering.
Gas camp stoves – best indoor choice
Gas portable stoves are the most popular, fairly inexpensive, and widely available at most retail stores. They are available in both a countertop style (such as Coleman stoves) and lightweight backpacking stoves. The fuel for these stoves is typically propane, isobutane gas blends, and butane. Gas camp stoves will connect to a small fuel source like butane canisters or disposable propane canisters. For portable propane stoves, you can buy an adapter hose to connect to a large propane tank. If you are buying a stove solely for emergencies, one of these is a great choice.
Liquid fuel stoves – good choice
Liquid fuel stoves (especially kerosene stoves) were once common, but have become rarer in the United States. They are mainly used for extremely cold weather camping and international trips where gas fuels may be difficult to find. Some of these stoves have the ability to burn a wide variety of fuels, so they are worth considering.
Alcohol stoves – high fire risk
You will also find small alcohol stoves used by backpackers and survivalists. These are very lightweight and there are plenty of DIY versions you cam make yourself. The main concern with these stoves indoors is the fire risk. The stoves will spill fuel when tipped over and create a rapidly spreading fire.
Wood-burning stoves – Don’t use them!
Wood burning stoves are becoming popular camping stoves as many new lightweight and portable designs are released. Unfortunately wood smoke is deadly and these stoves are unsafe indoors unless the stove has a chimney AND your structure is designed for it. If you want to use wood-burning stoves indoors, install a safe setup before an emergency so you can ensure the design is sound.
Solid fuel tab stoves – not the best choice
Some small backpacking stoves are designed to use solid fuel tabs made primarily of Hexamine. They are also popular in survival gear and bug out bags because the fuel is easy to store and carry. One manufacturer claims they are clean burning, but they smell band and leave soot deposits on cooking pots, so I’m skeptical. I recommend treating these like wood stoves and leave them outdoors!
Electric portable stoves and cookers – power hungry
There are a variety of electric cooking stoves and appliances available which you could use with a battery power station. Unlike charging electronics, generating heat with electricity takes lots of energy and will drain batteries quickly. Evaluate the energy use of you electric appliances before you plan to cook with them in an emergency. If you have enough power, cooking with electric heat avoids all the issues of oxygen depletion and CO (but you still have some fire risk)
Before you use a camping stove indoors, here are some tips to help you safely use one indoors.
- Proper ventilation: It is essential to have proper ventilation when using a camping stove indoors. Open windows or doors as needed.
- Keep flammable materials away: Keep the area around the stove clear of flammable materials, such as curtains, paper, leaves, and tent walls.
- Use on a stable surface: Place the stove on a sturdy, heat-resistant surface. This is especially important for backpacking stoves. They are often lightweight and become top-heavy after you place a full pot on the burner.
- Carbon Monoxide detector: Make sure to have a functioning CO detector in the room where the stove is being used. This is most important in small enclosed spaces like a van or tiny trailer.
- Fire extinguisher: Keep a fire extinguisher nearby in case of a fire.
- Keep children and pets away: Keep children and pets away from the stove while it is in use.
- Don’t walk away: Never leave a burning stove unattended and keep a close eye on it while in use.
Be aware of what you cook
During a winter power outage, I was cooking on my propane grill and stove combo in the garage with the door partly open. I decided to grill some burgers and even with the open door, my garage quickly became smokey. In hindsight, it was obviously from grease dripping on the flames and the meat searing on the grill. While this was a grill rather than a stove, avoid searing meat or stir-frying with oil over high heat can also cause smoke indoors.
How to use a camping stove indoors
- Before using a new stove, read the manufacturer’s instructions for connecting it to the fuel source and lighting it.
- Connect the stove to the fuel source and ensure all fittings are tight and secure. If you have never used it before, consider doing this outside the first time.
- Ensure you have good ventilation in the area around the stove. An open window or a door is a good choice if you don’t have a dedicated vent.
- Place the stove on a secure, stable surface such as a concrete floor or tabletop. If the stove is on the ground, clear the area of leaves and flammable debris. Place the stove away from any flammable objects like tent walls, and curtains.
- Light stove and cook as needed. Don’t leave the stove unattended and turn it off immediately after you finish using it.
- Allow the stove to cool before you store it to prevent hot parts from starting a fire.
a final note
It’s important to consider all of the potential risks before attempting to use a camping stove indoors in an emergency situation. If you decide to go ahead with it, make sure that you follow the safety tips mentioned above and that you keep a close eye on the stove at all times. If done correctly, you can safely use a camping stove indoors in an emergency.
Want to learn more about camping stoves?
Check out our other articles: