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Gas Can Buying Guide

Gas Can Buying Guide

Using gas equipment requires buying, maintaining, and storing gasoline. When done in small quantities, this involves some type of portable fuel container (PFC), or gas can. A gas can is a container designed to safely store liquid fuel. It's mandated by law in some areas and subject to design regulations by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Though using a gas can is simple in theory, there are many things that go into using one safely and effectively.

scepter smartcontrol gas can spout

Gas Can Spouts

The spout is the piece that dispenses and funnels the gas from the container into a machine’s gas tank. It’s also where gas is likely to leak or spill. In 2009, the EPA began requiring all gas cans to adhere to a series of regulations. All gas cans manufactured and sold in the United States must:

  • Close automatically
  • Have one – and only one – self-venting opening
  • Include childproof features
  • Limit permeation of hydrocarbon emissions to 0.3 grams per gallon or less

These regulations aim to enhance safety, prevent spills, and reduce environmental damage. Today, gas cans and their spouts vary in design, but are all manufactured to adhere to EPA regulations. Gas cans manufactured and sold prior to January 1, 2009 remain legal to use; however, newer designs are strongly recommended.

Metal vs. Plastic Gas Cans

Which is better, metal or plastic? For gas cans, it's often a matter of personal preference. Each material has its advantages and disadvantages, from longevity to price point.
Red metal gas can
Red metal gas can

Metal Gas Cans

  • Durable – stronger, tougher, and more long-lasting than plastic
  • High Capacity – greater durability allows for larger sizes and higher capacities
  • Non-permeable – prevents oxygen from degrading the gasoline, prolonging its longevity
  • Larger and heavier – more difficult to maneuver and pour, increasing the risk of spillage
  • May rust under certain conditions
  • May explode in fire
  • More expensive than plastic options
Red plastic Scepter jerry can
Red plastic Scepter jerry can

Plastic Gas Cans

  • Easy to handle – lighter and less bulky than metal
  • Less expensive than metal
  • May melt in fire, but won't explode
  • Porous – allows air to seep through and degrade the gasoline
  • Gasoline can leach into the plastic and weaken its structural integrity
  • Inconsistency of plastic strength – plastics aren't all created equal
red plastic gas can being filled at gas pump

How to Fill a Gas Can

When filling a gas can, remember that gas is volatile and easy to ignite. Take all necessary precautions to keep the gas can away from flames, vehicles, and people. Make sure that all static electricity is discharged prior to filling.

  1. Once arriving at the gas pump, turn off the car engine and extinguish any cigarettes or cigars. Don’t smoke around the gas pump or gas can.
  2. Upon exiting the car, discharge static electricity to prevent sparking. To discharge electricity from your body, touch a metal component of the car. Static can spark and ignite gas fumes.
  3. Remove the gas can from the car, and place it on the ground. Make sure that it’s a safe distance away from people and vehicles. If kept in the car when filling, an electrical charge from the vehicle can spark and start a fire. By placing the can on the pavement, it’s safely grounded to prevent this from happening.
  4. Before positioning the gas pump nozzle for filling, touch the nozzle to the side of the gas can. Immediately placing the nozzle at the rim of the gas can opening can allow a spark from the nozzle to ignite when coming in contact with the gas fumes.
  5. Slowly fill the gas can, leaving several inches at the top. By not filling it to the rim, the gas has space to safely expand if the temperature changes.
  6. Securely screw the cap on after filling.
  7. Wipe off the gas can before placing it back in the vehicle.

Gallon of Advantage Chemicals Orange Degreaser

How to Clean a Gas Can

When cleaning a gas can, first make sure that it’s completely empty of gasoline. If it is not empty, then safely dispose of the gas according to local or state regulations. After cleaning, it is imperative that no water is left in the can. If need be, rinse out with gas after cleaning and before using the can for storage.

  1. Add dish detergent or degreaser to the empty gas can.
  2. Fill halfway with hot water, and shake. Make sure to cover the opening prior to shaking.
  3. Dump the solution from the can to dispose of its contents.
  4. Rinse out all lingering cleaner by filling the can with more water, shaking it, and dumping it. Repeat until no detergent remains.
  5. Open the aspiration system to clean the inlet filter.
  6. Drain the water.
  7. Place can in a dry, well-ventilated area. Wait until can dries completely before use.

Expert Tip

If the interior of the can requires more heavy-duty cleaning, try using a bent brush or even a chain. Both can help loosen and scrape off debris, as can gravel or aquarium rock. Just make sure to remove it completely before filling the can with gas.

How to Store Gas Cans

Gas cans present dangers directly related to flammability, so proper storage is imperative. The length of storage can also affect the integrity of the gas, rendering it ineffective after long-term storage. Make sure to pay attention to how gas cans are stored and for how long. Follow all recommended guidelines.

How Long Can Gas be Stored?

The degradation process for standard gasoline starts around 30 days, at which point the chemical components begin to break down. High-octane gas can last up to 3 months while low-octane gas can last up to 6 months. Degradation happens gradually until the gas won't start an engine.

To prolong the shelf-life, a gas stabilizing agent can be added to help neutralize the chemicals for up to a year. For generator use though, it's recommended that gasoline be no more than 6 months old. This is important to keep in mind; just because there is gas available does not mean that it should be used.
three red plastic gas cans on shelf in wooden shed

Where to Store Gas Cans

Remember that gas is extremely flammable and expands with heat. When storing a can of gas, keep it somewhere cool, dry, and well-ventilated. Recommended storage locations include sheds, detached garages, and other out-buildings.

Storing gas in a utility room, basement, or attached garage puts the entire business or house in danger if the fuel catches fire. These areas also often include a furnace and other electrical equipment that can serve as an ignition source.

How to Store Gas Cans Outside

Storing gas cans outdoors is genereally not recommended, unless housed in an out-building or shed. The location must be cool, dry, and shielded from direct sunlight.

How to Use a Spill-Proof Gas Can

Spill-proof gas cans are designed to help conserve gasoline and increase safety. Multiple designs are available on the market, ranging from spouts that twist open to those with buttons to control pouring.

One particular design uses a spring mechanism that allows gas to pour only when the button is depressed and pushed backwards. If pressure is lifted from the button, the spring pushes it forward and stops the flow of gasoline.

Gas Can Color Law

The color red is often associated with the image of a gas can. Red is not, however, a universal color for fuel, nor is it always a safe color to use for fuel storage.

Each type of fuel corresponds to its own gas can color, and not using the correct color can lead to legal troubles. Using the wrong color can may be illegal. We recommend checking your state law to guarantee compliance. In Pennsylvania and Texas, for example, a red gas can must only be used to store gasoline.

Gas Can Color Code

Color-coding is critical for user safety. When facilities operate a fleet of equipment, the equipment often require different types of fuel. This necessitates an easy-to-use, fool-proof system for labeling that fuel. A user must be confident that the fuel they retrieve and use to fill a gas tank contains the correct fuel for the piece of equipment.
red 5 gallon gas can for gasoline

Red Gas Can

Use a red gas can for gasoline. It is perhaps the most commonly seen color, but should not be used as a "universal" color for just any fuel type.

blue 5 gallon gas can for kerosene

Blue Gas Can

Use a blue gas can for kerosene. Though flammable, kerosene is less flammable and volatile than either gasoline or diesel fuel.

yellow 5 gallon gas can for diesel fuel

Yellow Gas Can

Use a yellow gas can for diesel fuel. It should never be used to store any other liquid fuel.

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