Homemade Emergency Canned Heat

can_wlidI’ve been offline for a few days due to a huge storm hitting West Virginia. We lost power at 4:23 am on Saturday morning. We had power restored at 11 am on Monday. It was a long few days. We were able to stay in our house. Thankfully no pipes broke and there were no major events other than the power outage.

I want to really encourage you all to be prepared for such emergencies. We have moved twice in the last year and had let our supplies dwindle. We had no propane for the camp stove. We had no firewood. Not a good situation to be in. We did have some knowledge though and that helped us to get through until we were able to get wood and propane.

You can make your own “Sterno” at home for heating water. It is an open flame. By that I mean OPEN FLAME! Especially when initially lit. The flame starts out tall and then gets shorter. I found this to be true each time it was lit (not just the very first time). tall_flameNever to be put where it can tip over, get knocked over, be around children (we have 5 of those), etc. I decided to clear one side of my sink and put the can in the sink to hopefully minimize any accidents. The flame is burning off alcohol so it can not be put out with water. I wanted to be clear that I put it in the sink not so I could douse it with water, but in case it tipped over I would at least not have flame rolling across my floor.  I was also careful to clear the area around the sink of anything flammable.  This homemade cooking/heating gave us some hot water and our first hot meal (Spaghetti-o’s) in 24 hours.  Having a way to heat food & drinks really boosted our moral.


  • Large metal can & its lid
  • Roll of toilet paper
  • Isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol)

How To Make:

Clean The Can: You need a large clean metal can and it’s lid. In our case, I emptied a can of crushed tomatoes into a bowl, cleaned the can and lid (be careful of sharp edges) and dried them. Do NOT throw away the lid!

The Toilet Paper: Remove the cardboard tube from the toilet paper roll. Fold the TP roll in half length wise and then in half again (you’re crushing the roll and making it as compact as possible). Insert the roll of toilet paper into the can. Wrap additional toilet paper around your hand (making a mini-roll of TP) and compact in the same way you did the large roll – use this to fill in any spaces. Repeat until you have the can tightly packed with toilet paper.



Adding Alcohol: Slowly pour the isopropyl alcohol over over the TP in the can until the TP is saturated. This took nearly 2 bottles in my case.


Hold a match to the alcohol. It should light right up. This will burn nicely for quite some time. To put the flame out simply lay the lid on top of the flame. I am told that snuffing (eliminating any source of oxygen) is the only way to put this flame out. That is why you need the lid. I used tongs to put the lid on because I had them available. Make sure the flame is out and keep it out of the reach of children.

After several uses you see a bit of charring on the TP & some blue candle wax from lighting it (we were conserving matches).

After several uses you see a bit of charring on the TP & some blue candle wax from lighting it (we were conserving matches).


You will need to hold the pot above the flame (resting the pot on the flame will put it out). I used an oven rack across my sink.

**Please know that I am sharing this in the hope that it may come in handy one day to you or your family. I am in no way a survival expert. YOU are 100% responsible for your safety should you choose to try this. I can make no guarantees on how well or how safe it is. As with any open flame; you must make sure there is proper ventilation. Keep yourselves safe! I used the canned heat several times before we were able to obtain propane for our camp stove and I had no problems using it. I made sure my children were no where near me when dealing with the can in any way.


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  1. Sam

    Thank you for sharing, Amber! I am only sad that we live in a day where so many disclaimers are needed. Sam

  2. Kris

    Wow, this is a brilliant idea. Thank you so much for sharing.

  3. Katidids

    Wow, With winter upon us that is a great Tut! I’d be ok as long as I had coffee! LOL! Glad your power is back & Thank u again! Have a wonderful Christmas

  4. Mama K

    Thanks! I have never heard of that. I guess it wouldn’t hurt to have some sternos on hand for just such an occasion. I don’t have a camping stove.

  5. Beth

    That was very smart of you Amber! We thankfully did not lose power (and I am surprised!) but we were ready if we did. We lose power a lot here, we learned the hard way the first winter we were here. Glad you have your power back now. Merry Christmas!

  6. Loretta

    That is awesome thanks for sharing

  7. Jen

    That is so cool!!! good to know!

  8. kateweb

    this is soo cool I just had to digg it

  9. Kim

    Wonderful post, thanks for sharing! We have wood stoves so heating and cooking isn’t a worry right now. But you never know when you might need an alternative.
    I have cooked on top of a kerosene heater, it works quite well!

  10. haley

    What a great idea! We lost power for several days during the big windstorm in WV. I wish we had known about this then.

