Propane Heat: Eyes Burn?

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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 molecules 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 informs us that water plus carbon dioxide gas 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 are four molecules of water produced. But there is almost an equal number of molecules of carbon dioxide produced. Although not all the carbon dioxide converts to carbonic acid, enough does that some of us complain, “My eyes burn!”

So if you are thinking of heating with 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.

Oxygen Consumption

But what else happens when one heats with propane? Well, it requires considerable oxygen be sucked out of the air you breathe! How much? That is discussed in my followup article Propane and Oxygen Question.

Note: You might also enjoy Chopping Onions Makes You Cry

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19 thoughts on “Propane Heat: Eyes Burn?

  • Vicktorya

    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!)

  • Natasha

    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

    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.

    • 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

    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.

  • Joyce

    I have a new home with ventless gas logs, using propane for fuel source. I have noticed the burning of my eyes, watering, and runny nose when using the logs. I have read the info about the carbonic acid release. Will a different set of logs make this problem disappear or less of a problem?
    I had the same type of system in my previous home, and never experienced this type of problem. I love my logs and want dearly to be able to enjoy them.

    • Frankly, I’m not an expert on the devices. Of course, the chemistry is irrevocable. There are one or two things that might help. Naturally, venting is one of them. But “burning the logs” in a rather large room with good circulation (perhaps a ceiling fan?) may alleviate the difficulty.

  • Donna

    I cook in a very small building with a propane stove. The burners don’t have the right fitting on them and it burns my eyes and there is a lot of soot buildup on the burner. My eyes always burn and I feel sleepy. Is this causing me harm?

  • Garry Garrison

    Newly installed propane furnace here. It was professionally installed, vented outside. I’m now experiencing burning eyes and skin, but I’m the only one in the household. Could I be allergic?

    • I’m not even sure it is possible to be allergic to that! Likely, your eyes are drier, or for some reason more sensitive to it. Or you are exposed to a greater extent. As to burning skin… You might consider the possibility something else is at work.

  • Gail

    I used a butane torch on an art project, and when I was done the whites of my eyes were pure red. After a few hours I used eye drops for the redness. But my eyes do not feel the same. They feel dry and things are a little blurry. Thinking of calling my eye doctor today.

  • We had our old black stove type propane heater w. logs replaced with a Mr. Heater, which sits on floor or wall. We now experience burning in eyes & throat. We never had it w. the old one. What can we do? We can’t enjoy our cabin now in the winter. Would we need a different regulator hose? Our propane company installed it.

  • Linda

    We have been using a Buddy propane heater for main heat in our full time living 38 ft. motor-home… Our Buddy heater has been bothering my eyes. Two weeks ago we ran the heater all day and evening and shut it off at bedtime. I woke up with swollen eyes almost shut and my face swollen from ear to ear. It did not get better, my skin burning, so I went to Urgent Care. They gave me a Prednisone pill which in the next 3 days took most of the swelling down. But the skin on my face is still peeling and my eyes are still red, even though we are not currently using the heater.

    I do not know if this was from the propane, but we have found nothing else to have caused this, so we are not taking any more chances. [edited]

  • Eugene

    I have been using the Big Buddy propane heater to heat the office in a warehouse, for about three weeks now. I have suddenly developed blurry vision, and I am glad I found this article. I am going to get rid of it, and go back to electric heaters. Never had any issues with my eyes before, no contacts, and no glasses.

  • Pat Yates

    I purchased an Esse Gas range 5 or 6 years ago. I started suffering with dry eyes but I did not make the connection with the heater I thought it was working on the computer until this year. A couple of weeks ago I had the guy in to service the heater which I normally do every year but missed last year. What I did discuss with him was the amount of moisture that gas heaters produce. The gas ran out in May I think and because of a plant growing across the access and a warm summer I did not connect up the other bottle and spent the summer with no heat in the room at all. But all through the summer I was saying that the room felt clammy when I walked in and then I noticed where my fridge door does not close properly mould which I hasten to add grew overnight – I use the fridge every day and it really started to make me wonder what was going on and I started thinking about the moisture that the heater might have imparted to the room but since it was installed it has never been turned off until this year so it is possible that the continued heat kept that at bay. But I had experience of a butane gas Super Ser when we moved into our last house which had been left unoccupied for a couple of years pretty much and the amount of water on the thermoplastic tiled floor was incredible. I just thought it was heat suddenly being put in the house I was ignorant at the time of the amount of water these devices generate. So. Back to dry eyes. Generally I have to say it was later in the evening and I put it down to computer work I was studying and that is the time when I can get on with it but couldn’t because of my eyes. I tried all these things that you spray – rubbish! Bed was the only answer. So this year there was a delay between putting the gas back on because I wanted it serviced before doing that. The weather turned and I used an electric heater which was more than adequate. I was working late at night on the computer, knitting, sewing all that no problem with my eyes at all and then possibly two nights after the gas had been turned back on I had to give up around 11 or so in the evening. My eyes were the driest they have ever been. They hurt. My lids felt like they were scraping the corneas I could not keep them open and I gave up and went to bed. The other things was that the plastic filler around the windows at the bottom particularly was really mouldy and I had cleaned all that off and it seemed with the electric heater it was not an issue. And then one evening before the service guy came I was looking at the window as evening wore on. I had inadvertently turned off the electric heater (shortage of sockets!) and I watched as the condensation started to develop on all of the windows. I turned on the electric heater and after a few minutes it had all gone. I asked the guy about this when he came but because I had loved this Esse for 5 or 6 years my room was so warm and I could cuddle up to it in darkest winter I didn’t query the device. So after my very dry eye experience two days after the servicing I turned my darling Esse off! She looks beautiful but my little electric panel heater is the heat source and I have not had problems with my eyes since! Now when the guy came we discussed the pilot light. I have only seen the pilot burn properly, that is 3 different sharp blue flames, once! ever after it is a long yellow flame which burns and I am quite sure gives off particles. He said that he would make sure he put on a new ‘thermocouple’, if I have that right, next year and after that very long shaggy dog story my question is could that incorrectly burning pilot light be the problem?? I am really grateful to your site for helping me with this issue. I would not have thought it given that of course we now know that gas heaters give off moisture whereas electric heaters you would think dry the air and they don’t work in power cuts!! So I might have to suffer the dry eye if that should happen but you get my point I am sure. Really interested if anyone has any info on that pilot light. It is a long flame an inch or so long.

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