The Difference Between Carbon Monoxide and Carbon Dioxide (CO vs CO2)

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and Carbon Monoxide (CO) are two gases that are often mistaken for one another but are very different in the way they are created, their place in nature, and how they affect humans.
the naming of molecules

It’s all in the name

Even their names are so similar that it is easy for one without a degree in chemistry to misspeak when talking of the substances. Carbon Dioxide describes a gas that is one part carbon and two parts oxygen; thus the prefix “Di” before the word “oxide” which literally means “two oxygens” (and I’m 90% certain that “oxygens” is not a real word.) Carbon Monoxide means a molecule that has one carbon atom and one oxygen atom. “Mon” means one; combined with “oxide” we get “one oxygen.” Understanding how chemical nomenclature applies to these gases makes it easier to understand their abbreviations: CO and CO2. The “C” stands for carbon and the “O” stands for oxygen. Using the information that we shared before, we can easily see what these abbreviations mean: CO means one carbon and one oxygen also known as carbon monoxide; CO2 means one carbon and 2 oxygen commonly referred to as carbon dioxide. See how easy it could be to get these two confused when speaking quickly?

carbon monoxide created by automobile exhaust

Where are you from?

The origins of these two gases is important in understanding how they are both dangerous; let’s start with carbon monoxide (CO). CO does not occur naturally in the atmosphere like other gases such as oxygen or nitrogen. CO is created by combustion or the process of burning. When a carbon-based fuel is burned a chemical reaction takes place; compounds break down and are turned into carbon dioxide (CO2) and water vapor (H2O). When there is not enough oxygen supplied to the chemical reaction carbon dioxide (CO2) cannot be created. What happens is carbon monoxide (CO) is created and escapes into the atmosphere. This is typical of fuel-burning appliances that use oil, gas, kerosene, or wood such as furnaces, water heaters, ovens, space heaters, fireplaces, and woodstoves. Older cars and trucks that do not employ a catalytic converter also dispel CO into the atmosphere when they run.
On the other side of the aisle is carbon dioxide. CO2 is naturally occurring in the atmosphere and is a required gas for plant life. Plants inhale carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen while humans inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. CO2 is generated by combustion that is properly ventilated such as automobiles that utilize a catalytic converter.

parts per million (ppm) explained

How much is too much?

While both gases can be deadly, it takes much less CO to cause health concerns than CO2. The amount of any given substance in the atmosphere is measured in “parts per million” or “ppm.” PPM is a ration measurement that says for every 1 million parts there is n parts. For instance, OSHA’s work standards requires that long-term exposure to carbon monoxide levels of 50ppm. This mean that for every one million parts of atmosphere (nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen, etc) there can only be 50 parts of CO.
Now that the measurement is understood, OSHA also limits workplace CO2 exposure where levels are above 5,000 ppm. Levels of CO that are at 700ppm can be deadly whereas it can take up to 80,000ppm of CO2 to be considered life-threatening. Clearly, CO is a much more lethal gas than CO2.

carbon dioxide contributes to climate change

Nature and the Atmosphere

When speaking of the atmosphere, climate change, and greenhouse gases, it is important to understand the different between carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. A greenhouse gas is a gas that absorbs and then emits heat. Greenhouse gases contribute to the greenhouse effect which is where the gas inside the atmosphere consistently absorbs the sun’s heat and radiation and then emits it back into the atmosphere causing the planet to be warmer than if there was no atmosphere. Without the greenhouse effect the Earth would be a very cold, uninhabitable planet. Too much greenhouse effect, however, and the planet becomes too hot to sustain life. Carbon monoxide is not a greenhouse gas; it does not absorb the sun’s radiation. Carbon dioxide, conversely, is a greenhouse gas and contributes to our planet’s greenhouse effect. Without carbon dioxide the planet would be a cold, cold place. Increasing CO2 levels has also increased the amount of sustainable plant life. The taiga, a large swath of trees in North America which covers about 17% of the Earth’s surface, is growing larger every year.
Since CO is not a naturally occurring molecule, it has no place in the natural balance between plant and human life as well as the greenhouse effect that warms our planet.

