CO Alarm 101: What Other Gases Can Set Off A Carbon Monoxide Detector?

Indoor Air Quality, Safety

It was a nerve-wracking experience when your carbon monoxide detector started beeping uncontrollably. You called 911, your family immediately evacuated, and a team of responders and firefighters came to check your home for one of the most toxic gases known to man.

But they found no carbon monoxide. It was apparently a case of false alarm.

DP what other gases can set off a carbon monoxide detector

How can you prevent this stressful and embarrassing situation? What other gases can set off a carbon monoxide detector? How do I know if it is only a false alarm or if there is indeed a valid threat?

Read on to find out. 

What Other Gases Can Trigger Carbon Monoxide Detectors

A well-made standard single-gas carbon monoxide detector should only detect carbon monoxide gas if it is working efficiently. However, cheap poorly-made carbon monoxide alarms can be triggered by various other gases such as hydrogen gas, hydrogen sulfide, hydrogen cyanide, petrol fumes, vapors of ethyl, methyl, and isopropyl alcohol, acetylene, dimethyl sulfide, and nitrogen dioxide.

There are day-to-day situations or activities in your household that may also trigger your CO alarm such as faulty fuel-burning appliances, lack of adequate ventilation indoors, fireplaces or grills that are too close to the carbon monoxide detectors, and finally, a broken CO alarm that needs to be repaired or replaced. 

In order to prevent false alarms from occuring, make sure to purchase a quality carbon monoxide detector. If you prefer to have it fixed or wired to your security system, have a licensed professional perform the installation. If you decide to do the installation yourself, follow the users’ guide closely. 

For battery-operated CO alarms, replace the batteries at least every 6 months or when the device chirps indicating low battery power. Test your carbon monoxide alarms at least every month if it is still operating properly. Clean and maintain these safety devices monthly.

Finally, be mindful about where you place your carbon monoxide detectors. Keep the alarms at least 10 to 20 feet away from cooking appliances powered by gas, spaces with high humidity, and active fires or items that produce combustion particles.

Everyday Situations That May Trigger Your Carbon Monoxide Detector

Carbon monoxide is a sneaky type of gas because it does not have any color, smell, or taste. Your only hope of detecting it is through the warning sound of your CO detector.

However, there are other different things that can set off the CO alarm:

  • Faulty fuel-burning appliances. Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of combustion of carbonated fuels such as natural gas, propane, wood, and charcoal. If there is not enough oxygen to pair with carbon particles, CO is formed. Hence, if your gas-powered appliances are malfunctioning and fail to regulate its gas-to-air ratio, the carbon monoxide detector will pick it up and frequently sound an alarm. 
  • Lack of adequate ventilation. As mentioned, carbon monoxide is produced when there is too little oxygen during the burning process. So if your home is too airtight that not enough fresh air comes in, CO and other harmful gases will create a buildup indoors. Not only will this scenario trigger your carbon monoxide detector but it will also cause suffocation indoors and other medical emergencies.
  • Active fire or smoke sources that are too close to the CO detectors. Where you place your carbon monoxide detectors is crucial for an accurate reading of threatening levels of CO. If you place it too near to a fireplace, a barbecue grill, or wood stoves, it can give you an erroneous reading of carbon monoxide level in your home and sound an alarm unnecessarily.
  • Low-quality or broken carbon monoxide alarms. Some people may try to skimp on carbon monoxide or smoke detectors by going for cheap, low-quality ones. This is extremely high-risk because substandard and outdated safety devices will not just fail to alert you about real dangers but it can give out false alarms which can cause you undue stress.

How Do I Stop My Carbon Monoxide Detector that Keeps Going Off?

First of all, NEVER TRY TO STOP  a carbon monoxide detector sounding an alarm. This safety device is built and installed for a reason and you should never neglect or deactivate it just because the noise is bothering you.

So instead of immediately taking out its batteries or disconnecting it from the power source to make it stop sounding, take the warning seriously. Otherwise, your ears may be safe from the noise yet the lives and safety of your loved ones are in great risk.

If your carbon monoxide detector is sounding an alarm, there are three different reasons why it is giving off a warning: 

  1. The carbon monoxide alarm detected dangerous levels of carbon monoxide.
  2. The detector is being falsely triggered by household items and other gases nearby.
  3. One or more of your carbon monoxide alarms is broken, in need of battery replacement or maintenance.

How do you know which of these reasons fit to your situation? How do you know if it’s already time to evacuate or if your CO alarm is just playing tricks on you?

How Can I Prevent Carbon Monoxide False Alarms?

The answer to these questions do not depend on what you do during the sounding of the alarm, but what you do BEFORE there is even a carbon monoxide warning. As with many home safety situations, “Prevention is better than cure” should be your guiding principle.

So how do you avoid having false carbon monoxide alarms?  

  • Invest in a high-quality carbon monoxide detectors. There are plenty of clever choices in stores and Amazon for single-gas or multi-gas detectors. Go for those that are reasonably-priced but with efficient features. Remember, if a safety device is too much of a bargain, you could just be getting your money’s worth in terms of safety.
  • Ask a qualified technician to perform the installation. If you prefer to have your detector wired or connected to your security system, it is best to seek professional help for the installation. You can also decide to get a plug-in carbon monoxide detector, but be sure to adhere specifically to the manual for instructions on proper usage.
  • Test, clean, and replace the batteries of your detector regularly. Dust and other dirt particles can compromise the efficiency of your detector. But don’t use water or harsh chemicals in cleaning your CO alarms. Use a brush, compressed air in a can, or small vacuum to dust it off. Check the batteries at least every 6 months or as soon as the detector chirps a warning indicating low battery. Test detectors every month.
  • Follow the users’ guide for correct placement of carbon monoxide detectors. Steer clear from direct sunlight and spaces with excessive moisture, as humidity could set off detectors, too. Keep a 10 to 20 feet distance from fuel-burning appliances. 

What to Do When Your Carbon Monoxide Alarm is Going Off

  1. Don’t EVER second-guess the CO alarm. Some people would suspect that it is a false alarm but if you follow the recommended steps above, it is more likely that you are looking at a legitimate carbon monoxide threat. Especially if you or any of your family members are experiencing flu-like symptoms for no reason, carbon monoxide poisoning is the sure culprit.
  2. Call 911 immediately. Never think that it is an overreaction to call 911 just because no one in the family is sick or in pressing danger. Carbon monoxide poisoning can kill even a healthy person in a matter of minutes, but especially elderly ones, children, pregnant women and their unborn babies, and people with pre-existing heart or respiratory issues.
  3. Get out of the house quickly. Even if the alarm sounds in the middle of the night, act quickly and don’t delay in evacuating. Rouse those who are in deep sleep in their bedroom or you know have been drunk the previous night as they would be most defenseless from carbon monoxide poisoning.
  4. Never attempt to go back inside until authorities said it’s safe. Either you have forgotten something inside your home or the CO alarm has stopped sounding, don’t reenter the house until the responders and firefighters gave you the go signal. Stay where there is abundant fresh air and watch out for any symptoms among family members.

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