How To Make a Coffee Can Heater

As part of our Emergency Preparedness Plan we include a list of items to include in a “Car Kit”. This is a kit that you keep in your car with useful items in case you have a road-side emergency. One of the items we recommend is a “coffee can heater” and we have had quite a few people ask us for clarification on what that is, so here is the answer will full instructions of course :)

How to Make a Coffee Can Heater – Video

How to Make a Coffee Can Heater – Instructions

  • Step 1: Clean out an old coffee can (if you don’t drink coffee, any large can will do … just make sure it has a lid!)
  • Step 2: Remove the cardboard center from a roll of toilet paper
  • Step 3: Stuff the roll of toilet paper into the can and place the lid on
  • Step 4: Insert the can, one package of matches, and a bottle of rubbing alcohol into a larger container or bucket (extra rolls of toilet and bottles of alcohol can be handy as well)
  • Step 5: Place the larger container into the trunk of your car

How To Use Your Heater: If you need to use the heater to warm your hands or provide a little heat in the car, simply pour the alcohol over the toilet paper until it is well saturated (but not so there is alcohol sitting in the bottom of the can). Then light the toilet paper on fire. It will act as a wick and should provide heat for quite a while. You can also smother the fire and replace the lid when the can has cooled down and save it for later use

coffee_can_heater

UPDATED TO ADD: To answer some of the comments below, I did some tests on actually USING the heater and here are my remarks. I thought that cocoa can WAS metal but apparently it’s just got a metal lining. Yes you should use a metal can! I tried this indoors and the fumes weren’t bad, I would probably crack a window or door in a car though. Also, this can gets HOT so you can’t just hold it on your lap or in your hands. Have something prepared to set it on. But it produced a great amount of heat. I could only hold my hands about a foot above the can without it being too hot. Also, when you go to light it, just throw the match in. I tried to set it straight on the toilet paper and burnt myself and screamed and threw the match, thus scaring my children and causing a safety hazard. Now you know everything I do ;)

  • squeaky

    I used a hand can opener to put holes around the top and bottom of a #10 can. Then squeezed a roll of toilet paper into a 1 lb. veggie can. Poured a bottle of isopropyl alcohol over the toilet paper. Then pulled the cardboard tube out. (it slipped right out with no problem). Then I sit a small cast iron trivot in the bottom of a #10 can and sat the veggie can with toilet paper and alcohol on the trivet inside the #10 can. Lit the toilet paper with a long refillable grill lighter. It burned for 30 minutes. The toilet paper didn’t burn. The second time I poured a piece a bottle of isopropyl alcohol on the toilet paper, lit it and sat a pan of water on top. The water boiled and then me and my sister made a bowl of ramen noodles with the boiling water. The flame is really high to start with so I would be weary about using it in a car. I used a round metal pizza pan to put the fire out. The outside can was not hot but the inside can was.

  • Catherine

    As a heat proof surface to use in a vehicle, you may consider adding a 12″ x 12″ trivet or a tile of some sort to set this on during use so you do NOT catch your vehicles interior on fire. Also make sure you have a small fore extinguisher on hand as well.

  • Cindy J.

    It is a great video but I think you should redo it for safety sake, and next time include the need to leave windows cracked to vent carbon monoxide and warn against the use of Swiss Miss and other paper containers that look like they’re metal. Someone could get into serious trouble without these instructions and they might not read the text about the Swiss Miss container below the video.

    • http://foodstoragemadeeasy.net Jodi and Julie

      Thanks Cindy, we actually did do an updated post on this with some additional tips submitted by a reader. This is pretty old and I feel silly now looking back on it :)

  • Pingback: Alternative Heating Methods: Coffee Can Heater | Food Storage Made Easy

  • http://www.heaterpartsz.com heater parts

    That’s a really good idea. I guess when you are like me, and in your car all the time, you don’t think about anything bad happening, but it can. I will get my kit ready tomorrow just in case. Thank you for bringing this to my attention.

  • http://www.heaterpartsz.com heater parts

    That’s a really good idea. I guess when you are like me, and in your car all the time, you don’t think about anything bad happening, but it can. I will get my kit ready tomorrow just in case. Thank you for bringing this to my attention.

  • http://coffeeofthemonthclub.net/ Coffee Clubs

    Very resourceful, because instead of throwing those coffee cans on the trash can you recycle it and create some useful stuff. Thank you for sharing instructions on how to do this.

  • kimmyjling

    I'm just putting together my coffee can heater kit, and had a thought. Can flannel fabric be used in place of the toilet paper? I sew cloth diapers and have a ton of flannel scraps which could come in great use here. What do you all think??

  • Anonymous

    I’m just putting together my coffee can heater kit, and had a thought. Can flannel fabric be used in place of the toilet paper? I sew cloth diapers and have a ton of flannel scraps which could come in great use here. What do you all think??