CO Detection Techniques

sensor for carbon monoxide

Carbon Monoxide (CO) is one of most deadly poisonous gases, and the most common. Produced by incomplete combustion processes when burning fuels like propane, natural gas, methane, and even wood products, carbon monoxide invades the oxygen in the body, replacing it, causing the bloodstream to be ridden with carbon monoxide, which can lead to death.

There are many symptoms that come before this including headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion, vomiting, incapacitation, and trouble breathing. It’s important to be aware of how carbon monoxide can affect the body so if these symptoms occur you’re better prepared. It’s also important to note that the flu can be easily confused with carbon monoxide poisoning. Some aspects that are different include confusion and difficulty thinking clearly, which goes along with carbon monoxide poisoning but not the flu. Additionally, the flu carries fever with it, so a simple test with a thermometer will help you figure out which is which. However, going straight to the doctor or ER if symptoms are sever enough is the safest, most effective way to treat these behaviors.

Installing a carbon monoxide detector is absolutely necessary in any residence, as the gas can’t be detected any other way. It’s odorless, colorless, extremely light (lighter than air), and can emit high levels quickly. There are several different methods of detection offered, as well, according to Grainger Technical Resources, including:digital carbon monoxide sensor

  • Detector tubes, which alert you of instantaneous carbon monoxide in the air at any time through detection media. When the gas is detection inside the confines of the tube, detection software changes color to indicate the levels of carbon monoxide and determine the dose.
  • Portable carbon monoxide detection sensors monitor the levels of carbon monoxide in any given space. They are usually digital and produce both audio and visual alarms to alert users of danger. These devices are handy in confined spaces or even for recreational activities, such as camping, where there are open flames and fuels being used.
  • Fixed-location detectors are installed in the home or the workplace and monitor the continuous levels of carbon monoxide. They sound an alarm when gas levels are too high and can be used alongside home monitoring systems and other transmitters. Some are even capable of opening doors and windows when carbon monoxide levels are high to prevent serious injury or harm.

In-home detectors can be digital, like Nest’s version. This system uses WiFi to connect users to monitoring at all times. If carbon monoxide levels reach a dangerous level, the monitoring system will sound an alert and can even contact you via cell phone if you’re out of town or not home.

Regardless of which system you have, it’s important that you have at least one monitor in your home, preferably installed in common areas outside of the bedrooms. Without them, you’re at an increasingly high risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

pets and carbon monoxideIf you or a loved one is exhibiting symptoms of carbon monoxide, make sure to exit the home, get to a doctor or hospital, and check all your appliances to see if any are in poor condition. The more we use our household tools, like furnaces, clothes dryers, water heaters, gas-powered stoves and ranges, grills, and even cars, the more we’re producing this dangerous gas. Keep your home well ventilated, never burn charcoal indoors, and always be sure to have your appliances professionally installed and checked at least once a year. Dangerous gases can build up in things like fireplaces and chimneys, so it’s integral to have them cleaned and tested to ensure everything is running as it should.

And, as always, never be shy about reaching out to a home security professional with questions or concerns regarding the best options for you and your family.

Where Does Carbon Monoxide Come From, and Why is it so Harmful?

Carbon Monoxide (CO) comes from an array of household sources, including gas-burning stoves and ranges, furnaces, water heaters, and grills—especially charcoal burning ones. It’s generated from fuel containing carbon that has not been completely broken down during the combustion process. And this happens a lot. Carbon monoxide is produced in mass quantities every day, however, we aren’t phased by it if our appliances are kept clean and are running properly.

grills and carbon monoxideIt’s also important to know the types of fuels that produce carbon monoxide, and they include gasoline, natural gas, such as methane, oil, propane, coal, and even wood products. Any time you are using an appliance that burns any of these fuels, it’s important to clean them afterward and make sure to check them regularly. This includes cars, which can harbor massive amounts of carbon monoxide, especially if you forget to open the garage when starting them.

