What To Do If Your MR HEATER Buddy Won’t Light (Quick Fix)

PUBLISHED 16 DECEMBER 2022

by Bill Laney

Is your Mr Heater not lighting correctly?

While Mr Heaters are among the most popular and robust portable heaters used by ice anglers to stay warm in frosty cold weather, they sometimes fail to light.

But the good news is that most issues that cause this problem are fairly simple, and can be easily fixed if you know what to do.

Mr Heater won't light

In this article I’ll walk you through the most common reasons why a Mr Heater won’t light, and how to troubleshoot them effectively.

Why is your Mr Heater not lighting?

The 3 most common reasons why a Mr Heater won’t light are:

  • The pilot tube is clogged
  • The igniter doesn’t work
  • Mr Heater isn’t getting propane

Out of these three problems, a clogged pilot tube is by far the most common cause why a Mr Heater fails to light. 

Photo showing pilot light of Mr Heater Big Buddy burning with blue flame

This is because the orifice of the pilot tube is angled upwards at the bottom of the burner, and thus easily gets filled with dust, dirt, or snow.

Luckily, a clogged pilot tube is easy to fix (more on that below).

But first let’s take a closer look at the different issues that can prevent your Buddy heater from lighting, and how to diagnose them.

Related: Mr Heater vs Dyna Glo (which is better?)

How to diagnose your Mr Buddy Heater lighting problem

Before we talk about how to fix your Mr Heater, let’s take a closer look at how to figure out exactly what the underlying problem is.

Empty propane tank

Before troubleshooting the Mr Heater unit itself, make sure that your propane tank still has enough gas to power the heater. If your tank feels very light, it’s probably empty and needs to be replaced.

Gas flow blockage

If you’re using an external propane tank connected with a hose to your Buddy heater, make sure that the gas regulator is turned on. 

It’s also possible that either your screw on propane cylinder or the hose connecting your Mr Heater to an external gas tank is leaky at the point where it attaches to the heater.

Incidentally, if your gas flow is leaky or obstructed, this will also affect the run time of your Buddy heater.

You can check for leakiness by splashing a little soapy water on the attachment point. If there is gas leaking out you’ll notice bubbles forming immediately.

Finally, it’s generally a good idea to add a filter to your hose if using an external gas tank. This is because propane forms residues that can block the gas flow of the hose over time, and a filter effectively prevents this from happening.

Igniter not working

Portable heaters like the Mr Heater Little Buddy, Portable Buddy, Big Buddy, and Buddy Flex all use a piezo igniter, which converts mechanical energy into an electrical spark.

It’s relatively rare for a piezo igniter to malfunction, but it can happen if the igniter gets bent out of shape. 

If that’s the case, you should be able to diagnose this problem by the igniter not clicking when you push down the red knob. Also, look for a spark when you push down the starter button.

And finally, if you put your nose close to the pilot tube, you should be able to smell the gas coming out, but the gas won’t be able to light if it’s the igniter that isn’t working.

Pilot light doesn’t ignite

If your pilot flame doesn’t light, it won’t be able to turn on the main burner, and this is the most common culprit to check for if you can’t turn on your Mr Heater.

If this happens to you, a clogged pilot tube is by far the most common underlying ailment. Fortunately, this is usually an easy thing to fix.

The pilot light should burn with a steady blue flame. But if you notice that it flickers & falters (or that it burns with a yellow flame), this is a clear indication that the pilot tube is clogged with dirt.

If there is no pilot flame at all, this could mean the hole that the pilot flame comes out of is completely clogged.

The easiest way to check for this is simply to clean the tube with a Q-tip and then try lighting it again.

Pilot flame lights, but not the main burner plate

In some cases, it’s possible that the pilot light of your Mr Heater ignites normally, but then fails to light the main burner.

Photo showing ceramic burner plates of Mr Heater glowing orange

You can diagnose this issue by turning on the unit as usual, and if you see the blue pilot flame burning as it should, turn off your lights after a minute or two to see if the main ceramic burner plate turns on or not.

Once the burner lights, the whole ceramic plate glows with an orange flame that is easy to see in the dark.

If you notice that the pilot lights normally, but the main burner doesn’t, this could also be due to a clogged gas tube.

In that case it’s best to take the whole unit apart and clean all the tubes before trying to light it again.

Another problem that sometimes occurs is that one of the safety sensors of the Buddy Mr Heater shuts off the main burner.

There are two such sensors in the portable Mr Heaters: a tip over switch and an oxygen depletion sensor (ODS).

The tip switch is designed to turn the burner off if the Buddy heater is tipped over (in order to prevent fire), and if this sensor is bent out of shape it may turn the stove off even when it is standing upright.

The ODS sensor is designed to turn off the Mr Heater if the ambient concentration of oxygen falls below a certain threshold.

This can happen surprisingly fast if you’re inside a small ice fishing shelter, and if that happens, you shouldn’t try to tamper with the sensor, as it’s protecting you.

If you’re using your heater for ice fishing, and run your Mr Heater in the confined space of a pop-up ice shelter or small ice shanty, it’s best to keep one  of the flaps or windows open, in order to allow oxygen to be replenished from outside.

Defective thermocouple

Finally, another problem that can interfere with the lighting of your Mr Heater is a defective thermocouple.

Photo showing close up of thermocouple

The thermocouple is designed to measure if your heater is producing heat, & if it doesn’t, it turns off the gas supply to prevent a gas explosion.

If the thermocouple is bent out of shape, it’s possible that it doesn’t detect heat even if the heater is turning on as it should. In that case, the thermocouple should be bent back into its correct position.

Checklist for what to do if your Mr Heater won’t light 

Below is a checklist of the steps to take in order to fix a Mr Heater that wont light:

  • Check the gas tank to make sure it has enough propane to produce a flame.
  • Make sure the fuel valve is open and is allowing gas to flow to the burner.
  • Check the hose connections to the fuel tank and make sure they are secure and not leaking.
  • Check if the igniter is damaged or not functioning properly.
  • Check the heater pilot light for any obstructions that might be preventing the flame from forming, such as grease, debris or dust.
  • Clean the pilot tube to remove any dirt or grime that could be preventing the heater from working fine.
  • Consult the product manual for troubleshooting steps that are specific to your Mr. Heater model.
  • If these suggestions don’t work, contact the manufacturer or a heating repair professional for assistance.

Now let’s take a closer look at how to clean the pilot tube, which is the most common issue preventing a Mr Heater from lighting.

How to clean a clogged Mr Heater pilot tube

The easiest way to clean a Mr Heater pilot tube is by using a Q-tip after removing the thick wad of cotton at one end. You can also use a needle or other sharp thin object.

After removing its cotton (or most of it), a Q-tip is exactly the right size to be inserted into the pilot tube. Pour alcohol on the Q-tip in and insert 1 to 2 inches  through the brass hole of the tube, while rotating it to clean the insides of the tube.

This will remove residues from the inside of the tube that are caused by propane gas, and after completion, the pilot light usually ignites without problems.

How to clean the thermocouple on a Mr Heater

Start by turning off the heater and waiting for it to cool down sufficiently to open it up safely.

Then, use a soft cloth or brush to carefully wipe off any dust and debris that may be present on the thermocouple.

Once all of the debris has been removed, you can clean the thermocouple with a mild soap and water solution, taking extra care not to get any moisture inside of the heater.

After you have finished cleaning, make sure to dry off any excess liquid before plugging in the heater again and turning it back on.

By following these steps when cleaning your Mr. Heater’s thermocouple, you will ensure that your heater runs safely and efficiently for many seasons on the ice.