  • kimmyjling

    I'm just putting together my coffee can heater kit, and had a thought. Can flannel fabric be used in place of the toilet paper? I sew cloth diapers and have a ton of flannel scraps which could come in great use here. What do you all think??

  • http://www.algarveheaters.net/ Algarve_Heaters

    I’m not finished read this yet, but it’s so fabulous ‘n I’ll back again when I was finished my job :D

  • http://www.algarveheaters.net/ Algarve_Heaters

    I'm not finished read this yet, but it's so fabulous 'n I'll back again when I was finished my job :D

  • http://www.algarveheaters.net/ Algarve_Heaters

    That's the great article! I just pass 'n read it, two thumbs up! ;)

  • Anonymous

    What we used to do as a kid (was a school project) is use a tuna can and a cofee can. We’d cut a one inch strip of cardboard and roll it up so it fit inside the tuna can. Melt some parafin wax and dump into the tuna can with the cardboard. This makes a nice little candle.
    Next we would cut a small slot out of the side of the cofee can which was a few inches wide. The slot is cut out of the open end of the can. Then you turn the cofee can over so the open end with the slot is sitting on the ground. Add a small vent in the top of the can for the gases to escape so the candle stays lit and you have a nice little hot plate. I hope you can picture this from my description, but basically you are using the bottom of the cofee can as your cooking surface. The candle can be lit and then slides under the cofee pot through the slot you cut.

    We called these hobo stoves.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Victoria-Brown/1380158161 Victoria Brown

      In Girl Scouts, we use a #10 can instead of the coffee can for the hobo stove, and we call the tuna can with rolled up cardboard & melted paraffin wax a buddy burner. We’ve made them for many years.

  • pukwudjivc

    What we used to do as a kid (was a school project) is use a tuna can and a cofee can. We'd cut a one inch strip of cardboard and roll it up so it fit inside the tuna can. Melt some parafin wax and dump into the tuna can with the cardboard. This makes a nice little candle.
    Next we would cut a small slot out of the side of the cofee can which was a few inches wide. The slot is cut out of the open end of the can. Then you turn the cofee can over so the open end with the slot is sitting on the ground. Add a small vent in the top of the can for the gases to escape so the candle stays lit and you have a nice little hot plate. I hope you can picture this from my description, but basically you are using the bottom of the cofee can as your cooking surface. The candle can be lit and then slides under the cofee pot through the slot you cut.

    We called these hobo stoves.

  • http://www.algarveheaters.net/ algarve_heaters

    Bravo, Bros! keep going like this, more good info again.

  • http://www.algarveheaters.net/ algarve_heaters

    Bravo, Bros! keep going like this, more good info again.

  • http://foodstoragemadeeasy.net Jodi – Food Storage Made Easy

    Thanks for the great tips!

  • Anonymous

    There are two types of rubbing alcohol, 70% and 91%. The 91% alcohol burns cleanest. Using a can as small as a tuna or catfood can works well for your 72 hour or car kits. Use cotton balls soaked in alcohol, cooking oil, or vaseline as the fuel and wick. Just make sure there’s a hot pad or heat resistant surface on which you set the can. A piece of tinfoil can be wrapped around and over the can for storage, then be used to snuff the flame if needed. Also, a birthday candle gives off a good bit of heat (especially the kind that you can’t blow out), several can be stored in a recycled pill bottle or film canister, and carried in a personal/car/or 72 hour kit. They also are good fire starters when camping or using other fuel sources out of doors .

    • http://foodstoragemadeeasy.net Jodi – Food Storage Made Easy

      Thanks for the great tips!

  • kdonat

    There are two types of rubbing alcohol, 70% and 91%. The 91% alcohol burns cleanest. Using a can as small as a tuna or catfood can works well for your 72 hour or car kits. Use cotton balls soaked in alcohol, cooking oil, or vaseline as the fuel and wick. Just make sure there's a hot pad or heat resistant surface on which you set the can. A piece of tinfoil can be wrapped around and over the can for storage, then be used to snuff the flame if needed. Also, a birthday candle gives off a good bit of heat (especially the kind that you can't blow out), several can be stored in a recycled pill bottle or film canister, and carried in a personal/car/or 72 hour kit. They also are good fire starters when camping or using other fuel sources out of doors .

  • moana

    You can use a new quart sized paint can. You don’t ever have to replace the toilet paper just add more alcohol. That way the lid is metal and you just put the lid on to stop the flame, or put it on part way for a smaller flame. It can be used in the car but crack the window just a little bit. It is safe. I tape matches to the outside of the can. You can also tape a penny to the top to help open the can when you need it.

    • Jodi — Food Storage Made Easy

      Thanks for the tips! Julie’s sister also used a paint can. I was just trying to find something I had handy around my house. I will have to look for a better container for my own kit!