Now you know where carbon monoxide comes from, but what about how it effects the body and why it’s so dangerous? For starters, this gas is lighter than air, colorless, odorless, and if you’re exposed to high doses for long enough, it can be fatal. What’s worse, is that symptoms for Co poisoning can be drawn out or come on quickly, depending on how long and how much you’ve been exposed to. If there is enough carbon monoxide in the air to have an effect on the body, you can experience the following systems:

  • Headache
  • Upset stomach
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea

If carbon monoxide levels become stronger, permeating the air, symptoms grow more severe:

  • Dizziness
  • Loss of motor ability
  • Fainting
  • Trouble breathing
  • Death

The tricky thing about carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms is they are similar to the flu, and if they come on slower, it can be difficult to differentiate the two. One thing to remember is that even if it’s flu season or there is a bug going around, to always take stronger precautions, just to be safe. Go to the doctor, get checked out, and if you start feeling any of the symptoms listed, exit your home immediately.

Carbon monoxide is so dangerous because when it’s inhaled, it bonds with the hemoglobin in the blood, which is how oxygen permeates through our bodies. The gas overpowers and replaces the oxygen in our bloodstream, which can lead to oxygen deprivation, causing the body to fail. As soon as carbon monoxide reaches the level of 200 parts per million (ppm) it can start to cause headaches for several hours, 800 ppm can cause dizziness, nausea and even collapse, and up to 12,800 ppm is when death is imminent, according to Grainger Technical Resources.

cars exhaust carbon monoxideTo ensure that you and your family are safe from this type of poisoning, contact a home security provider and have a carbon monoxide detector installed if you don’t have one. These devices will sound an alarm as soon as high levels of the poisonous gas are emitted, alerting you so you can exit the home with enough time. Digital detectors will show you the levels on a screen so you can see whether the air is safe, or if it is growing more dangerous. You can even have higher tech systems installed that can sync with your home monitoring system, alerting authorities if there is a carbon monoxide leak while you are away.

Knowing what to look for, what to do when a carbon monoxide leak occurs, and how you can prevent serious damage is an important part of keeping you and your family safe. If you are unsure of the best sensors to get for your home or how you properly care for your appliances to keep them from emitting too much carbon monoxide or accumulating build up, contact a home security professional today.

How to Keep Your Family Safe From Carbon Monoxide


The first thing to know about Carbon Monoxide (CO) is that you won’t be able to detect it without an alarm or monitor, that is. The poisonous gas is clear, odorless, and powerful, which makes it one of the most deadly household contaminant around.

If carbon monoxide is so common and so dangerous, why is it that over 400 people die from its toxins a year according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC)? Well, for starters, because carbon monoxide is basically invisible it’s not thought of as often as you may think. Most people are concerned about making sure their smoke alarms and security systems are working properly, and may forget about the carbon monoxide monitors. We see smoke and intruders, therefore they feel like more realistic threats. However, knowing how serious carbon monoxide can be is a great jumping off point to learning how to protect you and your family.

Get Your Home Ready

There are many appliances and everyday housewares that greatly contribute to carbon monoxide production, and proper care is important in keeping carbon monoxide at reasonable levels. To maintain your home, follow these tips from the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission.carbon monoxide and chimneys

