Ethanol burners

Decorative alcohol-fuelled burners, sometimes called ethanol burners, have caused a number of serious burns injuries in Australia.

Ethanol burners, like those pictured below, are designed for domestic use and produce a flame using alcohol as fuel. The devices are primarily used for decoration, although larger models also may provide heating.

There are 3 common types of ethanol burners, including:

  • table-top devices (small, inexpensive devices designed to sit on a table)
  • freestanding devices (larger, heavier and generally more expensive than table-top devices)
  • fixed devices, often referred to as ‘fireplaces’ (require installation in a fixed position, and are usually wall-mounted or recessed).

Mandatory safety standard

To prevent the sale of unsafe burners, a mandatory safety standard commenced on 15 October 2017.

The mandatory standard replaces a national interim ban which commenced on 17 March 2017 and ended on 14 July 2017.

The mandatory standard requires ethanol burners to:

  • be a permanent fixture or have a dry weight of at least 8kg and a footprint of at least 900cm2
  • meet the stability test set out in the European standard (available from the SAI Global website)
  • come with a fuel container with a flame arrester or an automatic fuel pump system
  • carry a prescribed warning.

The mandatory safety standard differs from the national interim ban in that the standard:

  • deletes the 4.5kW test
  • includes the stability test set out in the European standard
  • requires all devices to be supplied with a flame arrester (or a fuel pump)
  • varies the warnings to also refer to deaths.

Sale of ethanol burners

Retailers and suppliers are not permitted to sell ethanol burners, unless they meet the requirements in the mandatory safety standard. From 15 October 2017, only devices that meet the mandatory safety standard may be sold.

Devices that do not comply must not be sold, and must be removed from both store shelves and online stores.

Consumers are entitled to a refund for products which:

  • do not meet mandatory safety standards, or
  • were covered by the national interim ban.

Banned ethanol burners cannot be resold privately.

Safety advice

If you own an ethanol burner which does not meet mandatory safety standards, we strongly recommend you stop using it.

A safety video, Don’t fuel the fire, shows how easily ethanol burners can go from decorative to dangerous.

When using any ethanol burner, even one covered by the mandatory safety standard, it is vital you follow these safety tips.

Setting up the burner

  • Strictly follow the manufacturer’s instructions for safe use before setting up and lighting the burner.
  • Keep the instructions in a safe place and within reach.
  • Put the burner on a solid and level surface where it will not be accidentally kicked or bumped.
  • Keep the flame away from combustible materials such as clothes or curtains.
  • Make sure the burner is away from drafts or breeze from open windows and doors or fans.
  • Have an appropriate fire extinguisher nearby.

Refueling and lighting the burner

  • Never light a burner that has not been fully assembled.
  • Use a kitchen lighter or long barbecue match to light the burner.
  • Always use the fuel recommended by the manufacturer.
  • Use a funnel when refilling to prevent spills. If a spill occurs before lighting, wipe it up immediately with paper towel, wash the area with water and wash your hands. Don’t use the burner until all fumes and traces of fuel have left the room.
  • Store fuel in a separate room to the burner.

While the burner is in use

  • Never leave the product unattended while in use, especially if there are children or pets around.
  • Always maintain a safe distance of at least one metre from the burner while it is on.
  • Extinguish the flame when leaving a room or before going to sleep.
  • Make sure the flame is out and the burner has had plenty of time to cool before attempting to move or refuel it.
  • Never throw anything combustible at the burner or into the flame.
  • Never use the burner for cooking.
  • Never use water on an ethanol fire. Water could spread the fire. In the case of an uncontrolled fire, use a powder extinguisher or fire blanket to smother the fire.

Some models have an open flame, which can be difficult to see, particularly in daylight, and this creates a risk that someone may think the flame is extinguished and try to refuel or move the device while the flame is still lit.