I know. Every­one has done a YouTube les­son on how to build one of these inex­pen­sive emer­gency heaters for your car. Hon­est­ly, I had to try it for myself to be sure that it “worked.” Many peo­ple use emp­ty steel cof­fee cans, some peo­ple impro­vise and use what they might have in the garage as a con­tain­er for the wick/roll of toi­let paper. I decid­ed to take a trip to Lowe’s and see if I could find an emp­ty steel one quart paint can with lid. It seemed to be just a lit­tle small­er than a roll of toi­let paper, and has a lid that can be slipped onto the con­tain­er eas­i­ly to snuff out a flame to put the heater out.

So, here were my com­po­nents:

  • 1 — Roll toi­let paper
  • 1 — One Quart Paint Can
  • 1 — 32 Oz bot­tle of 70% Iso­propyl Alco­hol

A lit­tle more about each com­po­nent:

  • I used a soft­er roll of toi­let paper, not a sin­gle ply 1000 sheet roll.
  • I used 70% Iso­propyl alco­hol based on the rec­om­men­da­tion of sev­er­al YouTube videos because 90% burns off too fast.
  • The One Quart paint can was new, did not have paint in it pre­vi­ous­ly, and was nev­er cleaned out with ace­tone or any­thing like that. I rec­om­mend spend­ing the $1.50 or so on a new can because you do not want fumes of some paint burn­ing in your car or enclosed space if you ever have to actu­al­ly use this.

That said, I pulled the lit­tle card­board roll out of the cen­ter of the toi­let paper. Not an easy task. I end­ed up get­ting a knife and slid­ing it in between the toi­let paper and the card­board so that I could sep­a­rate what was loose­ly glued in there, and after a few min­utes pulled it out.

After that, I then slow­ly squeezed the roll of toi­let paper into the can. This took a good 5 — 7 min­utes. You need to squeeze it in there a bit at a time because the lip where the lid fits into is a bit tight. Once it was in, took a look to be sure it was right. It looked kind of weird to me, even though I have seen this done mul­ti­ple times on YouTube.

I then opened the bot­tle of Iso­propyl alco­hol, and slow­ly start­ed to pour it over the toi­let paper. I say slow­ly because the roll has to absorb the liq­uid. If you did­n’t already guess, the toi­let paper becomes the wick for the heater. Pret­ty big wick! I kept pour­ing and pour­ing and pour­ing until the toi­let paper had absorbed the alco­hol enough to become sat­u­rat­ed, com­plete­ly… This is a require­ment. In fact, There was enough alco­hol in the con­tain­er that it was super sat­u­rat­ed and there was excess liq­uid. Which, at the time was fine with me because I was going to test this thing when I was done mak­ing it. For the record, I think I used any­where between 26 and 28 ounces of Iso­propyl Alco­hol poured into the heater.

I test­ed the lid to make sure there was a tight fit. Upon doing so, I real­ized that the tight fit made this bet­ter yet for me, as I could actu­al­ly store this as is in my truck over the win­ter, and not have to wor­ry about car­ry­ing the can and a bot­tle of alco­hol in the trunk as well… I took the lid off, pulled a lighter out of my draw­er, and lit the heater. I was a lit­tle con­cerned imme­di­ate­ly, as the flame was about 12 — 18 inch­es high. My con­cern was for the ceil­ing of my truck and the pos­si­bil­i­ty of safe­ty in the truck with such a high flame if I put my rear seat down and placed this on the seat back of my SUV and lit it for heat. I cer­tain­ly could not put it on the floor of my truck in the front with­out think­ing I was going to melt a plas­tic com­po­nent or my glove box. Maybe if I put my front seat back all the way, I might have room. But if I had a pas­sen­ger or pas­sen­gers with me this might be out of the ques­tion. As it turns out, the flame was high because there was excess alco­hol in the con­tain­er that had to burn off. I was impa­tient, slid the lid over the flame, and poured a lit­tle alco­hol off and re-lit the wick/toilet paper. This time the flame was a bit low­er.

What I expe­ri­enced. While I did not actu­al­ly test this in my car, I was in my kitchen, there was quite a bit of heat that came off of it, which was good. I can see def­i­nite­ly keep­ing your win­dow cracked while burn­ing this too, as 30% of the liq­uid “is” water. There­fore there will be water vapor in the air steam­ing up your win­dows even­tu­al­ly.

Hon­est­ly, I was suf­fi­cient­ly impressed with the heater that real­is­ti­cal­ly cost me about $5.00 or less and 20 min­utes at the most to assem­ble and test. I duct taped the lighter to the side of the can so that it would always be handy. Put it in the trunk of my truck, and there it sits.

Some­thing you think you can do but prob­a­bly won’t be able to is use this as an alco­hol stove. I say this because if you put a pot over it, it is going to put out the flame… How­ev­er, if you put some­thing around the heater that will hold a pot over the mouth of the heater and not kill the air­flow, you may be able to dou­ble duty this as a large alco­hol stove as well… In fact, if any­one has made any mod­i­fi­ca­tions to this type of heater to do so I would be inter­est­ed in see­ing what you have done. I may impro­vise some­thing this spring when I do some camp­ing and play around with the idea of it to have a dual pur­pose device…

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