Catching a whiff of propane smell is scary- it could also mean potential trouble because of a leak.
On the other hand, not every scent of propane should scare the hell out of you- sometimes the stench means your propane facility system needs maintenance.
A particularly important scenario to avoid is running out of propane gas- running empty is not only an inconvenience but it can also cause you untold embarrassment in front of friends and family (imagine running out of propane when everyone is gathered for a BBQ party?)
Keeping that in mind, it is wise to be conversant with the normal propane odor when tank is low…
It can save you from the annoying predicament of running out of propane at the worst possible moment and is actually one of the easiest ways of telling when your propane tank is nearing empty.
So, what is the usual propane odor when tank is low?
We answer this in this article and additionally share several useful tips and ideas to help you prevent your tank from hitting empty when you need it most.
Propane odor when tank is low – what does propane smell like when it’s running out?
If you smell the unmistakable rotten eggs/decaying animal smell, it means you’re almost certainly looking at propane running out.
Bear in mind that propane gas is odorless by nature- propane companies introduce a non-toxic additive called mercaptan (also called thiol) to give it the extraordinary “sulfur”/“rotten egg” smell.
Without it, a propane leak would not be easy to detect and you would be exposed to immense danger.
In other words, the foul-smelling odorant (some say it smells like strong garlic) is added to alert you of the presence of propane gas in the air when a leak has happened.
You’re perhaps wondering what exactly causes the “skunk-like” propane odor when tank is low.
The answer is up next…
How the unpleasant propane odor when tank is low occurs
Now, Ethyl-mercaptan- also added to natural gas for similar reasons- is generally heavier than propane.
Subsequently, it tends to sink to the tank’s bottom when the tank starts to run low on fuel making the smell to become more noticeable.
That is because more of it is being discharged within the home when your tank is low either from regular use or due to problems such as a leak.
Essentially, the pungent odor first fills the low-lying spaces of the room and will continue to move upward as more propane is released.
The smell will ultimately crawl up into all the parts of your house and could, in fact, result in myriad health-related symptoms including dizziness, nausea, drowsiness, and confusion (at high concentrations).
Why allowing your tank to run out of propane is inviting trouble
Forget the inconveniences of running out of propane at an awkward moment- letting your propane tank run empty can bring about serious safety hazards.
Here is a list of the unpleasant things that are likely to happen if you let propane run out:
- Likely property damage– This is, without doubt, the most costly risk of your tank running out. You see, pipes might possibly freeze and burst because there’s no fuel to keep the house warm. The result? A massive repair bill!
- Propane leak– If a gas line/valve is open at the time propane is depleted, there’s every chance that a leak may arise when your system is recharged.
- Corrosion- Air and moisture easily penetrate empty tanks potentially leading to significant rust build-up inside your container. While this may not be deemed a big concern, it makes it more difficult for you to discern a leak as it diminishes the concentration of mercaptan smell in propane. Plus, the rust buildup is likely to be permanent unless it is addressed.
What to do if you detect the “low-propane-in-tank” smell
There are some important precautions that you should put in place immediately you catch a whiff of the “low-propane-in-tank” stink (that dreaded Sulphur/ rotting cabbages/ rotten eggs/ decaying animal/ smelly socks smell depending on your nostrils).
Shut all gas lines and valves immediately
The first step is ensuring that all the common leakage points running to your propane tank (mostly valves and the gas lines) are shut tight.
Call your propane supplier
Your next step should be to call your local propane supplier to request an emergency delivery. In general, the technician will first run a safety inspection including conducting a leak check.
During a leak test, the propane company confirms that your line can hold pressure for three minutes (without any appliance running). This typically signals that propane is not sneaking into the home.
After it has been confirmed there is no lingering propane tank empty danger, your container will be refilled.
Expect the service technician to carry out more routine checks around the system to verify that it is leak-free and functioning properly.
Propane odor when tank is low FAQs
Is it normal to smell propane at the tank?
In general, getting a sniff of a faint propane smell when you’re near the tank is no cause for alarm- it’s normal to occasionally smell a hint of propane because of the activity at the regulator pressure relief valve/reducer as it vents to the air.
You should, however, be very concerned if the smell is quite strong.
Obviously, the best course of action in such a situation is to get in touch with a professional for assistance in finding and repainting the leak.
What does it mean if there’s propane smell but no leak?
Some users have reported detecting the conspicuous “rotten eggs” odor but no leaks were found upon inspection by a licensed professional.
If this is happening to you, we suggest that you have your tank refilled ASAP and see if it will alleviate the scent- it might simply be a telltale sign of your tank running low.
The “rotten eggs” smell can sometimes become so faint that it is impossible to detect in the air.
A great example is when a leak takes place underground- the odorant is weakened by oxidation or absorption when leaking propane from the underground lines contacts soil, concrete, etc.
It is, therefore, advisable to use propane detection equipment such as this instead of solely relying upon your sense of smell when it comes to tracking how much propane is remaining in the tank.