An old workhorse – our Origo alcohol stove.

At least once a month there are questions on the cruising forums or one of the Facebook pages about alcohol stoves.  Invariably people will chime in about how dangerous they are, how slow it is, how it doesn’t burn hot, etc.   I try to dispel the myths, but I figured it was time for a blog post on the subject.  Perhaps it will help people who Google the subject but don’t necessarily participate in the forums or use Facebook.

We bought an Origo stove for our Bristol 24 and Pegu Club came with one, so we have been using them now for the seven years (wow!) we’ve owned a boat.  Given that we did a complete refit on Pegu Club and touched virtually everything on her, it would stand to reason that if we weren’t satisfied with an alcohol stove we would have taken the refit opportunity to switch to propane or gas.  But I can honestly say that the subject of switching never came up because we were 100% satisfied with using an alcohol stove.

So without further introduction, below are my answers to the questions that seem to come up most frequently:

Aren’t alcohol stoves dangerous?  The most important thing to realize is that there is a difference between pressurized alcohol stoves and non-pressurized.  Apparently pressurized alcohol stoves can be more problematic, and occasionally dangerous.  The Origo is non-pressurized so it’s a completely different animal.  You don’t have to prime the stove and there are no jets that ignite.  Denatured alcohol is simply stored in canisters that rest underneath the stove.  When you want flame you simply lift the lid, remove the rubber gasket (which keeps the alcohol from evaporating when you aren’t using the stove), close the lid, slide the lever to expose the burner, and light it (we use a grill lighter).  Easy peasy.

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Isn’t the flame invisible?  No.  Some alcohol brands seem to have a brighter color than others, but it’s far from invisible.

Doesn’t it smell?  Generally, no.  We did buy a few gallons in Staniel Cay that had an odor, but based on the rust on the bottom of the cans we think they had been around for several years.  We weren’t crazy about it, but we survived.

Doesn’t it take a long time to boil water?  No.  We haven’t timed it, but I can honestly say that it may take a minute longer to boil water for coffee or tea vs. our gas stove in our former land home.  Large pots of water for pasta can take a few minutes more, but you don’t need to use as much water to cook pasta as the box says.  For the past two years we’ve used half the water, boiled the pasta for 3 minutes, then turned off the heat and let it sit covered for 10 minutes.  Saves heat, saves water, and tastes exactly the same.

After a while we started to notice a difference in cooking time if the canister is less than 1/4 – 1/3 full (the color of the flame changes which is also a tip-off), so we just try to make sure we don’t let it drop down that low.

But you can’t cook (fill in the blank) with an alcohol stove!  False.  We cook exactly what we used to cook at our land home.  If we cooked it there, we cook it here.  Pasta, casseroles, ground beef, sausage, bacon, chicken, eggs, fish, pancakes, vegetables – you get the idea.  We don’t eat any differently than we did when we lived on land.

But isn’t it hard to find denatured alcohol?  So far no, but of course we’ve only been cruising the East Coast and the Bahamas.  But if there’s a hardware store, there’s typically denatured alcohol – even in the Bahamas.  When we were researching the Caribbean before we initially cut the dock lines, we discovered that we would be able to find denatured alcohol anywhere we thought about going.  We’ve read that you can use different types of alcohol – even Everclear – but we’ve never tried it and it may not burn as cleanly or as hot.

As an aside, I have lost count of the number of times people have posted on Facebook pages asking about where to find adapters for their propane canisters or where they could get their propane refilled.  Additionally, last year in George Town there was a multi-day wait for people to get their propane canisters refilled – either the truck that transported the canisters or the propane truck itself was out of service for awhile (I can’t remember which).

How much denatured alcohol do you use in a month?  We use around a gallon a month.  That’s with using the stove every day, rarely eating out, and baking bread or brownies at least once or twice a month.

Isn’t denatured alcohol expensive?  We’ve paid anywhere from $12.00 to $20.00 for a gallon.  The $20.00 was in the Bahamas.  For a month, we find that reasonable.

Isn’t the alcohol difficult to store?  After we buy it we pour it from the original metal containers into one gallon gasoline jugs so we don’t have to worry about the containers rusting.

How do you pour it into the canisters without spilling it everywhere?  We keep two squeeze bottles ready to refill the canisters as needed.  We pour the alcohol from the one gallon jugs into the squeeze bottles, and we aim the squeeze bottle spout into the divot on the canister so nothing spills.

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Doesn’t cooking with an alcohol stove result in a lot of moisture in the boat?  We haven’t found that to be an issue at all.  If it was, we’d turn on a fan.

Are there versions with ovens?  Yes, but we’ve never tried one.  We debated buying one when we were doing our refit but we would have lost the cabinet space under the stove.  We bake with an Omnia stove top oven instead which has worked out fine.

