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Can I Always Smell a Propane Gas Leak?


Periodically, your propane company will mail you information that explains steps to take if you smell gas, as well as topics like propane gas detectors, carbon monoxide safety, general appliance safety tips and more. You may also recall that the safety materials you received contained a “Scratch and Sniff” test—allowing you to easily recognize the distinct smell of propane.

In its natural form, propane is odorless, but manufacturers deliberately add a chemical compound to give it a strong unpleasant smell. This odorized propane is usually described as something similar to the odor of rotten eggs or a skunk’s spray. Some people say it mimics the smell of a dead animal.
However, there are situations that may prevent you from detecting that telltale odor. Sometimes, conditions in your home – or in your body – can make it harder to pick up propane’s scent.
Commonly known as “odor loss,” this can be caused by:

  • Too much air, water, or rust in your propane tank
  • A propane leak underground (soil diffuses propane’s odor)
  • Odor “sticking” to the inside of the propane distribution pipes
  • Diminished sense of smell, caused by old age, sinus congestion or other medical conditions,

With all this in mind, it is important to take these two precautions for propane leaks:

1. Install a propane gas detector (or detectors, depending on the size and layout of your home). A propane gas detector is an inexpensive but vital piece of safety equipment; follow manufacturer’s instructions for placement and maintenance.

2. When in doubt, follow propane safety procedures. React immediately to even the faintest propane odor, following propane safety measures to get your family to safety.

If you think you smell gas, do the following:

  • Extinguish all smoking materials and any open flames or other sources of ignition. Everyone should vacate the building, vehicle or area.
  • Move away without using any electric switches, appliances, thermostats or telephones.
  • If it is safe to do so, close the gas shutoff valve on the propane tank or cylinder.
  • Call your propane supplier or your local fire department from a mobile phone or a neighbor’s telephone.
  • Even if you do not continue to smell propane, do not open or turn on the propane supply valve. Do not reenter the building, vehicle or area. Let a qualified propane service technician or emergency personnel check for escaped propane.
  • Have a properly trained propane service technician repair the leak. The propane service technician or emergency responder needs to determine that the leak situation has been fully resolved. The propane service technician should check all of your gas appliances and relight any appliance pilots.
  • Return to your home only when the service technician or emergency responder indicates that it is safe to do so.

If you have questions or concerns about propane safety, be sure to consult with your local North Carolina propane company.