Worried you might have a propane leak? As full-time RVers, we know how stressful it can be when a system as crucial (and dangerous) as the RV propane system is on the fritz. Learn how to easily check for a propane leak in your RV – with a handheld tool or household items you already have – to ensure peace of mind for many more adventures to come!
About the RV propane system
As RV owners, it is important to understand your RV’s propane system.
An RV propane leak can be a really dangerous situation – for the health of your RV camper and your family and pets.
Propane is a fuel source for many things in an RV. The most common propane-powered appliances you can expect to find in an RV include fridges, water heaters, stoves, ovens, and your furnace.
RV owners will often also have propane grills for outdoor cooking (we LOVE our Blackstone!). While these are still prone to leaks, they can be less dangerous as they are used outside in a more ventilated space. Even so, propane leaks outside can be a fire hazard and it is important to know how to check for propane leaks both inside and outside of your RV!
A general rule to know what appliances are propane is by identifying the appliances where you can expect to have an open flame when it is in use or ignited.
Main Components of an RV propane system:
- RV propane pigtail hose: comes out of the propane tank and connects each tank at the propane valve to the regulator (the silver hoses and brass fittings seen on our RV propane tanks in the picture above)
- Propane Regulator: Serves at the connection between the propane pigtails, propane tank, and supply hose to the rest of the RV (the white box with a black knob in between the RV propane tanks)
- Main supply hose: Takes propane from the regulator to the rest of the RV’s propane appliances when they are run (the black hose running down from the white propane regulator)
- RV Propane tank(s) or cylinders: RV’s come with a variety of LPG (liquid propane gas) storage, typically depending on the RV’s size. These can range from 20lb tanks to 40 lb cylinders
Our DRV fifth wheel has dual 40-pound propane tanks with an auto-changeover feature in our regulator to pull from the full tank once the first tank becomes empty. We also have a quick connect fitting to which we can easily attach our Blackstone Griddle when cooking outside of our RV.
safety features of the RV propane system
Towing around and sleeping on top of extremely flammable, dangerous, and explosive material doesn’t seem like the smartest decision if you want to live a long healthy life.
We get it.
The good news is that millions of people RV each year and the stories of catastrophic propane-related issues are few and far between.
RV propane systems are built with inherent safety features for your protection AND there are things you can do to ensure your system is performing properly.
It doesn’t have to be a mystery or a wait-and-hope kind of scenario.
RV propane systems and hoses are equipped with various safety features designed to prevent potential hazards and ensure peace of mind while enjoying your travels.
Here are some important safety features you’ll often find in your RV’s propane system:
Thermal Protection: Guarding Against High Temperatures
Thermal protection is a crucial safety feature that shields your RV propane system from extreme temperatures. Propane is sensitive to heat, and exposure to high temperatures can cause it to expand rapidly, potentially leading to pressure buildup within the hoses. This pressure buildup can compromise the integrity of the hoses, leading to leaks or ruptures, which can be…really bad.
To counter this risk, RV propane pigtails and hoses are constructed with materials that can withstand elevated temperatures. They often incorporate specialized coatings and insulation that act as barriers, preventing excessive heat from affecting the hoses. This thermal protection ensures that the propane flow remains stable and safe, regardless of the external temperature conditions.
Excess Flow Protection: Preventing Sudden Surges in Gas Flow
Excess flow protection is another critical safety feature found in many RV propane pigtail hoses. It’s designed to prevent sudden surges in gas flow that could occur in the event of a hose rupture or detachment. These surges could potentially lead to dangerous situations, such as fires or explosions.
Excess flow protection devices work by automatically detecting a significant increase in gas flow beyond the normal rate. When such an increase is detected, the device triggers a valve to close, limiting the flow to a safe level. This rapid response can significantly reduce the risk of accidents by minimizing the release of propane and preventing any potential ignition sources from coming into contact with the excess gas.
Pressure Relief Valve
Each propane tank has a pressure relief valve that opens if the pressure inside the tank exceeds a safe limit. This prevents the tank from exploding in the event of overpressure.
The propane regulator is responsible for reducing the high pressure of propane in the tank to a safe, usable level for RV appliances. It includes safety mechanisms to shut off the flow of propane in case of a sudden increase in pressure.
Propane Leak Detectors & Alarms
All RVs should come with some sort of detection system or alarm installed. Make sure it is up to date and always in working order! These should be tested frequently and replaced when it is needed.
You can have just LPG detectors, but we have always opted for a propane and CO combo detector for added protection (propane combustion can produce carbon monoxide (CO), a highly toxic gas):
We have encountered many RVers throughout our travels who are fearful of their RV’s propane system and opt to not use it all.