This sounds great!  Where can I buy an Origo?  Sadly, Origo was bought by Dometic several years ago and apparently they are no longer made.  The stoves literally last for decades – there is nothing to break.  Ours is 43 years old and still going strong.  If there’s nothing to break, then there’s no need to buy another one, so I suspect the profit margin wasn’t sufficient for Dometic to continue production.  We have seen them in marine consignment stores though, and they show up on eBay or Craigs List from time to time.

I think that about covers it, but if there are any other questions don’t hesitate to ask!

10 thoughts on “An old workhorse – our Origo alcohol stove.

  1. Greetings from Kodiak .

    Do you have a carbon monoxide sensor in your cabin?

    We Loved Our Arrigo, but last time we burned alcohol in the cabin, it set off our carbon monoxide sensor with a reading of over 400 .

    We believe this is why Arrigo no longer makes alcohol stoves.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi John – I’m envious of your Alaska cruising!

      We do not have a carbon monoxide detector – it’s on the never-ending to-do list. You’ve given me the nudge I need to order up a battery operated combo smoke/CO2 detector today. Thanks.

      While I certainly understand your concern, all cooking fuels can have their own issues on a boat. That being said, our stove is right next to the companionway so we’ve never had an issue with venting it. At close to $1,000 for a propane stove, sniffer, safety shut off, locker, etc. – not to mention where would we put a locker? – I think we’ll keep taking our chances. 🙂

      I’ll definitely let you know what the detector says next time we make brownies or bread!

      Kimberly

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  2. Hi Kimberly,

    We’ve had a knock-off Origo on Thunder Mist for 8 years and pretty much totally agree with all you’ve said. Yep, it maybe takes a little longer, but if that’s such a problem then I’d suggest we need an attitude adjustment more than more BTU’s. We do have a CO detector mounted down low on the companionway steps, and it’s never gone off. We seldom close the boat up totally but the few chilly times we’ve done that, if using the stove for more than just a quick cup of tea we crack a hatch and the companionway slider. The only issue we’ve ever had is when I stupidly filled one of the burners with Coleman fuel. Duh. Anyway, all your observations/opinions are in line with our own, and thanks for doing this.
    John

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi John – We also crack a hatch and the slider if it’s cold and we are going to run the stove for awhile. Fortunately we haven’t had to do that since last November’s travels south! 🙂 John Juliano’s comment gave me the nudge I needed to order to the smoke/CO2 detector and its arriving today. I’m curious to see what it will show when I bake some sourdough tomorrow! Kimberly

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  3. I just found an old Origo 3000 for my boat. I live in British Columbia in Canada, and so far finding denatured alcohol has not been easy. Many hardware stores don’t stock it? Like California, i think the Canadian government is trying to get rid of it, because of ‘volatile organic compounds’ (VOCs).

    I found 1 quart at a local hardware store, I’m going to go back and ask if they plan on receiving more. Otherwise, all I’ve got are online options and I wonder if those will eventually get discontinued too…

    Bio-fuels are still sold because of those ventless fireplaces, but heard it doesn’t burn as cleanly (very sooty because of added isopropyl). Wonder if that industry too will be affected. My next option is methyl hydrate… but trying to get away from using high % methanol.

    This is worrisome :(. What are your thoughts on this?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That IS an issue. I had read about the potential difficulty of getting denatured alcohol in California, but not in BC. I’d be surprised if online options were discontinued, but whether it’s worth the hassle is another question.

      I think if denatured alcohol were restricted where we were, we would stock up as we traveled to places where it was available, but that’s just us. Five gallons would last quite a while – around five months for the two of us. We could buy a year’s worth at a time, for example, and it wouldn’t take up much space (nor go bad).

      If it got to the point that we REALLY couldn’t find any, we’d have to switch, but for now we would jump through some hoops to keep our Origo. Good luck with it! Kimberly

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      1. I’m ready to jump some hoops too ;), as I am a fan of simple systems and Origo is as simple as it gets.

        Yea. Maybe I’ll opt to order large quantities and hope for the best.

        Maybe this industry is in a weird transitory phase. Companies like captain phab that produce marine stove fuels only discontinued the product a year ago, and as I understood it (i emailed them about it for details), they said it was because someone burned themselves with it while trying to use it as fondue fuel. Products were re-called for re-labelling, and because of the lack of guidance from the CAD government they just decided to stop making it. SO, if that hadn’t happened it’s possible it would still be for sale, as I understand it, the denatured alcohol sold as solvents is the target for VOC regulations, as it is typically not burned.

        Perfect storm I guess? Was away for 5 years with my boat, and I come back just as this happens :). Typical~

        Thx for your input, lovely blog too :).

        Liked by 1 person

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