Make a DIY Emergency Survival Heater

Preparedness Challenge: DIY Emergency Survival Heater

Years ago I worked with a group of like minded people to get prepared. We purchased food in bulk, make 72 hour food kits and made these easy DIY Emergency Survival Heaters.

DIY emergency survival heaterI found mine the other day and  decided to give it a light and see if after 10+ years it still works. It does, but I learned it has a major flaw that needs to be fixed. My original heater has a box of matches hot glued to the lid of the paint can. When I lit my heater, the flames really jumped up – 6 to 8 inches and I was planning on using the lid as a damper.

Picture me standing there…lid in hand… mentally debating whether I should place the lid with a box of matches attached to it over this open flame. Obviously, using it as a damper was not an option, I was afraid the flames would curl around and light the box. After a second of thought, I used a plate to extinguish the flames and decided I needed a better way for the future.

If you are without power, this emergency heater will come in handy for cooking or hand warming. Exercise caution with an open flame in your home. You may not need to worry about carbon monoxide poisoning while using rubbing alcohol as a fuel, please be safe and open a window to vent – just to be sure.

This is an adult tool, not for kids!

Just follow these instructions on how to make a DIY emergency survival heater and learn how to use it. The cost is minimal (about $6) and the heat output fantastic. It is reusable and to refuel you only need to purchase 70% rubbing alcohol.

Before you use your heater there are some cautions to think about:cautions while using your emergency survival heater

  • // The paint can gets REALLY HOT when it’s lit, so make sure you place your emergency survival heater on something fireproof. I used a ceramic hot pad.
  • // Have pot holders at the ready in case you need to move it.
  • // Have a way to tame the flame. When I lit mine, the flame was 6 to 8 inches high. That might be too much heat for the cooking you plan to do. The paint can top works well for this.
  • // Have a way to extinguish the flames (water is NOT the way). You can use the paint can top or a plate to cover the flame.
  • // As a precaution, vent your area.

Today’s Challenge – Make a DIY Emergency Survival Heater

Supplies needed:

1 new quart size paint can
1 bottle of 70% rubbing alcohol
1 roll of toilet paper
1 box of matches
a quarter, large coin, or other prying tool
some packing tape
a hammer or mallet

emergency survival heater

Wedge it in. You may have to remove some tissue from the outside of the roll too.

Remove the cardboard roll from the inside of the toilet paper roll. Then decide if you need to remove some paper from the roll so it will fit. I used a cheap one ply, but I still had to remove some from the outside of the roll. Squeeze it in as best you can. I used the end of a sturdy spoon as a lever.

emergency heater

Slowly pour in the rubbing alcohol

Place the TP roll into the new paint can, it should completely fill it. Slowly pour in the bottle of  70% rubbing alcohol. It will absorb into the paper which acts as your wick.

emergency heater attach matches

Attach your match box to the side of the can

Hammer on the lid.  Place the quarter inside the match box and attach it to the side of the paint can with the packing tape. Remove the matchbox and packing tape before using your emergency survival heater, remember, the can will get hot.

To Use Your DIY Emergency Survival Heater

Pry off the top of the paint can with your quarter or a screw driver. I actually found out that my fingers are wimpy and I couldn’t get enough leverage with a quarter. Screw drivers are for me!

Prepare your area – have something non-flammable to place it on, have your hot pads ready and a way to extinguish or damper the flame.

Light a match and light the toilet paper roll inside the paint can. This will ignite the rubbing alcohol but will not burn the TP roll. The toilet paper roll is your wick. If it starts to burn, extinguish the flame, let it cool and add more rubbing alcohol.

You can use your survival heater to warm a room or as fuel for cooking. Review our post Emergency Cooking for instructions on making a #10 can cooker and How to Prepare for Blackouts for general preparations.

What other preparations have you made to get ready for emergency cooking?

About Shelle

Preparedness enthusiast Shelle Wells shares her passion to provide women with reliable, realistic and practical information about preparedness, self reliance, gardening, food storage and everyday life – without the hype. Come ask an expert how you can prepare your family for the big and small disasters in life.
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15 Responses to Make a DIY Emergency Survival Heater

  1. J Dietz says:

    i have a couple of questions. first, how much rubbing alcohol fills the can the first time? and, how long will a full can of fuel burn? this will help determine how much extra alcohol to have on hand for fuel.

    • PreparednessMama says:

      Hi, Thanks for stopping by! I purchased 32 oz of rubbing alcohol for my project and used about 24 ounces to fill the new emergency heater I made for this post. I used the rest of it to refill the old heater I found. I have not actually burned a can until it ran out of fuel. My best guess would be at least 30 minutes at full burn and one hour with the flame dampened, which is the way I use it. I will do a test and let you know for sure.

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  5. Louise Gainor says:

    You can put the small paint can inside of a larger paint can (also one that’s never been used for paint) with a tuna can glued to the inside bottom of the larger can to reduce the heat at the bottom of the can from burning/melting whatever surface that you set it on. I place my heaters on a muffin tin as well.

  6. carol says:

    can you use a higher level of rubbing alcohol like 99?

  7. Zabe says:

    Great idea, but I am intrigued in how sustainable this could be for multiple days without power. I might have to test it myself.

    I also wonder if fondue fuel would work in this… I suspect it might be even better, yet not that much more expensive. Now I have to make one and try it

    • Shelle says:

      Hi Zabe, report back on that test and let us know how it goes!

      • Zabe says:

        I found some quart sized paint cans at the paint store and fired one filled with fondue fuel and the other with 70%alcohol. First note is that fondue fuel burns blue, which does not give off much light and it can be hard to tell if it’s on. Not for use around children, but if you need one that won’t keep you awake it will do nicely. Heat wise they both performed the same and I was getting a lot of heat while they were both in my already warm kitchen and had to open a window before breaking into a sweat. That’s a geat sign.

        I put each in the bedroom (12 x 12) in turn and they both rose the temperature by 2F in 10 minutes and that’s starting from normal room temperature.

        I believe one could survive quite a few days with just 3 of these and you might not even need all 3 on at once. I didn’t burn them through, but I bet it would cost a lot more than normal heating methods while still not being prohibitive for survival purposes. Thanks for haring this, now I do not fear the next power outage.

        • Shelle says:

          Hi Zabe, thanks for the in the trenches review! I have not burned mine all the way through either, and like you, keep several on hand in case of power outages.

  8. Erin says:

    I was wondering how long do these store for? And how safe is it to store these? Does the alcohol evaporate with time?

    • Shelle says:

      Hi Erin, I’ve had my survival heater for over 10 years. After a couple of years the alcohol does evaporate a little, but not enough to dry out the toilet paper roll completely. I just keep more alcohol in my storage.Thanks for stopping by!

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