    One question though, how would I go about storing this in between uses? Will the alcohol naturally evaporate?

  11. Amber

    Haley – I called my family in Montana who taught me this a few years ago. They say they just keep them covered with foil and over time they do dry up. I have had mine sitting on my counter with the lid on. I’ll probably move it to my pantry. I would just be sure not to store it near any heat source.

  12. Allie

    I’m about to spend my first winter in Minnesota (moved here from Texas), and I’m so glad I found this. I will be sure to have these items on hand before the first frost!!! Thanks so much for the tips!

  13. laura

    I used pint size paint cans – the lids are great and they are thicker. Then I tape a matchbox and a quarter (to open the can) to the top. I then keep a clean gallon size paint can to put the ‘heat’ to help the the ‘tipping over’ possibility!

  14. Nicole

    Oh, a WV gal! =) I love the idea, i have seen the one with Crisco. I think i like this one better!

  15. atruebeliver

    Great idea .Thanks for sharing.

  16. Caribou

    Great idea! Actually water will put out an alcohol fire. Water and alcohol are completely missable. Below about 50% an alcohol/water solution will not burn. That is why you see the Indy cars get a spray of water around the fuel cap after they are fueled with alcohol. Gas and oil will float on top of water and continue to burn.

  17. Amber

    Good to know! It sounds like using the lid to put out the flame will ensure you don’t get too much water into the mix then.

  18. Elizabeth

    Very cool idea. Thanks for sharing. I’ll be sure to keep this in mind if I run out of butane canisters for my camp stove.

  19. Dave

    You are better off using denatured alcohol in place of the Isopropyl alcohol. Denatured burns with out smoke or soot. The only down side is that the flame is invisible. I use this fuel when backpacking to boil questionable water when a “fire” is prohibited. It can be found at any hardware store in the paint area. Best of Luck.

  20. Abigail Wanlass Robertson

    Awesome! I was just thinking last night, how if we lost power due to snow or something similar that would keep us from being able to safely go in and out, we’d have no way to cook. This solves that problem! Awesome and thanks! Now I need to stock up more on isopropyl alcohol.

  21. Rosa Lopes

    Have you not heard of the rocket stove .Instructions can be googled and it is very easy to make.

  22. Julie Amos

    I believe that a survival expert named Papa Bear from Colorado who is now dead came up with this, when asked by the Armed Forces to create a heater that could be used in a closed confined space like a vehicle to keep someone alive stranded in the winter. I was told by Papa Bear at a sportsman show that it would keep a person alive for around 10 hours. You only use 70 % so the flame doesn’t get high, as I have kept these in the trunk of my car for years. I like using this for a stove also

  23. Susan Treadwell

    Wonderful idea. I am writing it down to share with our emergency preparedness group in our church. Are the flames that burn from the rubbing alcohol toxic or are they safe to burn inside:

  24. Pa-T

    Remember, when using this in a small space, to have some sort of ventilation to replenish the O2 being burnt up. Also, if you leave the toilet paper flush with the top of the can, the rim will not get hot. I add 1 bottle of alcohol to the can prior to adding the toilet paper. Very clean flame, lots of heat, no oder.

  25. anne f

    The sterno item you where looking for can be bought at a sporting goods store. You’re right never use water on a fire that has a combustible fluid . Smother the flame with a t towel or rag it can be wet. Lack of oxygen puts out a fire, water just spreads it , then you’re in trouble as you have a larger fire. Be careful with propane in a house as it gives of gas and robs the oxygen out of the room if used for long periods. Putting candle wax in the center is a good idea as it will extend the burn time , but it will stink some. Glad you did alright with power outage. I live in Canada and we have 50 below sometimes and power out problems and water main breaks because of the cold . The secret is extra blankets and emergency silver blankets that fit in your pocket and are pretty cheap, they hold your body heat in, also bought in sporting goods store . I carry one and a sterno ,candles, bottle of water , trail mix and 2 pairs of big extra socks you can pull over your shoes. Our summers can go as high as 105, what a difference . Love your blog , wish more would inform people.

  26. jen

    Be careful you could burn your house down. I would only do this outdoors and only if I had no other fuel to burn.

  27. Fyi

    To my knowledge and stressed experience Alcohol is distingusuable with water, which is why so many boats use alchol rather than other fuels. Might also note that putting the lid of your can back into possition to extinguish the flame is acurate however it is important to note that unless sealed air tight the alcohol will evaporate. This developes 2 issues, 1) no more roman candle, 2) if you light the paper it will make a much larger short lived flame and lots of smoke for a short period of probably 20 minuites or so.

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