RV Doctor – How do I clear my propane lines?

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May 28, 2009

Dear RV Doc,
Recently while on a trip my hot water heater wouldn’t ignite. The technician at the dealer examined it and says there is oil in the propane lines and that I should break the line at the lowest point and at the heater and blow the oil out from the appliance towards the tanks. I am hesitant to open the line for fear of leaks in the future. Is there a better way to clear the lines? What can be done to prevent oil buildup in the future? – Russell Adams, (Mariposa, CA)


Russell, I take it your dealer is not in the business of repairing RVs; your request should have prompted an estimate instead of a proclamation and invitation for you to do the work yourself. That said, usually any indication of an oily substance in an LP line means the LP container(s) have been overfilled, and quite possibly, often.

It simply depends on how far into the LP piping system the oily substance has migrated. It will be necessary to replace the regulator if any oil is found anywhere in the system.

First, disconnect the rubber hose from the outlet of the regulator. If evidence of the oily goo is there, keep removing the piping/tubing until no further evidence is found. It’s not practical to re-use any piping/tubing affected; doing so could cause damage to the appliances. Flushing and cleaning completely is virtually impossible. But I seriously doubt the oily residue has progressed too far into the system (hopefully).

When installing or reassembling LP piping and tubing joints, be sure to use an LP rated sealant like Rect-O-Seal, yellow Teflon sealing tape or something similar. As long as you leak test each joint you should have little to worry about as far as leaks.

Daub each fitting/joint with some children’s blowing bubbles to determine if a leak exists. Tighten each fitting until no bubbles are evident. To be 100% sure, have your service tech perform a manometer leak test after all the pipes and tubing have been replaced. LP is to be respected, but certainly not feared.

The foremost effective method of avoiding this in the future is to never fill the LP container more than 80% full and have the LP pressure checked/adjusted a couple of times per camping season. The capacity of the container is found on the data plate or collar (depending on type of container). The LP container(s) should also be drained and purged with LP vapor before filling again. Chances are, moisture also exists in the container. Any LP retailer should be able to provide this service.

(Please feel free to comment, however, please also note that due to the volume of communications I receive from multiple channels I cannot guarantee a personal response in every instance. However, questions of an overall general interest may be considered and published in an upcoming RV Doctor column.)

Leave a Reply


  1. Anonymous

    No reply necessary, just learned tons on oil in propane tank/lines. Which I have and replaced regulator without flushing tank. Hopefully will be ok on 2 mo. RV travels.

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  307. DAVE

    I have been very Lucky with my unit
    But i never had turned my– lp off when useing my unit just in cass the power should go off till i park at the end of camping — for the year —

  308. Rick

    I have a 2006 Country Coach Inspire with a Norcold refrigerator. My problem is with the ice maker. Recently we found floating stuff in our ice cubes. The coach had been siting for 5 months but plugged in and refer “ON”. Any ideas? Thanks, Rick.

  309. RV DOC: I Have Been in colder area’s where The propane company had to shoot alchol in My Propane tank’s to get the Condensation (Moistur) To Burn Because i came up from a lower climate Where it was Humid as #ELL, But never Heard of Oil causeing trouble I thought Propane was in a Liqid state untill it turned into Vapor to Burn? Man! I am learning allot here Rick Vogel U.S.Army Retired & living TAX-Free! Heee! Retired in 1989 Work has been a 4 letter word ever-since! Heee!

  310. Mike Malley

    I have an ATWOOD fridge in my Class “C” RV. Recently I was away on leave and returned after 10 days to find my refridgerator had stopped cooling spoiling all the meat and food I had in there. I had heard there were strong thunderstorms and such in the area (Solomons, MD) but I had no indication that my RV had lost power (the microwave digital readout was not flashing). The digital readout on the fridge showed an “A”.

    Prior to departing on leave the only thing I had done was to turn off the valve to the LP tank and secure the water source. Electricity was kept on and no other systems (a/c, heat, etc) were running.

    My question is: Is this normal for a fridge to stop working with a power surge or should it have automatically turned back on when power was restored? Did having the LP source turned off play a part in the fridge circuitry failing to switch over and maintain cool?

    After cleaning out the fridge, I reset the temperature controls and it is operating fine. Please help me understand this problem. RV enthusiasts at my duty station are stumped as well. Thank you.