While this is of course a deeply personal choice, if you plan to boondock for more than a day or want to avoid the increased costs of all-electric RVs, it is important to learn how to safely use the propane systems in your RV.
This includes knowing how to detect and check for a propane leak!
How to tell if you might have a propane leak
Less inconspicuous than “silent killers” like carbon monoxide, there are several ways to check if you might be experiencing a propane leak as well as steps to take to find out exactly where it is.
Common areas where you could see potential leaks in your RV’s propane system include:
- Old, cracked, or dry-rotted propane hoses
- Propane tank connections (like the connection at the valve or between the propane pigtail and the regulator)
- Appliance connections
- Propane tank gauges
- Seals or gaskets
There are a few tell-tale signs that you might have a propane leak:
Odor/smell of propane: Propane has a distinct odor that is often described as similar to rotten eggs or sulfur (this is from an additive used for safety purposes to be able to detect leaks). If you detect this strong smell inside your RV and it is persistent, it’s a clear sign of a propane leak.
Audible alarm: As we discussed, your RV will come with some sort of propane leak detector alarm. If these sound take them seriously! You may have a propane leak…and if not, it is probably time to replace your alarm
Burning through propane faster than expected: If you find yourself running out of propane faster than expected or what you would consider normal, this may be a sign that you have a leak. Similarly, you should keep an eye on your propane levels and take note if they drop significantly when the RV is not in use.
A good rule of thumb is to know how much propane your appliances should typically use and establish a “normal” baseline.
You could always consider a more advanced propane gauge option – like this digital Bluetooth one:
Mopeka Pro Check Sensor – Wireless Propane Tank Magnetic Sensor Level Indicator
This digital propane tank gauge is great for having a more accurate reading than the basic gauges that tell you full, low, or empty which you might find attached to some RV propane pigtails. The Mopeka tank sensor connects to your phone through a mobile app, providing you with real-time updates on the propane level.
Flame Appearance: When using propane appliances, observe the color of the flame. A yellow or orange flame instead of a steady blue one can signal incomplete combustion due to a propane leak or another issue.
Decreased Gas Pressure: If you notice a drop in the gas pressure for your propane appliances, it might be due to a leak in the system.
Appliance Issues: If your propane appliances are not functioning correctly, it could be due to a propane leak affecting their performance. This includes stoves, water heaters, and furnaces.
Unexplained Illness: Some of the dangers of propane leaks include the fact that they put you at risk of fire and can cause serious illness. Propane leaks can lead to symptoms like nausea, dizziness, headaches, or respiratory issues (consistent with propane poisoning). If you or your loved ones experience these symptoms, it could be a sign of a leak. Don’t wait to take action! In severe cases or with prolonged exposure, symptoms can escalate to loss of consciousness, seizures, and even death.
Abnormal Tank Levels: Keep an eye on your propane tank levels. If you notice a significant drop in propane levels without apparent usage, it could indicate a leak.
It can be harder to detect a small leak and should be easier to sniff out if you have a larger leak. Don’t worry, we have tips for finding both small and large propane leaks in your RV!
How to find a propane leak In Your RV
Whether you are looking for a quick and easy solution using household items to check for a propane leak or are interested in trusty tools you can count on, we’ve got you!
Propane leaks can be elusive, but you are going to work smarter, not harder.
Here are a couple of ways to check for and confirm if you have a propane leak in your RV:
Propane Leak Detector
Portable propane gas detectors can be a great way to use technology to confirm even the smallest of propane leaks. These devices come in portable and handheld versions so that you can move them around to different areas where you suspect the propane leak may be originating from.
Soapy Water Test
Looking for a budget-friendly solution? The soapy water test is cheap and uses things you probably already have right in your RV!
Create a simple solution of water and liquid dishwashing soap to create a soapy water solution or mix. You can do this in a spray bottle or other container and simply eyeball the measurements.
First, close the valve on the propane cylinder and make sure all appliances are turned off. Next, spray or drip the solution onto propane hoses, fittings, and valves – anywhere a leak may be present. Without turning on any appliances, open the valve to pressurize the system.
If bubbles appear, this suggests the presence of propane gas. As a general rule, small bubbles indicate a smaller leak, while bigger bubbles indicate a larger leak.
If bubbles appear, turn off the valve to shut down the propane supply. Repair the problem (whether that is tightening connections, replacing hoses, or getting an RV tech out to look at it). Then rinse off the suds and you will be good to go!
Tips For Protecting Yourself & Your RV
After 2 years on the road with our RV traveling full-time, here are our best tips for keeping yourself and your RV safe when it comes to your propane system:
1. Check the expiration date of alarms and propane tanks
Alarm expiration dates should be clearly labeled by the RV manufacturers at the time your RV was built and are important to check regularly.
