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Indoor Carbon Monoxide Pollution and Solutions

Person pressing button on a carbon monoxide alarm.

Carbon monoxide is listed as one of the most common air pollutants. This air pollutant may be sourced from motorized vehicles to clothes dryers. With so many potential sources, it is important to understand where it can come from and the solutions to prevent or eliminate it.

What is Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon Monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless gas that forms when carbon in fuels do not completely burn. Carbon monoxide is produced by any fuel burning appliance, vehicle, tool and more. Many of the potential sources of carbon monoxide come from malfunctioning indoor appliances.

Health Effects of Carbon Monoxide

Symptoms may vary based on the concentration of carbon monoxide, length of time you are exposed, and your health. The health effects of carbon monoxide are due to a lack of oxygen within the blood. Once breathed in, CO passes from the lungs into the bloodstream where is attaches to the hemoglobin molecules that normally carry oxygen. Oxygen is unable to travel on a hemoglobin molecule with CO attached, therefore leading to the lack of oxygen. Since the health effects may vary based on CO concentration levels, we have broken them down for you below.  

Low concentrations

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue in healthy people
  • Chest pain in people with heart disease

Moderate concentrations

  • Angina
  • Impaired vision
  • Reduced brain function

Higher concentrations

  • Impaired vision and coordination
  • Confusion and impaired judgement
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Unconsciousness
  • Some cases may be fatal

Who is Most at Risk from Carbon Monoxide?

Everyone is at risk when it comes to carbon monoxide, yet there are some more sensitive or exposed than others.  Those at a higher risk from CO include infants, elderly, people with cardiovascular disease, anemia, or breathing problems. Each of these groups are more prone to the health effects that come from carbon monoxide.

While those with sensitivities are at higher risk from exposure, there are individuals who are at higher risk due to their exposure levels. If you do not have proper ventilation in your home, malfunctioning products or appliances emitting CO, or live in an area with high levels of CO, this may apply to you.

What Are the Sources of Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon monoxide comes from many of the appliances in our homes or vehicles we drive. To be more specific, potential sources of CO include the following:

  • Space heaters or oil or kerosene heaters
  • Coal or oil furnaces
  • Gas appliances (furnaces, ranges, ovens, water heaters, clothes dryers. Etc.)
  • Cooking with a charcoal or gas grill
  • Use of propane
  • Auto, truck, and boat exhaust
  • Gas-powered lawn mowers and power tools
  • Fireplaces and wood stoves; Clogged chimneys or blocked heating exhaust vents

How Can I Prevent Exposure to Carbon Monoxide?

While there may be a long list of CO sources, fortunately, there are many ways to prevent exposure to those sources. Below, we have listed ways to prevent carbon monoxide exposure from each source.

  • Have trained professionals inspect, clean and tune up central heating systems, water heaters and any other gas, oil or coal burning appliances annually. Central heating systems include furnaces, flues and chimneys.
  • Use vented appliances and ensure that they are vented properly. Furnaces, gas appliances, and fireplaces should all have ventilation systems. If you are replacing any appliance that is currently unvented, consider replacing it with one that is vented.
  • Use potential CO sources in their proper manner.
    • Appliances should be installed and working according to manufacturers’ instructions and local building codes.
    • Never use a gas range, oven, or clothes dryer for heating.
    • Do not burn charcoal, kerosene lanterns or portable camp stoves inside a home, cabin, recreational vehicle or camper.
  • Ensure regular maintenance and proper storage of what’s in your garage.
    • Have the exhaust system of your vehicles checked by a mechanic every year. A leak in the exhaust system in an enclosed vehicle can lead to a buildup of CO inside the vehicle
    • Never run your motorized vehicle, lawn mower or power tools inside a garage without ventilation or when attached to a house.
  • Use an air purifier to filter your indoor air. Depending on the manufacturer, an air purifier works to reduce or rid your air of microscopic particles, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and odorous gases.
  • Install a CO detector.

Carbon Monoxide Detectors

As listed above, carbon monoxide detectors are one of the many ways to prevent exposure to CO. CO detectors use sensors to detect and alert you to the presence of CO indoor spaces.

Types of CO Detectors

There are a variety of types and brands on the market today, making them easily accessible to consumers. Differentiation between types may be of importance depending on what you’re looking for in terms of features and price. Listed below are some of the big factors between types of CO detectors.

  • CO level: Some models include digital displays of the CO they detect, while others can read out the CO level via audio message.
  • Power source: Hard-wired CO detectors tie your indoor space’s wiring and require professional installation. CO detectors that only need batteries are the simplest to install and will work through a power outage.
  • Standard versus smart: While smart CO detectors may come along with a big price tag, they can tell you when something is wrong with your home even when you’re not there.

Installation and Maintenance

Check your local regulations before purchasing the best CO detector for your indoor space. Regulations on CO detectors may include their type or placement. Generally, there should be a CO detector installed on each floor of the home, especially near bedrooms or potential sources of CO.

Both hard-wired and battery-only detectors have batteries, the hard-wired contain them for backup. Batteries should be checked and replaced according to the manufacturer's recommendations. The entire CO detector should be replaced every five years. 


As many of the appliances or products in your home can emit CO, it is important to take precautionary steps to limit you and your family’s exposure. CO is just one of many pollutants in your indoor air, backing the reasoning of ensuring proper ventilation and appliance functionality, and investing in an air purifier and detectors to place within your home.

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