ROMANCE: Entertaining, Trends
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Fireplaces, Fire Pots

and How to Make the Elusive Fuel Gel


FEBRUARY 18, 2012: I love fireplaces.  I love the way the sound, how they look, the wonderful warmth they bring and the romantic aura they produce.  I've always wanted one in my bedroom…and I have had one when I've lived in a house.  However, in an apartment, they are rare.  That's changed with the development of portable fireplaces that are either electric or use fuel gel. 

Portable fireplaces may be stand-alone pieces of furniture with electric or fuel gel created flames. Recently, wall mounted versions have appeared that are the size of a standard 27" television and thus allow for the romance of a fireplace to appear anywhere in your home. With the fuel gel fireplaces, the flames are real and don't put off fumes or smoke.  Therefore, with fireplace lovers like myself, these are the preferred choice…except for one small issue: fuel gel.

In mid-2011 a massive recall of fuel gel occurred in the United States due to people not taking precautions with a flammable liquid. Make no mistake, fuel gel is flammable and when lit, will burn you.  It burns cleanly so the flame in a lit room is often difficult to see.  Common sense dictates not leaving firepots or fireplaces with fuel gel in areas where children, pets or inebriated people might stumble upon them.  In the absence of common sense, lawsuits force products off the market. This means that though fuel gel is an excellent alternative, it is very difficult to find and expensive when found, usually online. As a result of other peoples' lack of common sense, fuel gel for firepots and fireplaces virtually disappeared off the market.  This makes the purchase of fuel gel fireplaces and firepots somewhat cost prohibitive due to the fuel cost and scarcity…or does it?

I have two little firepots that I'll bring indoors during the winter to create a romantic mood.  The sad little pots have been sitting on my balcony unused since the fuel gel recall as the cost of the fuel, about $60 for 14 days worth is a little outside my budget right now. I miss my firepots.  I tried burning rubbing alcohol from the 99 Cents store.  That worked for about 10 minutes. I tried cooking oil (works with floating candles).  No go.  I thought about using petroleum jelly, but decided that wasn't a good idea. Finally I decided to find out which chemicals are used to make fuel gel, and if they are readily available.



•    White Distilled Vinegar (Grocery Store): 4 Cups
•    90-99% Isopropyl (Grainger or Stanley Supply): 1 Gallon
•    Calcium Carbonate (Amazon): 1 Cup
•    Cooking Oil (Grocery Store): 2T
•    Metal containers (old soup or dog food cans work great):
         6 12oz cans, 12-6oz cans
         or gallon containers to store the finished product in.
•    Cheesecloth
•    Large Glass Bowl or casserole dish (capable of holding ½ gallon)
•    6 quart cooking pot
•    Wide mouthed funnel
•    Common Sense

Total cost is about $14-$18 per gallon of gel fuel.

Note: If you're able to find 1 cup of powdered Calcium Acetate, you will not need the vinegar and Calcium Carbonate.  Instead you'll need ¼ -1/3 cup water.

Warning: These instructions are not intended for use by children or persons under the influence of alcohol or other mind-altering substances. Instructions should be carried out in a well-ventilated outdoor area and under the supervision of a competent adult.


As fate would have it, my attempt at using rubbing alcohol was fortuitous. Isopropyl is the main ingredient in fuel gel, just not the watered down 50% concentration found at most stores. You need at least 90% Isopropyl for it to work. Finding that is difficult in a large enough quantity for it to be cost effective. After several hours of fruitless searching, I finally discovered it in gallon containers with 99% concentration at a store most major cities have: Grainger, Medique brand, item number 3WHL2 . It runs about $11/gallon when purchased onsite. Stanley Supply and Services also carries a gallon version by Techspray for about $30 + s/h.

That took care of ingredient #1.  The second ingredient would prove even more elusive: non-toxic calcium acetate. Again I spent at least an hour searching the Internet for this compound in bulk form and was unable to find a place to purchase it. Looking at the chemical composition of calcium acetate, I discovered it is calcium carbonate and vinegar. Combining the two creates a reaction forming that releases carbon dioxide and smells a lot like rotten eggs.

To create calcium acetate you need to combine 1 part calcium carbonate to 4 parts white vinegar…outside. Add the vinegar in parts.  It will bubble up.  Keep adding and stirring until the bubbles disappear.  You'll be left with a solid on the bottom and liquid on top.  It's the solid (Calcium Acetate) you want. You can either wait for 75% of the liquid to evaporate in the sun, cook it in the oven for a few hours at 200 (98 degrees C) or speed up the process using a cheesecloth as a strainer. You will need some of the water to create the gel, but in limited amounts.

Left: Benji in San Diego has created this excellent YouTube Video to walk you through this process. It was his posting that led me to the vendor for the Calcium Carbonate.  Thank you Benji!

Once the majority of the liquid has evaporated, you'll be left with a solid and about ¼ inch of water.  What you want is 1-part water for every 3-parts calcium acetate.  This is the thickening agent for the gel fuel.

Now you create the gel fuel.  Mix 9-parts Isopropyl to every 1-part calcium acetate/water mix.  Ah, math…yes.  I'll make it easy. 

A gallon of Isopropyl has 8 cups of liquid.  This means you mix in .89 cup of the calcium acetate mixture.  If there are 16 tablespoons in a cup, .89 cups translates to 3/4 of a cup plus 2 tablespoons and ½ teaspoon of calcium acetate/water mixture for each gallon of Isopropyl.

Mix the Isopropyl, calcium acetate/water mixture together.  If you'd like your gel to crackle like a wood fire, add in 2T of cooking oil for each gallon of Isopropyl.  That works out to approximately 1 teaspoon per 12 oz of fuel gel.  If you'd like it to be scented, pick up some aroma oils at Michael's, JoAnne Fabric or other arts and crafts retailer and use this in place of part of the cooking oil.

Once mixed together, simply add more isopropyl to create the desired consistency of the gel.  It can be stored in cans for easy deployment or in a in a clean gallon container.  Make sure you clearly mark the storage vessel as flammable, store it in a cool dry place and keep it away from pets and children.


One of the big issues with fuel gel is that it burns nearly white so it is difficult to see.  You can add the following compounds into your fuel gel to create a flame with color and density that can be seen.  Simple choose the color you want:

Color = Chemical

Ruby = Lithium Chloride     
Red = Strontium Chloride or Strontium Nitrate
Orange = Calcium Chloride (a bleaching powder)
Yellow = Sodium Chloride (table salt) or Sodium Carbonate
Lime Green = Borax
Green = Copper Sulfate or Boric Acid
Blue = Copper Chloride
Violet  = 3 parts Potassium Sulfate; 1 part Potassium Nitrate (salt & pepper)
Purple = Potassium Chloride
White = Magnesium Sulfate (Epsom salts)

You don't need a lot of the compound to create the color.  A few teaspoons to small amounts to a couple of tablespoons will do the trick.   You can soak and dry out wood or wood chips with these same compounds to create colorful campfires as well.  Happy Romancing!


Related Articles: How to build your own fireplace in 5 minutes (even if you don't have a chimney)

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