I don't have a bunsen burner, but have a camping stove (similar to https://www.amazon.com/Stansport-183-B-Isobutane-Backpack-Stove/dp/B004EPWM5S) and a blow torch. I'd like to do some distillation with things like salt water and juice, and am looking at a distillation set (https://www.amazon.com/Distillation-Apparatus-Equipment-Chemistry-Glassware/dp/B07R8JFK97/). Is it safe to use this with a blowtorch or camping stove?

  • $\begingroup$ You should look into a water or sand bath and temperature controller. According to your link, that glassware is good to 800 Celsius. But using a blowtorch is a point source of high heat, and a camping stove lacks temperature control. $\endgroup$ Commented May 16, 2020 at 21:07

1 Answer 1


While this would have been considered normal in the past (I used such a burner when I was a kid), today bunsen burners are considered outdated as heat sources. Of course it will still work fine fine, but our view on risk has changed. Normally one wants to avoid having any source of ignition in the lab, and burners are also difficult to control.

That being said, a burner like this one Backpacking stove will make for a very nice burner with a focused flame. This type of burner works really well when you need an open flame, like for melting salts onto magnesia rods, sterilizing inoculation spatulas, and showing how metals change flame colors.

You can even buy a portable bunsen burner that is pretty much the same: Bunsen burner

One big downside is that the burner will transform into a flame thrower if is falls over. Also, you will use a lot of gas. If you like working with an open flame, I would recommend to buy a small propane tank with a pressure regulator and a regular bunsen burner, a setup like this: Bunsen setup

Just get the smalles propane tank feasible, like a 2 or 5kg tank, just to keep the total amount of flammable material as low as possible. Any store that sells gas supplies will be able to set you up for little money, just buy a bunsen burner for propane.

Doing a distillation of salt water will work, but it will be difficult to control and you can easily shatter the flask by uneven heating. Maybe that is a good lerning experience!

Distilling anything flammable, such as alcohol, on an open flame would be reckless.

Some general advice:

  • Never leave a burner unattended, not for the shortest moment
  • Remove anything flammable nearby. Work outdoors if possible.
  • In any distillation setup, always be able to remove the source of heat very quickly. Don't use the burner as a support, so that you can take out the burner without your setup falling apart. That is especially important for a burner with an attached gas tank.
  • Make sure the gas tank does not get hot.
  • Always be prepared for any flask to break at any time. What would happen if the boiling liquid would be released. Would you get injured?
  • Wear safety glasses
  • Wear non flammable clothing that is closed at the neck. A traditional lab coat is not a good protection for your chest. Buy something like this modern lab coat
  • Learn about superheating and use boiling stones
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks. Would a hot plate be better than a burner? Should I just save up for one of those hot sleeve things? $\endgroup$ Commented May 16, 2020 at 1:31
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    $\begingroup$ depends on what you want to and how much you plan to distill. Chemists used open flames for a long time and it sounds like a useful and fun learning experience. Please don't distill anything flammable on an open flame. A hot plate doesn't work well because the thermal contact is bad, but you can use an oil bath (messy), just a metal pot filled with oil on top of the plate. you need to put the hot plate on a little scissor jack so you can remove the heat and don't overheat your residue. Plenty of heating mantles on ebay starting around $50, that will be most convenient and safest way. $\endgroup$
    – vodona
    Commented May 16, 2020 at 1:55
  • $\begingroup$ A cool thing to do is steam distillation of essential oils. engineering.iastate.edu/brl/files/2011/10/brl_essentialoils.pdf You can mix directly the plant material with the water and don't need to buy the special receiver. The oils will float on top. $\endgroup$
    – vodona
    Commented May 16, 2020 at 2:01

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