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How Do I Tell If a Propane Tank is Empty? 3 Tips and Tricks

pink propane LPG tanks

It is impossible to tell how much propane is left in a white cylinder just by looking at it. This leads many people to wonder how much propane is actually left in the tank and whether or not it is empty. Trying to refill a full tank will waste a trip to the store (and can cost you money if you simply swap it out without checking) and running out of propane in the middle of a barbeque can be embarrassing. So how do you tell if a propane tank is empty? There are multiple easy ways to check the propane levels in your tank.

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The 3 Tips to Tell If a Propane Tank is Empty

1. Weigh the Tank

chained LPG stank with stovetop
Image By: Mac Kenzie, Pixabay

The most surefire way to know exactly how much propane is left in your tank is to weigh the tank. Every propane tank has a tare weight or a TW number which tells you how much the tank weighs when it is completely empty. The TW number is often stamped on the handle or near the nozzle. For small propane tanks, all you have to do is put the tank on a scale and get the reading. Then take that number and compare it to the TW number stamped on the tank.

For example, if you have a tare weight of 12 lbs. and you measure your tank, and it comes back at 16 lbs., you still have four pounds of propane remaining. This is the most accurate and most effective way of figuring out how much propane is left in the tank.

Small propane tanks can be weighed on a simple bathroom or kitchen scale. You do not need a special scale to measure the tanks.


2. Use a Gauge

LPG gas tank with gauge
Image Credit: Rungnapa Tarasiri, Shutterstock

Another simple way to figure out how much propane is left inside of your tank is to use a gauge. Many propane tanks, especially large tanks, come with a gauge that will tell you exactly how much propane remains inside the tank. The gauge usually runs on a scale of 0 to 100, denoting the percentage of the tank that is full.

Be aware that most propane tanks will never be filled past 85%. That is because the gas needs room to expand and evaporate inside the tank. If you think that your gauge is broken or not reading accurately because it shows 80% after it was refilled, do not be alarmed. That is how the tank is supposed to work. The gauge is not broken. It is working as intended. Also, be aware that you should not let your tank run completely dry either. It is best to refill the tank when there is still a little bit of propane left inside.

If you have a gauge, they are an easy way to quickly get a reading on how much propane is left without having to weigh or measure anything.

Install A Gauge

If you do not have a gauge on your propane tank, you can install one. Propane tank gauges are fairly inexpensive and can be easily attached to your tank so that you can always get an accurate reading. Small propane tanks typically do not need a gauge, but large tanks, 25 gallons and up, should always have a gauge attached so you can always know how much propane is in the tank. Large tanks cannot be weighed like small tanks, so they have to use a gauge to display how much propane is in the tank.

Propane tank gauges can often be found for around $20, and the easy ones simply screw into the nozzle.


3. The Hot Water Method

The last method to tell how much propane is left in your tank is to use hot water. Get a cup of hot water but not boiling. You need to be able to touch the water without hurting yourself. The temperature needs to be noticeable but not scalding. Now, take the cup of hot water and pour it over one side of your propane tank. Let the water run to the bottom. Then take your hand and run it down the side of the propane tank from top to bottom in the water. You should feel a temperature difference when the water reaches the propane level.

Run your hand up and down a few times. The area that feels cool to the touch when the rest of the water feels hot is the top of your propane levels inside of the tank. That is because the propane gas will quickly absorb the heat from the water, even through the tank, leaving the water noticeably cooler than in areas where there is no propane.

This method will not tell you exactly how much is left in terms of percentages or weight, but it will give you an eyeball reading on the level of propane left in the tank. This method works and is great for people who do not have access to a gauge or a scale. This method usually applies to people out camping or who are using propane on a job site.

If you try these methods and realize that there is plenty of propane in the tank, but you can get it to work, then there is likely a problem with a connection, pilot light, or valve that is preventing the propane from flowing properly.

user guide dividerTips For Underground Tanks

Getting a reading on an underground tank can be much trickier than getting a reading on an above-ground tank. Buried tanks should always have a visible gauge accessible above ground so that homeowners and service technicians can quickly get a reading on the level of the tank. Since the underground tanks are inaccessible, you cannot weigh them or pour hot water on them to try and get a reading without a gauge. Underground tanks require a gauge for accurate measurements.

If you have an underground tank with no gauge or a malfunctioning gauge, call your propane supplier and see if they will service the tank and install a new gauge. Without an above ground gauge that is easily visible, it is almost impossible to tell how much your buried propane tank still has left inside until the gas runs out completely.

Letting your underground propane tank run dry is a bad idea. A completely dry tank will have to be reset at your next refill appointment, which can cost time and money. It can also be dangerous for people who heat their homes with propane. You do not want to run out of propane in the middle of a cold snap. Dangerously cold temperatures can pose a risk to people, and having the heat cut out at the wrong time could cause a huge problem.

If you are wondering about your underground tank, do not be afraid to call and ask for a service check. Professional inspectors will come out and look at your tank and let you know when you will need to have it refilled.

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Conclusion

There are multiple ways to tell if your propane tank is empty or not. Some are simple, like installing and checking a gauge. Others are odd but work when you are in a pinch, like pouring hot water on your tank. With these methods, you will never have to wonder how much propane is left in your tank. That can save you an unnecessary trip to the store and can prevent you from wasting propane.


Featured Image Credit: Mufid Majnun, Unsplash

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