How to spot a propane leak

Jul 1, 2014

A leaky propane tank is both dangerous and expensive, but it can be hard to pinpoint leaks. Natural gas is odorless and invisible, so mercaptan is often added to add a strong smell. However, when a tank gets low, the telltale mercaptan smell can become more concentrated in the proximity of the tank, which might make you think that your natural gas storage container is leaking. Fortunately, there are a few easy things you can do to figure out if your tank is actually leaking or if there are trace lingering odors that are giving you a false alarm.

Use your senses

If you suspect that your natural gas container is leaking, the first thing you can do is use your senses of smell and hearing. When you approach the tank, does the smell of mercaptan get stronger? If so, try to listen to the tank. If it sounds like there might be a hiss, then you might have a leak. If you do not hear hissing, but you can still smell the mercaptan, then you may need to conduct a closer inspection.

Lingering smells

Sometimes a gas smell around your tank is not the result of a leak. When your tank gets low, you may notice that appliances, such as your stove or oven, might smell like natural gas more than usual. This is a sign that you are low, and you should call for a refill. Low tanks can also make the proximity around your storage container smell more than usual.

Another cause of lingering smells is getting your tank refilled. When a technician comes to your home or business to refill your natural gas containers, they will often fill them right to the top, which will cause a small amount of gas to be vented through the pressure relief valve. This gas can cause the area to smell mildly of mercaptan for a short time before it dissipates.

Spotting a leak

If you can hear what sounds like a leak, or if it seems like there is an acute smell near your tanks, then you may want to test the pipes and valves on top for potential problems. All you need to test your natural gas containers is to fill a spray bottle with dish soap and water. Spray the soapy mixture anywhere you think you might have a leak, and if you do, the liquid will form a stream of small bubbles.

Whether it is a valve or a pipe, if your tank is leaking, you need to turn it off at the source and contact your natural gas provider. Leaky tanks are dangerous and expensive, and they need to be replaced or repaired by professionals.