How to Test for Carbon Monoxide and Prevent Hazards

How to Test for Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless gas that can be deadly if inhaled in large amounts. It is produced by burning fuels such as gas, oil, wood, and coal. Familiar sources in homes include gas stoves, heaters, and car exhausts. Because CO is invisible and has no smell, it can build up indoors without you even realizing it. Conducting carbon monoxide testing and implementing preventive measures are crucial for safeguarding your home and family against potential hazards.

Key Takeaways

  • Carbon monoxide is a deadly gas that can build up in homes and cause serious health problems or death.
  • Testing regularly and using carbon monoxide detectors are key to finding and fixing hazards.
  • Good ventilation and regular upkeep of fuel-burning devices can stop carbon monoxide from building up.
  • Knowing the signs of carbon monoxide poisoning and acting fast when alarms go off can save lives.
  • Understanding the effects of low-level exposure is important for protecting your family's health.

Understanding the Dangers of Carbon Monoxide

What is Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon monoxide is a chemical made of one carbon and one oxygen atom. It happens when things burn but don't get enough oxygen. This gas can gather in places with bad airflow. Being around it is dangerous because it stops the body from getting oxygen, causing serious health problems.

Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Carbon monoxide poisoning can feel like the flu or food poisoning. Common signs include:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Blurred vision
  • Chest pain

Severe cases can cause loss of consciousness, brain damage, or even death. Knowing these signs is key to acting fast if someone might be poisoned.

It's important to protect yourself and your family from carbon monoxide. Knowing what it is and its symptoms, you can avoid dangerous situations and stay safe.

Identifying Potential Sources of Carbon Monoxide

Many household appliances and equipment can produce carbon monoxide. It's important to know where this gas comes from to keep your family safe. Let's look at the main sources of carbon monoxide you should watch out for.

Combustion-based Appliances

Carbon monoxide often comes from appliances that burn fuel. This includes furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces, and gas stoves. These items use natural gas, propane, or wood. If they're not set up right, maintained well, or have good ventilation, they can make carbon monoxide.

Vehicles and Garages

Another big source of carbon monoxide is car exhaust. If you use a car, truck, or other gas-powered vehicle in a closed area like a garage, it can get very dangerous. Always make sure to not run a vehicle in a garage, even if the door is open.

Gas-powered Tools and Equipment

Tools and equipment that run on gas, like lawnmowers, chainsaws, or generators, can also make carbon monoxide. Use them outside where it's well-ventilated. Never use them inside or in garages.

Knowing where carbon monoxide might come from in your home is key to keeping your family safe. By understanding these common sources, you can stop dangerous gas from building up. This helps lower the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Potential Source

Recommended Action

Combustion-based Appliances

Regularly inspect and maintain furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces, and gas stoves to ensure proper ventilation and functioning.

Vehicles and Garages

Never run a vehicle in a garage, even with the door open. Ensure proper ventilation if working on a vehicle indoors.

Gas-powered Tools and Equipment

Use portable gas-powered tools and equipment only in well-ventilated outdoor spaces, never indoors or in garages.

How to Test for Carbon Monoxide

Testing for carbon monoxide in your home is essential for ensuring your family's safety. There are many ways to test, each with its own benefits. Knowing your options helps you make the best choice to protect your loved ones.

Using a Carbon Monoxide Detector

A carbon monoxide detector is a great way to check for carbon monoxide. These devices watch the air quality in your home and warn you if carbon monoxide levels are high. When picking a detector, choose ones certified by safety groups like Underwriters Laboratories (UL) or the Residential Carbon Monoxide Alarms standard (CSA 6.19).

Choosing the Right Detector

When picking a carbon monoxide detector, think about its power source, sensor type, and features. Also, go for detectors with digital displays, loud alarms, and the option to connect with other detectors at home.

Proper Placement of Carbon Monoxide Detectors
  • Put detectors on every level of your home, including the basement and attic.
  • Place them five to seven feet off the ground, as carbon monoxide moves up and spreads out evenly.
  • Don't put detectors near windows, doors, or vents, as this can mess with their carbon monoxide detection.
  • Keep detectors at least 15 feet away from fuel-burning appliances, like furnaces, water heaters, and fireplaces.
  • Think about putting detectors in bedrooms or near where people sleep, for the earliest warning of a carbon monoxide leak.

By picking the right detectors and placing them well, you're taking strong steps to protect your family from carbon monoxide dangers.

Performing a DIY Test

If you don't have a carbon monoxide detector, you can use a test kit. These kits have a chemical strip you place in your home to see the results. While helpful, DIY tests don't offer the same ongoing monitoring as a dedicated detector.

