Can Gas Grills Explode? Is There Reason to Be Scared?

Propane tank with fireball - can gas grills explode?

Are you thinking about moving from a charcoal grill to a gas grill? Or have you been using a gas grill for some time and have some curiosity about its safety? Maybe wondering, can gas grills explode?

If you’re curious or concerned about the safety of your gas grill, understand that the safety typically falls on the grill’s use and not the grill itself.

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), there are over 10,000 home structure and outdoor fires each year that involve grills. Additionally, as of 2018, gas grill fires are six times as common as solid-fueled grills.

But you’re wondering if your gas grill can explode.

Gas grills can explode if propane or natural gas is allowed to build up in and around the grill and is subsequently ignited. A propane tank can explode if exposed to extremely high temperatures, like being engulfed in flames. However, with proper use, gas grills are very safe.

While this may sound frightening, and it is, you’ll see below what typically leads to these occurrences and how rare they are.

How Can Gas Grills Explode?

There are typically two types of explosions that can occur with a gas grill.

  1. A fireball explosion due to built-up gases
  2. Over-pressure explosion of propane tank due to heat

The first one is the most common and is usually due to user error. The second one is much less likely to occur.

1. Fireball Explosion

A fireball explosion can occur in a gas grill either due to a leak, problems during ignition, or if the flame goes out unexpectedly.

While a fireball explosion is likely to be less powerful than a tank explosion, it is more likely to injure people because it usually occurs while trying to ignite the grill.

Gas Grill Leaks

While gas grill lines and connections are built to be durable, improper assembly and maintenance can lead to gas leaks.

After assembling your grill, it is smart to do a leak test.

  • Use a spray bottle with soapy water and spray all of the connections
  • Turn on the gas to your grill from the tank
  • Watch for any bubbles at the connections
  • If you find a leak
    • Shut off the gas
    • Wait 3-5 minutes for any residual gas to dissipate
    • Tighten or replace the leaking components
    • Repeat the leak test
  • If you are unable to fix the leak, shut off the gas and do not use the grill

You should also perform a leak test routinely (at least once per year), and any time you suspect a leak.

Problems During Ignition

Everyone who owns a gas grill has likely had this issue. You turn on the gas and hit the ignitor. You hear a bunch of clicking, but nothing happens.

Most people continue hitting the ignitor until it finally starts. But doing that can be dangerous.

If you’ve turned on the gas to your burners and can’t get your grill started within a few seconds, you should turn off the gas and let the gas dissipate for a few minutes with the lid open.

And speaking of the lid, it should always be open when you are starting your grill. Anything that provides containment for the gas can create a dangerous situation. Can gas grills explode? Well, if gas builds up inside the grill with the cover down, it is more likely for an explosion to occur with the lid up.

While a fireball coming out of an open grill can result in injury as well, if the lid is closed, there is more chance for grill parts to be blown apart.

People also tend to look into their grill when it doesn’t start to see what is wrong. Don’t do that. You are putting yourself in the path of any fireball.

Whenever you have an issue starting the grill, don’t let the gas run for long before you give the area time to dissipate the gas.

Flame Doesn’t Stay Lit

While there should always be someone near an operating grill, sometimes the flame may go out unnoticed. It could go out due to windy conditions, a problem with the regulator, or an issue with the gas supply.

Whatever the cause, it is vital to wait a few minutes with the lid open before attempting to reignite the grill.

You likely don’t know how long the flame was out, so you don’t know how long gas has been building up.

If you try and restart it immediately, you could cause a fireball explosion to occur.

2. Propane Tank Explosion

It is very unlikely that a propane tank will explode. Propane tanks are designed to hold pressure well above the pressures expected inside of them. They have overfill protection devices (OPDs) to prevent tanks from being filled past their fill limit. And they have a relief valve to prevent overpressurization.

So you may wonder how a propane tank can explode if it has a relief valve? A propane tank requires significant heat to reach a high enough pressure to cause it to explode. And that is only going to happen if it is engulfed in a massive fire.

The type of explosion is called a boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion (or BLEVE). It occurs if the tank is heated high enough that the build-up of pressure increases too fast for the relief valve to handle. The tank would have to rupture, and the flames could ignite the propane resulting in an explosion.

It is unlikely, and if it were to happen, you wouldn’t be standing above it, looking at it like you are when igniting your grill.

Leaving a propane tank out in the sun, knocking it over, or hitting it with your lawnmower isn’t going to cause it to explode.

How to Prevent Gas Grill Explosions

Large flames coming from gas grill

Gas grill explosions can be deadly. They can also result in severe burns and property damage.

However, they are easy to prevent. Taking these steps will help ensure you never have to deal with a gas grill explosion:

  • Perform leak tests after assembly, tank installation, and periodically
  • Always keep the lid open when lighting a grill
  • Stand back when lighting your grill to distance yourself from any fireballs
  • If your grill doesn’t ignite within 10-15 seconds, stop and wait several minutes for the gas to dissipate
  • Ensure you keep your grill clean – dirt can block gas flow and result in grease fires
  • Always follow the instructions in your grill’s owner’s manual

Natural Gas, Propane, and Gas Grill Explosions

One other thing to keep in mind when wondering can gas grills explode is the difference between natural gas and propane.

Both gases can cause gas grill explosions if they aren’t operated properly – especially if gas is allowed to accumulate under a closed lid.

However, keep in mind that propane is heavier than air, so it will take longer to dissipate if there is a gas build-up. Natural gas is lighter, so it will dissipate more quickly.

Final Thoughts on Gas Grill Explosions

Can gas grills explode? Yes, they can.

Should you be scared of them? No, you shouldn’t.

As you can see, while explosions can occur with your gas grill, they are very unlikely if operated properly.

Provided you take care of your grill and take the proper precautions when using it, it will provide years of enjoyable use for you and your family.

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