What Is a Gel Fuel Fireplace?

Find out if gel fuel fireplaces are right for your home.

Gel fuel fireplace

hikesterson / Getty Images

One of the main drawbacks to having a fireplace in the home is the sheer cost of installing a fixed fireplace, chimney, hearth, flue, and any electrical or gas connection necessary to fuel the fire. Not only is it an expensive investment, it also takes up a lot of space in the home without the option of portability. Gel fuel fireplaces do not have the same restrictions. They can be set up as portable, freestanding units, or you can even find fire pits, fire tables, and fire bowls that use gel fuel cans.

To light a gel fuel fireplace, simply open the can of gel fuel, place it into the appropriate space in the fireplace, then light the gel with a barbecue lighter or long matches. The fuel will burn for about two to three hours or you can extinguish the fire by putting the lid back onto the can to smother the flame. Use this guide to learn more about gel fuel fireplaces to determine if this product is right for your home.

What Is a Gel Fuel Fireplace?

A gel fuel fireplace is a low-maintenance, eco-friendly fireplace that uses isopropyl alcohol fuel and can be set up indoors or outdoors without producing soot or ash.

What Is a Gel Fuel Fireplace?

Gel fuel fireplaces use cans of isopropyl alcohol gel, which, when lit, will burn for about two to three hours. The gel fuel doesn't create soot, ash, or smoke and it only produces a small amount of carbon monoxide, making it possible to set up a gel fuel fireplace indoors, as long as the space is well ventilated.

You can find gel fuel fireplaces in many different models, including freestanding fireplaces, fire pits, fire tables, fire bowls, and wall-mounted gel fuel fireplaces. Styles range from traditional fireplace designs with mantels, columns, molding, ceramic logs, and a fireplace screen, to sleek, glass and metal designs that give the home a more modern appeal.

To use a gel fuel fireplace, start by setting it up in a safe location away from any flammable material. Make sure the area is well ventilated so that the carbon monoxide produced by burning the gel does not build up. Pop the lid off the gel fuel can and place the can in the appropriate position in the fireplace. Light the fuel with a barbecue lighter or a long match. You can put the fire out at anytime by placing the lid back on the can to suffocate the flame.

However, it should be mentioned that gel fuel fireplaces are not a good supplement for home heating. A single can of gel fuel can only produce about 3,000 BTUs, so a gel fuel fireplace that can hold three cans will only put out about 9,000 BTUs. Wood-burning fireplaces can produce between 20,000 to 40,000 BTUs, while a gas fireplace can range from 8,500 to 60,000 BTUs.

Safety Considerations

Fire can be incredibly destructive, so before using a new candle, lighter, blowtorch, fuel, or fireplace, it's necessary to take the time to understand the risks involved. By understanding the risks, you can take steps to mitigate the potential dangers while still making use of the product. Gel fuel fireplaces are an excellent alternative to gas and wood-burning fireplaces because they don't create smoke, soot, or ash. However, the burning fuel still produces a low level of carbon monoxide, so it's important that you only ever burn gel fuel in a properly ventilated area.

Ensure that freestanding or portable models are placed on a level surface before lighting to prevent the fireplace from falling over with a still lit flame. Gel fuel is a highly flammable liquid that may not be able to be extinguished with the standard stop, drop, and roll technique. If you spill gel fuel on your clothes, hair, or skin, back away from the fireplace and go wash the fuel off. Change clothes and ensure that the soiled clothing is properly washed.

When you are using a gel fuel fireplace, never leave the burning fuel unattended. Put the flame out with the lid of the gel fuel can, even if you are only getting up for a few minutes. You can simply reignite the flame when you return. It's also important to ensure that the gel fuel is only stored in the original container and that you have a dry chemical extinguisher in the home, just in case a fire occurs.

Is a Gel Fuel Fireplace Right for Your Home?

With a better understanding of gel fuel fireplaces, including the benefits and drawbacks of these home products, you should be able to decide if a gel fuel fireplace is the right choice for your home. Gel fuel fireplaces are environmentally friendly, low-cost, low-maintenance options that can provide a modest amount of heat and light. The burning fuel doesn't produce smoke, ash, or soot, and many gel fuel fireplaces are portable, allowing you to set up the fireplace indoors or outdoors.

However, the burning gel fuel still produces carbon monoxide, which can build up to hazardous levels if the area is not properly ventilated. Additionally, a portable fireplace has an increased risk of fire because it is not surrounded by a built-in, fireproof barrier. Consider your needs and weigh the pros and cons to decide if a gel fuel fireplace is the best option for you.

  • Environmentally friendly fuel with low carbon monoxide production

  • Portable design makes it possible to set up the fireplace in a variety of locations

  • Inexpensive alternative to propane or natural gas

  • Maintenance free product that does not require a chimney

  • Carbon monoxide can still build up in small, enclosed spaces

  • Without a built-in fireplace, the risk of fire is increased

  • Low levels of heat and light produced by burning gel fuel

  • Stop, drop and roll technique may not help extinguish gel fuel flames