Importance of Professional Inspections

It's also key to have a professional inspect your home for carbon monoxide risks. A skilled technician checks your appliances, ventilation, and other possible dangers. They can suggest fixes for any problems they find. 

Utilizing carbon monoxide detectors, DIY tests, and professional inspections in tandem ensures the safety of your home, safeguarding your family's health and well-being. It is crucial to understand the risks associated with carbon monoxide and to take proactive measures, including educating yourself on respiratory protection. Consistent testing and monitoring are essential to maintain a safe environment for your family.

How to Test for Carbon Monoxide Without a Detector

Carbon monoxide (CO) detectors are the best way to check for this dangerous gas. But sometimes, you might not have a detector. In these cases, you can use other methods to see if CO is there. These methods are not as good as detectors, but they can help in a pinch.

Household Items for CO Detection

If you don't have a CO detector, you can use things from your home to test for CO. Here are some ways to do it:

  • Houseplants Test: Some houseplants are sensitive to air quality changes. Place them where you suspect CO might be accumulating. If the plant shows signs of distress, it could indicate the presence of CO.
  • Vinegar and baking soda test: Mix vinegar and baking soda in a container. If it fizzes or bubbles, it could mean there's CO.
  • Light Indicators on Combustion Devices: Watch for unusual light signals that could indicate carbon monoxide. Pay attention to the pilot flame on your gas stove, water heater, or other appliances. If it frequently extinguishes, appears unusually dim or glows oddly, this may be a sign of carbon monoxide presence.

These home tests are not as good as professional CO detectors. They might hint at CO being there, but don't rely on them alone. They're not enough to tell you if it's safe or not.

Limitations and Precautions

Testing for CO without a detector has its downsides:

  1. Accuracy: Home tests aren't as precise as CO detectors. They can miss low levels of CO, which are still dangerous.
  2. Sensitivity: These tests might not catch all CO, which is bad for your health.
  3. Safety: Working with chemicals or animals can be risky. Always be careful.

If you think there's CO, get out of the area fast. Call emergency services or a skilled technician to check it out safely with the right tools.

Remember, these DIY tests can hint at CO, but they're not a real substitute for a proper CO detector. Always put your safety and your family's safety first when dealing with CO.

Long-term Exposure to Low Levels of Carbon Monoxide

Many individuals are unaware of the significant health risks associated with prolonged exposure to low levels of carbon monoxide (CO). Such exposure can adversely affect your brain, heart, and nerves, as CO impedes your body's ability to receive adequate oxygen, leading to suboptimal cellular and tissue function. Regular carbon monoxide testing and knowing how to check carbon monoxide levels are critical for detecting and mitigating these risks before they lead to serious health issues.

Health Effects of Long-Term Low-Level CO Exposure

Potential Consequences

Cognitive Impairment

Decreased memory, attention, and executive function

Cardiovascular Problems

Increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and hypertension

Neurological Damage

Peripheral neuropathy, Parkinson's-like symptoms, and dementia

Long-term exposure to low levels of carbon monoxide is a big worry because its effects are not always easy to spot. Symptoms can be mild and might be confused with other health problems. This can lead to not getting the right treatment on time.

It's important for people living in homes and buildings to watch out for things that could release CO. This includes broken appliances, bad airflow and car exhaust. Taking steps like putting in CO detectors and keeping fuel-burning devices in good shape can protect you from the dangers of exposure to low levels of carbon monoxide.

A woman sitting beside a wall-mounted carbon monoxide detector

Preventing Carbon Monoxide Hazards

Keeping your family safe is a top priority. One important way to achieve this is by preventing carbon monoxide hazards at home. Learn how to mitigate these risks by ensuring proper ventilation and maintaining appliances that could produce carbon monoxide.

Proper Ventilation

Good ventilation is crucial to stop carbon monoxide from building up in your home. Make sure all fuel-burning appliances like furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces, and stoves have working vents and chimneys. Check these systems often for any problems and fix them quickly.

Also, keep your home well-ventilated by opening windows and using exhaust fans when needed. This helps move fresh air in and keeps carbon monoxide out.

Regular Maintenance

Maintaining your home's appliances and equipment in top condition is crucial for preventing carbon monoxide buildup. Have a professional check your fuel-burning appliances like your furnace, water heater, and stove every year. This makes sure they work safely and don't produce carbon monoxide.

  • Change air filters in your HVAC system often to keep the air flowing well.
  • Check and clean chimneys and flues to stop blockages that could push carbon monoxide back into your home.
  • Think about getting rid of old appliances for newer, more energy-efficient ones with better safety features.

