Whether it’s for fuel, an outdoor rock concert, or a fire-dancing routine, kerosene is one of the many versatile chemicals derived from petroleum. Kerosene has been used for centuries in lamps, lanterns, camping equipment, and even jet fuel. Like all petroleum substances, kerosene has a very powerful, lingering odor that can stick to just about any room or article of clothing.
Kerosene odors are notoriously difficult to remove. Pyrotechnics technicians, fire performers, and gasoline station attendants all have problems dealing with the smell of kerosene. Kerosene fumes and smells are also potentially dangerous, because one spark can set kerosene fumes ablaze. Improperly-stored kerosene can also release noxious fumes that can ignite, or cause pulmonary damage. If you have problems with the strong odor of kerosene, here are some ways to get rid of the smell.
Uses and Dangers of Kerosene
Kerosene is a thin, clear, light hydrocarbon that is derived from petroleum products. Fractional distillation is the method used to derive kerosene from crude oil. Kerosene is usually dyed blue, or placed in a blue container, to distinguish it from other petroleum products. The chemical has many applications as fuel, including the following:
- Household fuel. Kerosene was once used extensively for heating and lighting, although the use of kerosene has dwindled because of electricity and piped-in heating oil. Kerosene is still used for camping stoves and portable lanterns. It is also used to treat stagnant water to prevent mosquitoes from breeding in it.
- Industrial fuel. Fuel-grade kerosene is often used as jet fuel, or as an additive in jet fuel. Some forms are used for lubricant. Kerosene is also used as a solvent and as a way to store and stabilize crystals and phosphorous.
- Entertainment. Kerosene is often used in outdoor concerts and venues as a way to shoot flames. Many fire dancers and fire-eaters also use it because of its high flash point. Kerosene has a low flame temperature, which makes it safe for many performances.
Like any petroleum product, kerosene is highly flammable. When kerosene fumes saturate a room, even the smallest spark can set things ablaze. Kerosene fumes are also toxic irritants to the delicate organs of the respiratory system.
Store Kerosene Properly
To prevent kerosene fumes from becoming a potential danger in your home, you need to store kerosene properly. Do not fill just any ordinary bottle or can with kerosene. Any container that will store kerosene or any other petroleum product should be rated to store volatile and flammable substances. Here are other important reminders you should follow when storing kerosene:
- Keep kerosene out of reach of children, or a source of flame.
- Make sure that the lid or cover of the kerosene container is tightly closed. The place you store kerosene in should not smell like kerosene.
- If you do not use kerosene on a regular basis, you’re better off not storing kerosene in your house at all. Buy liter-bottles of kerosene from the gasoline station only when you need them.
Clean the Spill Immediately
The problem with kerosene is that once it seeps into clothes or permeates a room, the smell is there to stay. There are very few ingredients or cleaning chemicals that can mask the odor of kerosene. Porous and absorbent surfaces like wood and carpet are nearly impossible to clean once you spill kerosene on them, or if these materials are found in a room that smells like kerosene.
Often, the only solution to the problem is to hire a
professional cleaning service
. Cleaning services have the right tools and equipment to get rid of the odor, although the cost can be on the steep side. On non-porous surfaces like Formica or tile, you can easily wipe off the kerosene.
Neutralize the Odor
If kerosene makes its way into your skin, it will take quite a while before the natural oils in your skin can dissolve the chemical. Unless you have soaked a body part in a lot of kerosene, small amounts of kerosene do not have the odor lingering for too long. Here are some ways that you can use to neutralize or mask the odor of small amounts of kerosene on your skin:
- Alcohol. Ordinary rubbing alcohol
can act as a solvent and dissolve some of the carbon bonds in the kerosene. Try perfumed alcohol to mask the strong scent.
- Paraffin. Paraffin has long been used to counteract the smell of kerosene. You can use paraffin wax or paraffin gel to neutralize the pungent odor of kerosene. Make sure you’re not allergic to it.
- Ammonia. A very weak solution of household ammonia and water can break down the kerosene. Do not use ammonia if your skin reacts badly to it, or if you think you’d rather smell like kerosene than ammonia.
Burn It Off
If you spill kerosene on outdoor concrete, you can easily get rid of it by burning it. Kerosene burns cleanly and quickly compared to gasoline or diesel. Burning kerosene will not leave burn marks on concrete, but you have to be careful not to harm other people or damage property. If you decide to burn kerosene, here are some things you should keep in mind:
- Do not burn kerosene indoors. Fumes from burning kerosene are noxious. Only burn small kerosene spills when you’re outdoors.
- Do not burn out a kerosene spill when it has seeped into a porous, flammable substance like a wooden stage.
- Always have a bucket of water or a fire extinguisher handy in case the flame goes out of control.
Burning kerosene off should always be your last resort when you need to get rid of kerosene. Like any way to get rid of a flammable substance, burning it can do more harm than good.
Filter the Kerosene
If you do need to store kerosene at home, you may want to try to filter out as much as you can of the odor. While there’s no guarantee that you can make odor-free kerosene, you can at least minimize the fumes. Here are some ways that you can filter kerosene:
- Activated carbon. Many gasoline stations have already treated and filtered their kerosene through activated carbon filters. The large surface area in activated carbon can absorb plenty of the odors from kerosene, which makes it less noxious than pure kerosene straight from the petroleum distillation plant.
- Limestone. You can use powdered limestone as a way to get rid of the extra odors from filtered kerosene. Simply add some powdered limestone (which you can get from household and industrial supply stores) into the kerosene storage tank or container, and allow the kerosene to settle for three to five days. As soon as the limestone powder has settled at the bottom of the tank, filter the kerosene and store it in a different tank.
Besides odor removal, filtered kerosene burns brighter and is a more efficient fuel than unfiltered kerosene. The good news is that most of the kerosene you can buy from stores is already filtered.
There’s an old saying that goes, “If you play with fire, you will get burned.” Kerosene may be an exciting way to add spice to your performance or a useful way to fuel a flame, but the odor is also very dangerous. With these ways to get rid of kerosene odor, you can safely use this very useful and versatile chemical with minimum risk of danger.
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