  • moana

    You can use a new quart sized paint can. You don’t ever have to replace the toilet paper just add more alcohol. That way the lid is metal and you just put the lid on to stop the flame, or put it on part way for a smaller flame. It can be used in the car but crack the window just a little bit. It is safe. I tape matches to the outside of the can. You can also tape a penny to the top to help open the can when you need it.

  • moana

    You can use a new quart sized paint can. You don’t ever have to replace the toilet paper just add more alcohol. That way the lid is metal and you just put the lid on to stop the flame, or put it on part way for a smaller flame. It can be used in the car but crack the window just a little bit. It is safe. I tape matches to the outside of the can. You can also tape a penny to the top to help open the can when you need it.

    • Jodi — Food Storage Made Easy

      Thanks for the tips! Julie’s sister also used a paint can. I was just trying to find something I had handy around my house. I will have to look for a better container for my own kit!

    • Jodi — Food Storage Made Easy

      Thanks for the tips! Julie’s sister also used a paint can. I was just trying to find something I had handy around my house. I will have to look for a better container for my own kit!

    • Jodi — Food Storage Made Easy

      Thanks for the tips! Julie’s sister also used a paint can. I was just trying to find something I had handy around my house. I will have to look for a better container for my own kit!

  • moana

    You can use a new quart sized paint can. You don’t ever have to replace the toilet paper just add more alcohol. That way the lid is metal and you just put the lid on to stop the flame, or put it on part way for a smaller flame. It can be used in the car but crack the window just a little bit. It is safe. I tape matches to the outside of the can. You can also tape a penny to the top to help open the can when you need it.

  • ctdaffodil

    I’m confused – the big swiss moss containers on the east coast are foil lined cardboard….do they ship them diffferently for the other side of the country?
    If you need a coffee can – as your neighbors – We do drink coffee so I’ve never had to worry….

    • Jodi — Food Storage Made Easy

      Ours are foil-lined cardboard too. I didn’t realize it until after I had made the video. I did try to update the post to reflect the fact that you MUST use a metal container. Thanks for the heads up ;) It was late at night while I was making it so I have a little bit of an excuse. lol.

  • ctdaffodil

    I’m confused – the big swiss moss containers on the east coast are foil lined cardboard….do they ship them diffferently for the other side of the country?
    If you need a coffee can – as your neighbors – We do drink coffee so I’ve never had to worry….

    • Jodi — Food Storage Made Easy

      Ours are foil-lined cardboard too. I didn’t realize it until after I had made the video. I did try to update the post to reflect the fact that you MUST use a metal container. Thanks for the heads up ;) It was late at night while I was making it so I have a little bit of an excuse. lol.

  • sarahdanette

    Here’s the link for the Heat Cells http://www.shelfreliance.com/product/view/p182.
    Turns out it lasts 10 hours!

  • sarahdanette

    Here’s the link for the Heat Cells http://www.shelfreliance.com/product/view/p182.
    Turns out it lasts 10 hours!

  • sarahdanette

    I just bought a bunch of Heat Cells (from shelfreliance.com for about $3 a piece, cheap!), which are little cans of fuel that you can burn for heat or to cook food. Each can will last up to 8 hours and is PERFECTLY SAFE to use INDOORS or inside a car (its an ecofuel that is odorless, non-toxic, and 100% biodegradable)! I think the coffee cans would be a safety hazard, and could eventually kill you, if in an enclosed space. It’s very small and easy to store, I haven’t checked to see if it’s safe to keep in the car, but it’s non-flammable, so I think it’s probably ok.

  • sarahdanette

    I just bought a bunch of Heat Cells (from shelfreliance.com for about $3 a piece, cheap!), which are little cans of fuel that you can burn for heat or to cook food. Each can will last up to 8 hours and is PERFECTLY SAFE to use INDOORS or inside a car (its an ecofuel that is odorless, non-toxic, and 100% biodegradable)! I think the coffee cans would be a safety hazard, and could eventually kill you, if in an enclosed space. It’s very small and easy to store, I haven’t checked to see if it’s safe to keep in the car, but it’s non-flammable, so I think it’s probably ok.

  • http://frommomtomom.blogspot.com/ lvlc @ From Mom To Mom

    Great Idea!!!! I love it! Nice idea to improvise a stove too.
    This reminded me of my passed grandmother. She was very catholic and did the rosary every single day. To do it. She lighted her candle. What’s so funny about it? Well, her candles were not the usual wax candles!

    She put a metal lid up side down. Put a cotton ball in the center. Spilled some vegetable oil over it. Made a peak in the top and then lighted it! I guess that’s how they made it back in her times. I never got to ask her about it. Now that I think of it is brilliant but back then, did I cared about it! Nah! Shame on me!