  • To reduce carbon monoxide emissions, make sure your home heating systems are installed by professionals and are tested to work correctly. Any discrepancy could create carbon monoxide leaks, causing you and your family harm. Additionally, always have these systems cleaned and serviced at least once a year, and don’t forget to have the vents and chimneys checked and cleaned, as well.
  • Never use portable generators inside the home, regardless if you have the windows open or not. These devices produce an abundance of carbon monoxide, and the breeze from an open window isn’t enough to filter out the production of poisonous gas.
  • Don’t burn charcoal in the home for any reason. Whether it be from a grill or stove, charcoal produces a large amount of carbon monoxide and is one of the worst offenders for buildup. To be even more cautious, it’s advised to refrain from using charcoal-burning grills inside garages as well. If you’re going to use charcoal for cooking or other recreational activities, be sure to do it outside and far away from the home.
  • Although sometimes it’s tempting in the cold winter months, never use your gas-range stove to heat your home. This is like playing with fire, except scarier because you can’t see just how much deadly gas is being emitted.
  • If you have fireplace, make sure to always open the chute before burning the wood and keep it open until the fire is completely out. If the chute is closed, an abundance of smoke will fill your home, but there will also be a much greater risk for carbon monoxide to fill the space. Keeping your chimney open reduces the buildup of poisonous gases.
  • carbon monoxide detectorOne of the best ways to protect your family from this dangerous gas is installing a carbon monoxide detector. This device, which works like a smoke alarm, will sound as soon as carbon monoxide levels reach a toxic amount, helping you get your family out of the home before it’s too late. If you purchase a digital detector, these can show you the levels of carbon monoxide and how they rise and fall, helping you keep a closer eye on the production of this dangerous gas in your home. Additionally, if you have a security system, you can link your carbon monoxide monitor to your home system so that if an emergency occurs, you and the proper authorities will be alerted immediately.

Following these guidelines is a smart way to keep your family safe, while maintaining a healthy home environment. To learn more, contact your home security provider.

Carbon Monoxide Best Practices

gas stoves can create carbon monoxide

Carbon Monoxide (CO) is known as a “silent killer.” It’s odorless, invisible state makes it nearly impossible to detect and it acts quickly once in the body, replacing oxygen in the blood. Enough carbon monoxide in the air can kill a person within minutes, making it one of the most dangerous substances to enter your home. Typically we aren’t aware of how common carbon monoxide is and where it comes from.

There are an array of appliances and gas-powered equipment found in the home that produce carbon monoxide, and without proper care or installation, these devices can emit enough of the deadly gas to cause serious consequences. One of the greatest risks is leaving a car running in an attached garage, especially with the door closed. This can harbor enough carbon monoxide to cause headaches, dizziness, and even death. Another thing to remember is to never use propane or charcoal grills or hibachis indoors. Burning charcoal produces carbon monoxide and without ventilation, gas can build up quickly, permeating the air.

But what about the appliances we have to use, like furnaces, water heaters, and stoves? One of the biggest issues with carbon monoxide are the many necessities throughout the home that produce the toxic gas. And while most people wouldn’t want to get rid of these common household appliances, there are ways to monitor their use and carbon monoxide production, protecting your home, and becoming more aware of carbon monoxide emissions.

home and family safetyWhen having a water heater or furnace or dryer installed, make sure to test the device after installation to ensure it is working correctly and there aren’t any issues. Faulty installations can cause carbon monoxide to be produced in overdrive or can lead to leaks. Keep all gas-powered appliances cleaned as well so that you can monitor the buildup. Signs of a carbon monoxide problem can be seen in the residue or condition of theses appliances, such as soot build up, condensation on the insides of windows, or rust on pipes or jacks. Knowing what to look for can help you maintain a safer home atmosphere.

Beyond the home, carbon monoxide can be harmful outdoors in certain circumstances and habits. Camping equipment, such as fuel lanterns, charcoal grills, and portable generators produce an abundance of carbon monoxide and should never be left in a closed space, camper, or tent. Smoking cigars or cigarettes are great contributors to carbon monoxide pollution, among many other health issues.

Carbon monoxide poisoning comes on quickly so, if you or a loved one begin to experience flu-like symptoms rapidly, take action right away. Vacate the home at the first sign of headache or dizziness and, if symptoms are severe, such as vomiting, shortness of breath, or fainting, get to a hospital right away for treatment—it’s better to take more precautions and be safe.

