What Is the Difference Between Propane and Butane?

Updated November 21, 2016

Propane and butane have about as many similarities as they do differences. They're both gases with a similar chemical structure, and they can be utilised for many of the same appliances and purposes-- including heating and fuel. There is no clear winner in the propane-butane debate, although many people have drawn their own conclusions based on personal needs.


Butane is not a highly toxic gas. Therefore, it can be safely, properly stored inside with little worry. You can also extract approximately 12 per cent more energy per litre from butane than you can propane, which means that, litre for litre, you will get more mileage out of butane. Butane is also a cheaper gas to purchase, though propane is more widely available throughout the United States than butane.


Though propane and butane are both gases, their chemical structures vary slightly. In scientific terms, propane is a gas that is classified as a three-carbon alkane, which means that it consists of three carbon atoms and eight hydrogen atoms. It is a derivative from the petroleum that is created when natural gas and oil is processed. Butane is a four-carbon alkane, as it contains four carbon atoms and 10 hyrdrogen atoms.


Propane is stored at a higher pressure point and contains a lower boiling point than butane, allowing it to stand up better to incremental weather and harsh elements. Thus, propane can be easily stored outside. This can make it the gas of choice for most outdoorsmen, whereas butane is not able to withstand cooler temperatures lower than 0 degrees Celsius.


Propane is almost always stored in red tanks or canisters, making them easy to identify. Butane is harder to identify. The colour of butane tanks tend to vary based on the supplier, though blue is the most common colour of butane tanks.


With a similar chemical structure, propane and butane can be used on the same appliances in certain instances. Before hooking up a butane tank to an appliance that was previously utilising propane, or vice versa, you should check with the appliance's owner manual and ensure that you have the proper regulator for the alternate gas. You can also call the appliance's manufacturer or check with your local supplier before substituting one of the gases for the other.

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About the Author

Nellie Day is a freelance writer based out of Hermosa Beach, Calif. Her work can regularly be seen on newsstands, where her specialties include weddings, real estate, food and wine, pets, electronics, architecture and design, business and travel. Day earned a master's degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Southern California.