  • http://frommomtomom.blogspot.com/ lvlc @ From Mom To Mom

    Great Idea!!!! I love it! Nice idea to improvise a stove too.
    This reminded me of my passed grandmother. She was very catholic and did the rosary every single day. To do it. She lighted her candle. What’s so funny about it? Well, her candles were not the usual wax candles!

    She put a metal lid up side down. Put a cotton ball in the center. Spilled some vegetable oil over it. Made a peak in the top and then lighted it! I guess that’s how they made it back in her times. I never got to ask her about it. Now that I think of it is brilliant but back then, did I cared about it! Nah! Shame on me!

  • gaby

    or probably we can only use half of the toilet paper so we can have a moderation flame don’t you think? if we have to use it inside the car so it will be not dangerous !! and the flame or fire it will not go very high.
    just a thought!!!
    sorry for all the many comments Im just thinking at loud!!! LOL
    any way!!!
    what do you think girls?

  • gaby

    or probably we can only use half of the toilet paper so we can have a moderation flame don’t you think? if we have to use it inside the car so it will be not dangerous !! and the flame or fire it will not go very high.
    just a thought!!!
    sorry for all the many comments Im just thinking at loud!!! LOL
    any way!!!
    what do you think girls?

  • gaby

    and actually if you have little kids like my Im a little concern to just have the alcohol in the car because sometimes my kids are playing there what am going to do is I’ll put the bottle inside a vacuum sealer bag and seal it. so it can be safe for my kids , and when I need to use just open the bag and ready.

    I think these my be interest for some one.
    have a great day!!!

  • gaby

    and actually if you have little kids like my Im a little concern to just have the alcohol in the car because sometimes my kids are playing there what am going to do is I’ll put the bottle inside a vacuum sealer bag and seal it. so it can be safe for my kids , and when I need to use just open the bag and ready.

    I think these my be interest for some one.
    have a great day!!!

  • gaby

    thank you well then Im excited I’ll put these on my car and probably we should add a kitchen cloth to hold it if we want to move it. and I’m sorry I don’t know how you call it in english but the ones that we use to put hot pans on the table so we can put there a #10 can (form cannery) on the top and star the fire any way Im excited to give it a try.
    thanks girls!!!!

  • gaby

    thank you well then Im excited I’ll put these on my car and probably we should add a kitchen cloth to hold it if we want to move it. and I’m sorry I don’t know how you call it in english but the ones that we use to put hot pans on the table so we can put there a #10 can (form cannery) on the top and star the fire any way Im excited to give it a try.
    thanks girls!!!!

  • Jodi — Food Storage Made Easy

    I answered some of the questions in my update above! Shame on me for not actually USING it before posting this ;)

  • Jodi — Food Storage Made Easy

    I answered some of the questions in my update above! Shame on me for not actually USING it before posting this ;)

  • gaby

    well i have the same question does is safe to use indoor?
    because it’s a really good idea, even you can use it too cook or warm things you just put on the top a small cooled rack for cookies and there you go
    \but I want to know if these is safe

    thanks!! excellent idea !!! I love it.

  • gaby

    well i have the same question does is safe to use indoor?
    because it’s a really good idea, even you can use it too cook or warm things you just put on the top a small cooled rack for cookies and there you go
    but I want to know if these is safe

    thanks!! excellent idea !!! I love it.

  • Janae

    wondering if it needs to be an all metal can? I’m thinking that the cocoa can you show is cardboard and might not hold the flame?

  • Janae

    wondering if it needs to be an all metal can? I’m thinking that the cocoa can you show is cardboard and might not hold the flame?

  • Amy

    How easy to do! Here’s a question. I’m guessing it’s obvious (or is it?) that a person would want to burn this outdoors, but what if the weather conditions were horrid? Would a person become sickened by the fumes if the coffee can heater were burned inside an enclosed space? Does anyone know? Thanks!

  • Amy

    How easy to do! Here’s a question. I’m guessing it’s obvious (or is it?) that a person would want to burn this outdoors, but what if the weather conditions were horrid? Would a person become sickened by the fumes if the coffee can heater were burned inside an enclosed space? Does anyone know? Thanks!

  • Sandra

    Would that actually be safe to user IN a car? Seems dangerous to use unless your outdoors?

    Very inventive though! :-)

  • Sandra

    Would that actually be safe to user IN a car? Seems dangerous to use unless your outdoors?

    Very inventive though! :-)

    • http://www.tacticalintelligence.net Tactical Intelligence

      While burning any carbon-containing compound (in this case isopropyl alcohol) in an area with reduced oxygen can produce carbon monoxide, rubbing alcohol is still relatively safe to burn indoors. In a car, you’ll want to be sure to crack the window a bit so as not to deplete all the oxygen as well as to create some good air circulation.