Gas stove giving you trouble? No, there isn’t an app for that. But the color of the flame can tell you plenty.
Gas stoves are wonderful—ask any homeowner who’s recently made the switch from electric to gas.
They warm up instantaneously, allow for precise control over cooking temperature, and heat evenly. As an added benefit, they are nothing but a cinch to keep clean. Gas stoves even come with a built-in, color-coded diagnostic system for alerting users to common problems.
Yeah, you read that right.
You might not realize it, but the color of the flames your gas cooktop emits can tell you a lot about how well it’s doing its job, and whether there are any potentially serious issues you should be aware of.
What Color Should the Flame on a Gas Stove Be?
Under normal circumstances, the flames on your gas stove should burn a bright, icy blue. The unbroken ring of blue fire will ordinarily be accentuated by small eyes of a slightly darker hue around the opening of each burner port, where the heat is most intense.
You might recall from your high school chemistry class that blue flames are hotter than yellow or orange ones. Without getting needlessly technical, the temperature is the main indicator that a burner on a gas stove is functioning properly.
The presence of the color blue is therefore a sure-fire cue that your cooktop is in working order.
To be a smidge more specific, blue flames are a sign of clean and complete combustion. If you are seeing blue flames, then the burner is working with the correct ratio of gas and oxygen—and all is right with the resulting conflagration in terms of temperature and chemical composition.
Well and good. But, sometimes, that brilliant blue blaze may be broken up by, or give way entirely to, other, less reassuring colors.
What is one to do then?
What Does It Mean When the Flame is a Different Color?
In certain instances, you might notice that the flames flaring out of your stove’s burners are decidedly not blue: They may be yellow, orange, red, or another warm shade that’s a far cry from the vibrant blue you’re accustomed to.
Whatever their precise chromatic character, it’s obvious that something is amiss.
Just as the yellow and red beacons on a traffic light signal an impending stop, seeing these colors on your gas range should prompt you to pump the brakes and take a closer look at your stove’s key components.
The contrast between a steadfast sapphire circle and a crackling, leaping, sputtering yellow one can be startling, but it’s generally no reason to panic. That said, it’s always worth your time to look into the possible causes of such a stark color differential.
Failure to resolve the underlying hang-up could lead to poor temperature control or even make your home unsafe to inhabit. With that in mind, here’s how to identify and deal with some of the most common culprits of discolored gas flames.
Possibility #1: The Burner is Dirty
Stove burners are magnets for substances like dust, debris, and greasy food residue. If left to linger, this sort of gunk can accumulate to the point where it eventually ignites, altering the color and general appearance of the flames as it burns.
The solution: Clean the burner.
Start by shutting off the gas supply to your appliance and unplugging it completely. If you’ve recently used the burner, give it a few minutes to cool down before you begin working.
Once the burner has reached a safe handling temperature, remove the top grate and cover plate to expose the heating element itself. Wipe down the outside of the component with a cloth or sponge saturated with a mixture of warm water and liquid dish soap.
You may need to break out the baking soda to increase your scouring power and dislodge burnt food particles that have hardened around the gas ports. A stiff-bristled bottle brush or similar tool can also come in handy for this task.
Eight out of ten times, a good cleaning will be all it takes to clear up the complication. To prevent it from presenting itself again in the future, get in the habit of cleaning your stove’s burners regularly.
Possibility #2: The Burner Isn’t Getting Enough Air
As mentioned, gas stoves rely on a particular ratio of gas to oxygen to burn efficiently. When this ratio is off even slightly, the size, the temperature, and—you guessed it—the color of the flames that they produce can change drastically.
The solution: Adjust the air shutter.
This one is a surprisingly simple fix, though it does require a bit of good ol’ trial and error.
First, you’ll need to access your stove’s air shutter. This important piece is situated alongside the gas valve that feeds the burner in question. On some models, you can get to it by removing the temperature adjustment knob for the burner you’re troubleshooting. On others, you may have to take apart the top of the stove to expose the gas line underneath.
On most newer commercial appliances, the burner’s air shutter will be attached to a recessed adjustment valve at the end of a long steel tube. After you’ve located the shutter, your next task will be to open it up a little more to provide improved airflow.
You can do this by turning the adjustment valve with a standard flat-head screwdriver. Twist the valve counterclockwise to open the shutter and clockwise to close it. It will help to turn on the burner beforehand so you’ll be able to tell when you’ve arrived at the optimal position.
Possibility #3: Something Else Is Interacting With the Flame
In rarer cases, a peculiarly colored burner may not have any immediately discernible cause. When such a mystery arises, it’s usually because there are unseen factors at play.
The solution: Eliminate external interferences.
Try turning on your range’s hood, if it has one. If not, crack a window, get your AC moving, or find some other way to ventilate your kitchen for a few minutes.
What exactly will this accomplish, you ask? If the problem is due to pollution, you will accomplish plenty.
Some homeowners have reported that doing things like spraying air fresheners or running humidifiers too near their gas stoves has caused the flames to change color spontaneously.
This light show can happen when sodium, calcium, and other miscellaneous molecules drift into the active burner. Clearing the air, so to speak, should put an end to the disturbance.
When to Call an Expert
You don’t have to be a handyman to perform any of the aforementioned fixes.
However, there is one scenario in which it would be wise to forego the DIY route and reach out to a qualified repair specialist: when your carbon monoxide detector starts going off.
The atmospheric buildup of carbon monoxide is one of the more concerning side effects of a faulty burner. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, tasteless, and poisonous gas that can be extremely harmful—even fatal—if breathed unwittingly for long periods. Needless to say, it’s not something you want to take chances with.
A knowledgeable technician will be able to address whatever mechanical malfunction is responsible for the emission. Firefighters and other responders are also trained to deal with carbon monoxide leaks, so if you think you or a loved one might be experiencing any of the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, play it safe and dial emergency.
Keep Calm and Cook On
As long as the flames on your gas range are true blue, you have nothing to worry about, aside from how quickly dinner gets done. If any other colors appear, however, it may be time for a tune-up.
With any luck, a few minutes of mostly painless tinkering should remedy the situation and get you back to boiling, searing, and sautéing happily.