Propane Heat: Eyes Burn?

propane heatPropane heat? Still the most common source of home heating energy is fossil fuels, including natural and propane gas. Do you use propane heat? Search the Internet and you will find individuals complain their gas heater produces fumes that burn their eyes and causes blurry vision. Why is that the case? Although those who burn propane gas sometimes complain of “dry-eyes,” its combustion actually releases considerable moisture. Basic chemistry demonstrates why this is so. The stoichiometric equation is written:

CH₃CH₂CH₃ + 5 O₂ → 3 CO₂ ↑ + 4 H₂O ↑

We read, propane gas plus oxygen yields carbon dioxide and water vapor.

Propane Heat – So Why Dry Eyes?propane heat

Now, although small quantities of carbon dioxide and water are found in our atmosphere, consider what water and carbon dioxide can produce if they exist in abundance:

H₂O + CO₂ → H₂CO₃

The above clearly demonstrates that water plus carbon dioxide yields carbonic acid, H₂CO₃. Although it is not a particularly strong acid, acids are famous for burning the eyes. Why, the burning feeling one gets from chopping onions is due to the presence of an acid. Besides, for every molecule of propane burned, there is four molecules of water produced. But there is almost an equal number of molecules of carbon dioxide produced. Although by no means all the carbon dioxide converts to carbonic acid, enough does to burn! So if you decide to heat with propane, be forewarned of the possible/probable difficulties you may experience.

What Can Be Done?

Other than changing the fuel used to heat the home, one thing that may reduce the problem is to spend as little time as possible in the room that houses the furnace. Along the same line of avoidance of exposure, one could heat the room, turn the furnace off, and then occupy the room some time afterward.

Note: You might also enjoy Chopping Onions Makes You Cry

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6 Comments

  • Vicktorya Reply

    We use propane but my eyes do not burn. I think my eyes are bullet proof. I have been myopic forever, [though I am] doubtful that has anything to do with it. (Love your site!)

  • Vincent Summers Reply

    Although it is likely not a serious issue, don’t forget an abundance of moisture is also produced by burning propane. Moisture is conducive to mold growth.

  • Natasha Reply

    What if your source of propane heat is vented? Would that not pull all the by-products outside and reduce the amount released within the home? Or does venting not matter?

  • Tim Serafini Reply

    I actually found a leak in my hose that I didn’t find the first time. Scary. I know. Fixed it. Keep checking it. Sensor did a good job at turning off the heater. Mr. Heater propane heater burning my eyes. It could have killed. Maybe somebody was trying to. My brother and sister are on my life insurance. Maybe I should stop paying into it.

    • Vincent Summers Reply

      I hear you! Well, about a week ago I visited the man who has a propane heater in his rather small living room, which led to my writing this article. OK. Well although the burning didn’t bother me too much, it put out so much moisture in the air and took up so much oxygen, I felt a little like I was being suffocated. The dampness, the heat, the missing oxygen.

  • Cap’n Dave Reply

    I’ve lived in everything from a mobile home in Montana that used propane for the furnace, the oven, and the stove to a large, alleged travel-trailer (it was over 30′ long) that also incorporated propane for the refrigerator. Maybe it’s because all of this was vented? These days, I live on a sailing yacht. Propane solely for the two-burner stove, using those little 1-lb. bottles you can pick up for camp stoves. My eyes burn so badly that I can’t even see what I’m cooking sometimes! Yep – time to get the gimbaled stove/oven combo and relocate the bottle (in this case, the refillable 20-pounders) outside on the transom with a hose extension.

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