I was checking out Speak-Easy.club (a new forum dedicated to cigar, pipe tobacco, beer, and whiskey groups) earlier this week when I came across a post from Smokin_Joe that stopped me in my tracks. He claimed that everything I thought I knew about refilling butane lighters from the interwebs was propaganda and that there's a better way.
So I kept reading. And I read it again. And, after trying it a bunch, I’m excited to share it with you below!
Fake News: Lighters Must Be Purged Before Every Refill
After you’ve refilled your favorite lighter a couple times, something happens that drives most cigar enthusiasts crazy. Your lighter (for various reasons) seems to hold less and less butane. Refills become more and more necessary while providing less of the fuel required for good times.
The tried and true advice has always been to purge your lighter by depressing the refill valve and evacuating the trapped air before every single refill. If you’re looking at a lighter with a clear tank, this makes sense because we see two things:
- there’s liquid and what looks like air in the tank
- trying to refill the partial tank doesn’t always work, seemingly because air is in our way.
As it turns out, butane exists as both a liquid and a gas inside our lighters. The relationship between these states at different temperatures is called the equilibrium vapor pressure.
The Actual Problem
Lighters are often warmer than our refill canisters, creating a significant pressure imbalance. Using an exaggeration, it'd like trying to air up your tires with your lungs! This imbalance results in half-filled lighters and more than a few headaches.
To quote Joe, “Now right here is the crux of the matter. Let’s say you keep your bottle of fancy butane in a cupboard inside your home that stays at 70F. That means the internal pressure is ~30psi. It’s the middle of July and you’ve been running around in your car smoking stogies, maybe you leave the lighter in a cupholder inside that hot ass car? [@ 120F it's up to 75psi] ...but even in your pocket, your body is 98F so the pressure inside that lighter is much greater than your comfy 68F/30psi. butane refill.”
A New Way To Refill Your Lighter
As he pointed out, the equilibrium vapor pressure of butane changes according to the temperature. By lowering the temperature, we lower the amount of pressure in the lighter.
Joe says that by placing our lighters in the fridge for 10-15 minutes before whipping out the butane can, we can top off quicker than ever before and fill 100% of the tank.
Since I first came across his post, I’ve purposely refilled several lighters to test it myself. And the results? Magical!
Each time, I started with at most a quarter tank on my Defi Extreme so that I could see the reservoir. After turning the lighter upside down and applying the refill canister a couple times, I’d eventually reach a point where no more fluid entered the lighter. On my first try, it was almost exactly at the halfway point.
Then I’d place my lighter in the fridge for about fifteen minutes and voila! I had a complete refill in record time.
The very fact that this works over and over again debunks the air in the tank theory. I mean, even with a purged tank I've only been able to reach about an ~85% fill.
The Bottom Line
Purging your lighters isn't a sin nor will this method render it completely obsolete for other fixes. There is a time and place for everything, and purging may be just the solution you need in the future.
But this goes to show that purging isn't required every single time that we invert a lighter and grab the butane can - nor is it the most effective way to get the most out of your lighter. If you're looking to scrape every last second out of your lighters or save pennies on refill cans, definitely give the above method a try. It's fast, very effective, and in my anecdotal experience completely safe. If you're worried about the fridge, it seems that holding the butane can in your hand can warm it up enough to a similar (if diminished) effect.
Before you go, read a few more of Joe's words of wisdom, "Important: After refilling like I'm describing, the lighter is going to be very cold. Make sure you let it warm up a little before using it. You're supposed to do this anyway because just the simple act of blasting butane into it supercools it. Once again, this affects the pressure and the lighter won't light/burn properly."
Tell Us! Have you used this method? If so, how was your experience?