How to use vegetable oil in a kerosene heater

Updated March 21, 2017

According to ChemistryLand, home-made biodiesel, made from vegetable oil, can be used in kerosene heaters. Kerosene and biodiesel have some molecular similarities, including nearly identical carbon chain lengths. It should be noted that producing your own biodiesel is a potentially hazardous process which releases harmful vapours and gases. Trying to use biodiesel in a kerosene heater should first be done outside where safety precautions can be taken in case the heater malfunctions while burning the biodiesel.

Arrange all of the items needed to produce biodiesel outside in a place that has access to electricity. You may need to run an extension cord and set up a fold-up table in order to have a good chemistry lab set-up in your back yard. Don your safety equipment, including rubber gloves, clothes that can be stained and safety glasses.

Pour 1,419ml of cooking oil into the flask and turn the electric heating element to a low setting. Heating the oil allows for easier stirring and also speeds up the production of biodiesel. Use a thermometer to measure the temperature of the vegetable oil so that it is heated to 49-54 degrees C.

Set up the balance so that it can be adjusted for an empty, 2-liter polythene bottle and funnel. Adjust the scale so that it reads "zero" with the bottle and funnel on top of it. Add 5 grams of lye to the funnel. Use a spatula or a small spoon to measure out the lye. Be sure that you are wearing goggles and gloves. Once the lye is measured out from its container, close the lye container so that it does not absorb moisture from the air. Remove the bottle and funnel from the balance. Add 1.4 litres of methanol to the plastic bottle with 5 grams of lye in it. Cap the bottle so that it does not absorb any moisture from the air.

Rock the bottle gently back and forth until the methanol dissolves the lye. The bottle will warm up as a chemical reaction creates methoxide over the next few minutes.

Place the flask, which should still contain vegetable oil heated to 49-54 degrees C, on the magnetic stirrer with the magnetic flea placed inside of the flask. Continue to monitor the heat of the vegetable oil with a thermometer. Regulate the vegetable oil's temperature with a heat lamp, which can be moved closer or further away in order to raise or lower the temperature.

Pour the methoxide solution into the vegetable oil. You may need to use another flask in order to prevent spilling the methoxide.

Turn on the magnetic stirrer, slowly adjusting the speed until the mixture is whirling around inside the flask. Allow for the mixture to stir for at least two hours in order to produce the maximum amount of biodiesel. Continue to check the temperature regularly as well.

Turn on the magnetic stirrer, slowly adjusting the speed until the mixture is whirling around inside the flask. Allow for the mixture to stir for at least two hours in order to produce the maximum amount of biodiesel. Continue to check the temperature regularly as well.

Turn the stopcock on the separatory funnel so that you can drain the glycerine. Glycerine can be saved and used for home-made hand lotion or leather cleaner. Use pH papers to test the glycerine, which can be neutralised to have a pH level of 6 by adding lemon juice.

Distil the excess methanol from the biodiesel solution so that you can reuse the methanol solution for more biodiesel at a later time. It also prevents the methanol from contaminating the wash water later in the biodiesel production process. Distillation is done as the biodiesel is heated in a flask placed within a water bath, with the water heated to just below boiling. The methanol separates and condenses into the centre tube and collects in a separate flask used for the distillation set-up.

Add 1/2 litre of tap water to the biodiesel mixture. Tap water helps to reduce any glycerine and lye residue that remains in the biodiesel mixture. It is important to remove both of these impurities from the biodiesel solution so that it does not harm the kerosene burner in the combustion process.

Pour the biodiesel solution into the separatory funnel. The tap water will sink to the bottom of the funnel. Stir the biodiesel solution with an air pump from an aquarium, which is connected to a hose that can extend to the bottom of the separatory funnel. Allow the air pump to run for about three minutes to help coax the water and biodiesel to separate.

Open the stopcock on the separatory funnel to drain off the water from the biodiesel. Test the water's pH, checked with pH paper, to see if it has drained off some of the lye. The water should have a pH of 12 or higher. Repeat the wash water process, adding water, stirring it with an air pump and draining it with a separatory funnel.

Dry the biodiesel, which will still have traces of water left in it. Insert the hose from the air pump into the biodiesel mixture and allow for it to run for three days.

Add the biodiesel to the kerosene heater and light the heater. Be sure to do the first lighting outside and allow the heater to burn out, making sure that the biodiesel works with your specific heater.


Check lye bottles to make sure that they do not have any additional ingredients or chemicals. Methanol should be as close to 100% pure methanol as possible. Gas line antifreeze or racing fuel methanol are both made of methanol. When purchasing gas line antifreeze, be careful not to buy the isopropyl alcohol solution, sometimes labelled as Iso Dry. Add 1/2 teaspoon of table salt to the biodiesel mixture if it emulsifies with the water. Mix it using the air pump. After a few minutes, the parts should begin to separate.

Things You'll Need

  • New vegetable oil
  • Rubber gloves
  • Safety glasses
  • Electric heating element
  • Erlenmeyer flask
  • Thermometer
  • Methanol
  • Lye
  • 2 litre polythene bottle
  • Balance
  • Funnel
  • Spatula
  • Magnetic stirrer
  • Heat lamp
  • Separatory funnel
  • Kerosene heater
bibliography-icon icon for annotation tool Cite this Article

About the Author

David McGuffin is a writer from Asheville, N.C. and began writing professionally in 2009. He has Bachelor of Arts degrees from the University of North Carolina, Asheville and Montreat College in history and music, and a Bachelor of Science in outdoor education. McGuffin is recognized as an Undergraduate Research Scholar for publishing original research on postmodern music theory and analysis.