Knowledge about what to look for and what causes carbon monoxide emissions is important, but it’s also integral to have a sensor installed in your home for proper carbon monoxide detection. Without one, it’s beyond difficult and dangerous to try and detect the invisible gas. Monitors are an easy way to keep you and your family safe and there are many different kinds you can get. From simple monitors that sound when high levels of carbon monoxide are detected in the air to more advanced options that digitally display levels of carbon monoxide so you can see the rising and falling of how much is in the air.

Make sure to talk with your security provider about your carbon monoxide monitoring system options and for more best practices for safe use of carbon monoxide-producing appliances and devices. The more you know, the less likely carbon monoxide poisoning is to occur to you or a loved one.

Carbon Monoxide 101: The Basics You Need to Know

keeping your family safe from carbon monoxide

Carbon Monoxide (CO) is incredibly common, so much so, that we often forget about it. This can be a dangerous mistake, as carbon monoxide can cause serious bodily damage and even death. Knowing what it is, what causes it, and how it can impact your life are important aspects to understanding the severity of this dangerous gas.

What is carbon monoxide?

carbon monoxide safetyCarbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless, poisonous gas that can be fatal with prolonged exposure. It forms with incomplete burning of an array of fuels, such as coal, wood, charcoal, oil, kerosene, propane, and natural gas, and can be found in the fumes of these substances. Carbon monoxide can build up when stoves, grills, fireplaces, furnaces, gas rangers, and gas rangers aren’t cleaned and care for properly.

How can you detect carbon monoxide?

Without a monitor, carbon monoxide can be incredibly difficult to notice. Since the gas is basically invisible—with no smell, color, or odor—you’ll only be able to tell its there because of symptoms. However, installing a carbon monoxide detector is the best, and the absolute safest way to keep tabs on carbon monoxide levels in your home. Most detectors will sound when levels reach dangerous peaks. However, many carbon monoxide detectors are now digital and display the carbon monoxide levels and track their movements so you can see exactly how safe the air in your home is at all times.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide

Many people describe symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning as flu-like, and can range in severity depending on the amount of carbon monoxide in the air. Moderate carbon monoxide poisoning comes with headache, dizziness, fatigue, and upset stomach. However, if symptoms go unnoticed or untreated, they can worsen, including weakness, vomiting, chest pains, confusion, disorientation, loss of muscular coordination, fainting, and death.

Considering how difficult it is to detect carbon monoxide and how similar the symptoms are to many other illnesses and disorders, carbon monoxide poisoning often goes untreated and can cause serious repercussions. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 400 people die each year from carbon monoxide poisoning, 4,000 are hospitalized, and 20,000 are taken to the emergency room.

How to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning

To reduce carbon monoxide emissions, there are a few things you can do on your own to try and manage this dangerous gas. Never burn charcoal in your home, never use portable fuel-burning equipment in the home (camping gear, lanterns, grills, etc.), and always make sure your appliances are installed properly and done by a professional. These precautions can help reduce the risk of carbon monoxide leaks and excess production in the home.

The best way to regulate carbon monoxide emissions is by installing a carbon monoxide detector, which is the most precise method to keeping your home safe. From the most basic, battery-powered detectors to high tech digital models, these devices measure the amounts of carbon monoxide in the air and when levels become dangerous, an alarm will alert you and your family. To make sure your alarms are working as they should, replace carbon monoxide detectors every five years and make sure to run tests every few months to ensure they’re working effectively.

house plants and carbon dioxideOne last important thing to know about carbon monoxide is that it isn’t the same as carbon dioxide (CO2). While the two are odorless, clear gases that can be deadly, CO2 is a naturally occurring byproduct human and animal breath combined with chemical reactions, and the combustion of fossil fuels. Plants need CO2 to survive, and it’s rare for humans to have CO2 poisoning, as our bodies are built to balance the emissions of this gas. So whenever you see the 2 after carbon monoxide, you know you’re dealing with the less harmful of the two gases.

Talk to your security team about how you can ensure your home is protected from carbon monoxide best, and the many ways you can keep it that way.

Web Statistics