Tabletop Fireplaces: What is the Difference between Bioethanol Liquid Fuel and Gel Fuel?

When shopping for a tabletop fireplace, you need to learn about the different ways such fireplaces are fueled. Most tabletop fireplaces use either bioethanol liquid fuel or alcohol gel fuel. I created an organized presentation of the differences between the two types of fuels.

Two important considerations to note:

  • Fueling methods for devices are not interchangeable. Tabletop fireplaces are designed specifically to utilize only one type of fuel. The owner’s manual will specify which fuel to use.
  • These fuels create REAL flames, just like those created by wood burning. Therefore, fuels and flames should be kept away from pets and children.

Bioethanol vs Gel Fuel Fireplaces

 Bioethanol Liquid FuelGel Fuel
MaterialBioethanol is a green fuel derived directly from plants. It is composed of a minimum of 96% pure ethanol, an absolute alcohol, produced by the fermentation of sugars originating in crops such as corn, sugarcane, sweet, sorghum, or wheat.Also considered a green fuel, gel fuel is made from pure isopropyl alcohol, water, salt, and thickness.
ByproductsWater Vapor and carbon dioxide. Does not produce any soot or ash. Water vapor and carbon dioxide. Does not produce any soot or ash. May leave a bit of residue when burned.
Fire TypeA fire from bioethanol liquid fuel burns more powerfully than one produced from gel fuel. It produces an orange yellow flame, with lots of motion. Has smaller, sturdier flames than those from liquid fuel. Produces a yellow flame, that is thicker, less "dancing" than the flame created by a liquid fuel. Thus, the flame created by gel fuel is typically more wind resistant.
HeatNot a primary heat source. Creates subtle warmth.Not a primary heat source. Creates subtle warmth.
SoundSoundlessThe salt adds the crackling sound that simulates a true wood fire.
Time Period of FireA quart of liquid will produce a fire that lasts about 5 hours, depending on the size of the burning pot. The fire requires from 5-15 minutes to warm up.A 13 oz. can will provide about 2.5 hours of fire. Once lit, the flame is instant, requiring no warm-up time.
Start-UpThe liquid is poured into a fuel reservoir. (See owner's manual on each specific device to see where it is located.) Any spillage should be cleaned, and the entire bottle should be removed from the area, before lighting. Fire is lit with a long match or lighter wand.Alcohol gel comes in a canister. The whole canister usually goes in a specific area of the fireplace that is designated to hold it. The canister must be shaken to mix isopropyl alcohol and thickeners. It is lit with a long wand lighter.
RelightingWait 45 minutes before relighting. It is dangerous to relight liquid fuel when it is still hot.Wait 45 minutes before relighting. It is dangerous to relight gel fuel when it is still hot.
Flame ControlFireplaces that use liquid fuel have a lid to the fuel tray. The larger the opening of the lid, the more oxygen mixes with the flame, to create a larger flame.Flame size cannot be regulated. It is either on or off.
ExtinguishingClose the fuel tray lid to eliminate the supply of oxygen and, thus, extinguish the flame. Careful, the area remains hot.Place the lid on the gel fuel canister or use a gel fuel sniffer to extinguish. Careful, the area remains hot for a while.

View an image version of this table to download or embed here.

Nu-Flame Bioethanol Indor or Outdoor fuel.

Nu-Flame Bioethanol Indor or Outdoor fuel.

Nu-Flame Bioethanol Ethanol is a popular brand of liquid fuel because it provides a beautiful flame and its bottles are fitted with valve inserts that prevent accidental ignition of fuel inside the bottles. It’s made in the USA and available in 6- or 12-pack 1-liter bottles.

Real Flame Gel Fuel

Real Flame Gel Fuel.

Real Flame Gel Fuel is the leading brand of gel fuel on the market. It is made in the USA, and available in 12/16/24 packs.

The fireplace professionals at are happy to answer your questions about fireplace fuels. They offer a wide array of beautiful fireplaces and supplies. In addition to portable fireplaces, they also sell free-standing electric fireplaces, wall-mounted fireplaces, and a variety of outdoor heaters.

Related Topics:

  1. Fireplace Creates Too Much Smoke: 5 Things to Solve Your Problem
  2. Guide to Ethanol Fireplaces
  3. The 10 Most Asked Questions About Electric Fireplaces

About the Author consultant, Colleen Cochran, is a writer and graphic artist who covers home and hearth design.