By following these carbon monoxide safety tips, you can greatly lower the risk of carbon monoxide hazards at home. Remember, stopping this gas before it starts is the best way to protect your family.


Responding to Carbon Monoxide Emergencies

If you think there's a carbon monoxide leak or poisoning, act fast. This could save lives. Here are the steps to take to keep you and your family safe.

Evacuate the Premises

First, get everyone out of the building right away. Open all doors and windows to let in fresh air. Then, move to a safe spot and call 911 or your local emergency number.

Seek Medical Attention

If you or someone in your home feels dizzy, nauseous, or has headaches, get medical help right away. Carbon monoxide poisoning is serious and can be deadly. It's important to see a doctor quickly.

Contact the Authorities

After getting everyone to safety and getting medical help, call the right people. This could be your gas company, the fire department, or other local agencies that deal with carbon monoxide issues.

A family discovering a carbon monoxide leak


In the event of a carbon monoxide emergency, it is critical to respond quickly and decisively to protect yourself and your family from this hazardous gas. Employing carbon monoxide detectors and ensuring that appliances are well-maintained are vital precautions. Additionally, being knowledgeable about indoor air quality standards and prepared to act immediately in emergencies is essential for maintaining your family's safety.


What is the best method for carbon monoxide testing?

The most effective method for carbon monoxide testing involves using a high-quality carbon monoxide detector. These devices are specifically engineered to detect CO levels in the air and provide timely alerts when these levels reach hazardous thresholds. For optimal safety, install detectors on each floor of your home, particularly near sleeping areas and close to any fuel-burning appliances. Regular maintenance and testing are crucial to ensure these detectors function properly. Always replace them according to the manufacturer's recommendations to maintain accuracy in how to test for carbon monoxide effectively.

What is the screening test for carbon monoxide poisoning?

The screening test for carbon monoxide poisoning typically involves a blood test to measure the level of carboxyhemoglobin, which is the compound formed when carbon monoxide binds with hemoglobin in the blood. This test is usually conducted in a medical facility. In cases of suspected CO poisoning, it is critical to seek immediate medical attention, as high levels of CO can be life-threatening.

How can I tell if there is carbon monoxide in the air?

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas, making it impossible to detect with human senses. The only reliable way to determine if there is carbon monoxide in the air is by using a carbon monoxide detector. These detectors will sound an alarm if CO levels reach a dangerous threshold, providing an essential warning to evacuate and ventilate the area.

What are two warning signs of carbon monoxide poisoning?

Two common warning signs of carbon monoxide poisoning are headache and dizziness. Other symptoms can include nausea, shortness of breath, confusion, and blurred vision. In severe cases, it can lead to unconsciousness and even death. If multiple members of a household experience these symptoms simultaneously, it is a strong indicator of possible CO exposure, and immediate action should be taken.

What is the most common cause of carbon monoxide in a home?

The most common cause of carbon monoxide in a home is the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels used in appliances such as gas stoves, furnaces, water heaters, and fireplaces. Poor ventilation, faulty appliances, and improper installation can also contribute to elevated CO levels. Regular maintenance and inspections of these appliances are crucial to prevent CO buildup.

How to tell if carbon monoxide is in your house?

To determine if carbon monoxide is present in your house, install and monitor carbon monoxide detectors. If the detector sounds an alarm, it indicates the presence of CO. Additionally, be aware of symptoms of CO poisoning among occupants, such as headaches, dizziness, and nausea. If you suspect CO presence, evacuate the area immediately and contact emergency services for assistance.

How do you test for carbon monoxide at home?

Carbon monoxide testing at home is conducted using carbon monoxide detectors. These devices can be battery-operated, plug-in, or hardwired into your home's electrical system. Place detectors near bedrooms and on every level of your home. Regularly check the detectors’ batteries and functionality, and consider using a handheld CO meter for additional spot-checking around potential sources of CO.

The material provided in this article is for general information purposes only. It is not intended to replace professional/legal advice or substitute government regulations, industry standards, or other requirements specific to any business/activity. While we made sure to provide accurate and reliable information, we make no representation that the details or sources are up-to-date, complete or remain available. Readers should consult with an industrial safety expert, qualified professional, or attorney for any specific concerns and questions.


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Author: Herbert Post

Born in the Philadelphia area and raised in Houston by a family who was predominately employed in heavy manufacturing. Herb took a liking to factory processes and later safety compliance where he has spent the last 13 years facilitating best practices and teaching updated regulations. He is married with two children and a St Bernard named Jose. Herb is a self-described compliance geek. When he isn’t studying safety reports and regulatory interpretations he enjoys racquetball and watching his favorite football team, the Dallas Cowboys.