CO Vs CO2- Do you know the difference?

May 22, 2019

CO Vs CO2- Do you know the difference?

It’s very important to know the differences between carbon monoxide (CO) and carbon dioxide (CO2), as both gases can be seriously harmful to a person's health. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for people to confuse the two gases, which is a concerning issue that doesn’t seem to be improving.

It is easy to understand why CO and CO2 are mixed up as they are both a combination of oxygen and carbon. However, both can be extremely dangerous in their own way, so it is best to understand what each gas is, in order to detect them safely! We’re often asked if a CO detector would detect CO2 and the answer is simply no. It’s crucial to do your research and get the correct monitor for the gas you are trying to detect, this is a common mistake that even your search engine might get mixed up. Take a look at the example below:

Search engine confuse co and co2

As you can see the search term used is ‘carbon dioxide detector’ but 7 out of 8 links on this search relate to carbon monoxide. If this goes unnoticed, someone could end up monitoring the wrong gas, completely unaware that they aren’t protected from the initial gas they set out to detect. To avoid this mistake, it is crucial to educate yourself on the differences between CO and CO2 and what they are.

What is Carbon Monoxide (CO)?

CO is a harmful, poisonous gas which, if inhaled, can make you extremely unwell and at higher levels, could kill you. This is why carbon monoxide is sometimes referred to as ‘the silent killer’.

If you breathe in carbon monoxide, it enters your bloodstream which mixes with haemoglobin, to form carboxyhemoglobin. This results in the blood being unable to carry oxygen which causes lack of oxygen in the body, forcing cells and tissue to fail and/or die.

Symptoms of CO poisoning

CO symptoms from DMIRS on Vimeo.

  • Headaches/dizziness
  • Breathlessness
  • Tiredness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Pains in chest and/or stomach
  • Problems with sight

If you are experiencing symptoms like this and think you have been exposed to carbon monoxide, seek medical attention immediately.

Avoiding carbon monoxide exposure

Carbon monoxide leaks can be caused by a number of household appliances that are fueled by gas, coal, wood and oil for example: boilers, gas fires, stoves/cookers, heating systems and so on. If these appliances are not properly installed and maintained, you could be at risk of dangerous carbon monoxide leaks. CO gas has no taste, colour, or smell, meaning it is hard to know when there is a leak!

Protecting yourself from potential CO leaks is easy, simply install a carbon monoxide detector to alert you of a dangerous leak. It is advised that your alarm set point is in line with your local legislation regarding levels carbon monoxide.

What is Carbon Dioxide (CO2)?

Carbon dioxide molecules

Carbon dioxide gas exists naturally in the air we breathe at a level of around 0.04% and is completely unharmful to humans. However, when humans are exposed to higher levels of CO2, it can cause intoxication and/or poisoning. Similar to carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide is odorless, colourless, and tasteless making it extremely hard to detect.

CO2 is used in a number of facilities and businesses but many are unaware of, or sadly disregard the dangers of carbon dioxide.

The effects of CO2 on the human body

  • Vomiting/Nausea
  • Headaches/Dizziness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • In worst cases, CO2 exposure can cause comas and ultimately death

Avoiding CO2 Exposure

As already mentioned, carbon dioxide is very hard to detect, which is why CO2 monitoring systems are so important. If you use carbon dioxide in your facility, for whatever application, you should have a CO2 detection system in place to protect yourself from dangerous carbon dioxide leaks.

We provide a range of CO2 detectors and Alarms to suit any application, you can view themhere.

Carbon Dioxide Vs Carbon Monoxide

Whilst CO and CO2 are both dangerous, the exposure levels at which they are harmful to humans are completely different. With CO2, the recommended short term exposure limit tends to be around 30,000ppm, with the long term limit being around 5,000ppm, this means that carbon dioxide detectors should have customizable set-points specific to the users requirements,like the Ax60+. Whereas with CO, symptoms from exposure start to show at levels as low as 70ppm, meaning carbon monoxide must be detected from the slightest increase to avoid any harm.


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