2. Replace fittings and hoses if they appear to have wear and tear
Over time, propane hoses can deteriorate. Replace them every 5-7 years or if you notice any signs of wear, cracks, or damage. As with your propane tanks, hoses are best kept out of harmful direct sunlight. Your main propane supply should be well protected, but you may need to be more mindful of propane tanks or hoses you use outside (such as if you have a portable grill or propane firepit).
We use these propane pigtails with built-in propane gauges:
Longads Stainless Steel Braided RV Propane Hose
These are high-quality RV pigtail propane hoses with a tank gauge level indicator. This gauge allows you to monitor and approximate LPG fuel levels without removing the tank. Solid brass fittings provide a secure, airtight connection and braided stainless steel is durable for long-term use.
Propane supply hose:
IMPORTANT REMINDER: Check your RV’s specific fittings and sizes before purchasing. The items on this list may give you an idea of what products you might consider for your shortlist, but make sure whatever you ultimately end up purchasing matches your specifications
3. Test for Leaks
Even if you don’t necessarily suspect a leak, it can be a good idea to periodically test your propane system (connections and hoses) for leaks using a propane leak detector solution or soapy water.
4. Use thread sealant to keep seals tight
Using yellow gas tape (a common type of thread sealant) when connecting propane hoses and fittings helps create tight seals and prevent leaks
Here is the sealant tape we use to ensure a tight fit:
5. Make a habit of regularly inspecting your RV propane system
Look for any visible damage, wear, or loose fittings. This includes checking the propane tank, hoses, and connections. During these inspections check for odor and hissing sounds as well. If you smell a strong rotten-egg like smell or hear hissing, this can indicate a propane leak.
Things to look for that can be indicative of a leak: bubbling, corrosion, or frost on the propane lines, connectors, or appliances
6. Include propane regulators in your consistent maintenance routine
Check the propane regulator for signs of wear or damage. Replace it if you notice any issues. Regulators are crucial for maintaining safe pressure in the system.
2 Tank-2-Stage Auto Changeover LP Propane Regulator for RV
Complete set! Braided stainless steel propane pigtails and 2-stage regulator with auto changeover function that allows you to hook up 2 propane tanks and switches automatically between them when one is empty. This RV propane regulator comes with excess flow protection and an automatic shut-off valve, which helps prevent leaks and other safety hazards
7. Ensure all of your propane connections are tight
Hand-tighten connections, and then use a wrench to give them an extra quarter-turn to ensure they are snug but not over-tightened.
8. Travel with closed valves when possible
Before hitting the road, ensure all propane valves are tightly closed. This prevents propane from flowing into the RV during travel. You will also want to ensure all appliances are turned off and propane valves are shut when your RV is not in use.
9. Have an Emergency Plan
In case of a leak, it is important to know how to shut off the propane supply to your RV immediately. Other potential steps to take include:
- Ventilate the RV by opening windows and doors and running fans/ceiling vents
- Evacuate the RV to get to fresh air
- Do not use electrical switches, lights, or any potential sources of sparks
- Call 911 or seek medical attention, especially if experiencing symptoms that are severe or if there is any suspicion of carbon monoxide exposure
10. Be Cautious in Extreme Temperatures
Propane expands and contracts with temperature changes. In extremely hot weather, pressure can build up, potentially causing leaks. In cold weather, the opposite can occur, reducing pressure. Be mindful of these fluctuations.
IMPORTANT NOTE: If you have doubts or continue to have problems with your RV’s propane system, ensure that your propane system was installed correctly by a qualified technician. This includes the tank, regulators, hoses, and appliances. You may also need more expert help if you can’t find the leak or suspect that you are having trouble with your RV’s gas lines that are not as accessible.
On a related note – fire is one of the leading causes of RV damage and loss. While doing regular maintenance on your propane system is a great way to protect your RV and yourself, it is also important to always make sure you have the necessary fire extinguishers (and ensure they are up to date) and know where your emergency exits are.
You can also consider investing in something like Proteng, a fully automatic fire detection and impression system.
Check out more helpful RV Tips & Resources:
- RV Tips 101: Education Guide for Beginner RVers
- How To Clean Sensors in RV Holding Tanks: A Full Guide
- What Does An Inverter Do In An RV? A Complete RV Power Guide
- RV EMS vs. Surge Protector: What You Need To Protect Your RV
- Best 5th Wheel Accessories For The Ultimate RV Adventures
- How Much Solar Do You Need to Run an RV Fridge?