Letter Re: Better Than Sterno

Dear JWR:
I have used Sterno alcohol gel fuel when camping or hunting for years. About a dozen years back I discovered a better product than Sterno for about one tenth the cost. My local Sam’s Club sells a hand sanitizer under their Maker’s Mark label. A two liter jug of this with a hand pump sells for as low as $5.50 when it is on sale. It has a built in hand pump and I always have one in the shop. I started using this as a substitute for Sterno when I was packing for a fishing trip and discovered I was out of Sterno. I remembered reading the label on the hand sanitizer and it said it was 70% Ethyl Alcohol so I tested it and it definitely burned hot. I know it is a hotter fire than Sterno. (A friend has an Infrared thermometer and we did comparison tests with Sterno versus the hand sanitizer and the sanitizer burned a lot hotter) and it has a pleasant smell.

Since my tests, I’ve started filling empty Sterno cans with this and it works great. My only problem with it is that the flame is almost invisible. Do any SurvivalBlog readers have an idea of some thing that could be mixed in with the hand sanitizer that would make the flame more visible? When I am the only one in the area when I am using this I am not worried. However, I would hate to see someone accidentally get burned.

JWR Replies: For use as fuel, it is best to use un-scented hand sanitizer.
There are chemical salts that add colors to flame, but I’d be concerned that they might be toxic or induce rust on exposed metal, even in small concentrations. Some chlorides might be safe, but you should avoid using any chlorates, nitrates, and permanganates. (I’ve read that those are inherently dangerous.) Reader L.P. suggested simply adding a little kerosene to color the flame yellow. She notes: “Ethanol and kerosene mix easily. It will burn even hotter with a little kerosene added.”