Carbon monoxide versus carbon dioxide

An oxygen atom that makes all the difference

Strange as it may sound, amongst those not working in the industry, CO and CO2 are often confused with each other. Although they are differentiated by a single oxygen atom, the variance is substantial. So, let’s create a little identikit of the two known gases!

CO, or carbon monoxide

Known as the silent killer, carbon monoxide is an odourless, colourless and tasteless gas. Extremely toxic, it originates from the incomplete combustion of organic fuels such as wood, coal, natural gas, and so on.

Formed by one carbon and one oxygen atom, monoxide owes its lethality to the ability to bind to haemoglobin, thus poisoning the blood. In fact, exposure to CO concentrations above 35 ppm can result in nausea, headache, daze, confusion, breathing difficulties and blurred vision through to loss of consciousness and even death. 

CO2, or carbon dioxide

Unlike monoxide, carbon dioxide is naturally present in the atmosphere and is likely the best-known of the greenhouse gases. Formed by one carbon and two oxygen atoms, its natural concentration in the air is about 400 ppm, resulting from natural processes such as the breathing cycle or combustion activities.

Despite the fact that carbon dioxide poisoning is rare, concentrations within a room leads to replacement of the oxygen and then asphyxiation. At some point or other we have all, for example, had difficulty concentrating, noticed a drop in performance, even not felt so well in the classroom, meeting room, at a conference, or even in a home that is poorly ventilated.

How to protect yourself

Even though the two gases are considerably different, they can be present together in many locations, such as schools, offices, underground parking lots, restaurants, production facilities and even in the home.

Availing of monoxide and carbon dioxide detectors able to provide a warning in case of dangerous concentrations of these two devious gases is thus highly recommended, even if there is no legal obligation to do so.

Our next in-depth analysis will look at our product specifically for monitoring CO2. We shall take the occasion to go into more detail about the anhydride concentrations not to be exceeded to ensure good air quality.

Those who wish to find out more about our gas detector offering can visit the sections of our catalogue dedicated to domestic and industrial gas detectors.