We research all brands listed and may earn a fee from our partners. Research and financial considerations may influence how brands are displayed. Not all brands are included. Learn more.

Published: Apr 15, 2024 4 min read

Carbon monoxide, commonly known as CO, is a colorless, odorless gas. CO is poisonous for humans and contributes to about 2,000 deaths a year in the US. It is most commonly created by combustion reactions and negatively contributes to climate change. The dangers of carbon monoxide should be taken seriously but can be easily addressed with the proper tools and preparation.

Why is carbon monoxide toxic?

The fact that fire in enclosed spaces releases toxic fumes was probably known to prehistoric humans and was first recorded by Aristotle. It has been suggested that Cleopatra, the last active ruler of the kingdom of Egypt, may have died from carbon monoxide poisoning.

We now know that carbon monoxide is toxic because it fuses to hemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen through your red blood cells to different parts of your body. Hemoglobin is unable to unfuse from carbon monoxide easily, causing asphyxiation and hypoxia (oxygen deprivation).

Carbon monoxide poisoning is treatable if caught quickly enough. It is usually treated in an emergency room by administering concentrated doses of oxygen to help your body get rid of the carbon monoxide in your blood more quickly.

Ads by Money. We may be compensated if you click this ad.AdAds by Money disclaimer
Smart home security every second with ADT
ADT helps protect your home and family 24/7 with professional monitoring and smart solutions. Select your state and get a free quote today.
HawaiiAlaskaFloridaSouth CarolinaGeorgiaAlabamaNorth CarolinaTennesseeRIRhode IslandCTConnecticutMAMassachusettsMaineNHNew HampshireVTVermontNew YorkNJNew JerseyDEDelawareMDMarylandWest VirginiaOhioMichiganArizonaNevadaUtahColoradoNew MexicoSouth DakotaIowaIndianaIllinoisMinnesotaWisconsinMissouriLouisianaVirginiaDCWashington DCIdahoCaliforniaNorth DakotaWashingtonOregonMontanaWyomingNebraskaKansasOklahomaPennsylvaniaKentuckyMississippiArkansasTexas
Get Started

Where can a carbon monoxide leak come from?

CO is produced whenever something burns. Problems usually arise when the area in which the material is burning is not well-ventilated, as there is not enough oxygen to create the safer carbon dioxide. Common household sources of carbon monoxide include fuel-burning appliances such as:

  • Clothes dryers
  • Water heaters
  • Fireplaces
  • Natural gas ovens and stoves
  • Charcoal grills
  • Space heaters
  • Wood stoves
  • Lawnmowers

Sources of CO that are not house appliances include tobacco smoke, motor vehicles, propane products, camp stoves, and portable generators. Water heaters and boilers are required by law to have carbon monoxide detectors installed with them. Other producing sources should be properly vented and maintained to prevent CO levels from rising above the federal standard of 9 ppm (parts-per-million) for fresh air.

What are the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most common symptoms of CO poisoning are:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Upset stomach
  • Vomiting
  • Chest pain
  • Confusion
  • Shortness of breath

These symptoms can often be confused with the flu and are sometimes ignored. Continued exposure to CO can cause brain damage, loss of consciousness and can be fatal. Children, the elderly and family members who have preexisting conditions such as heart disease and asthma could be more affected by the health effects of high levels of CO exposure.

If you feel you have been exposed to CO poisoning, contact a healthcare professional immediately. Exposure can be fully reverted with treatment if caught in time.

What can I do to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning?

  • Consider acquiring a CO detector and regularly checking its efficacy by changing its battery periodically.
  • Use smoke detectors approved by the fire department to help improve indoor air quality and maintain low levels of CO, especially around sleeping areas.
  • Have any CO-producing appliance, such as your heating system, gas stove or water heater regularly checked and serviced by a professional.
  • Maintain proper ventilation for your gas appliances and chimneys.
  • Don’t run your car inside attached garages; also, have a mechanic check the systems of your car regularly to prevent build up of CO from automobile exhaust

For more information on how to best prepare your home for the threat of a carbon monoxide leak, read Money’s picks for best home security systems.

Ads by Money. We may be compensated if you click this ad.AdAds by Money disclaimer
Keep your home safer round the clock with ADT
ADT offers top home security that could potentially help save you money on insurance* and energy costs. Get a quote now and protect what matters most.
Get Started
*Homeowner's Insurance Savings: Some insurance companies offer discounts on homeowner's insurance. Please consult your insurance company.