How to Test a Carbon Monoxide Detector (updated for 2024)

Carbon Monoxide Detector, Low Level CO Detector -

How to Test a Carbon Monoxide Detector (updated for 2024)

To ensure accurate functionality, it is important not to use your car's exhaust gas to test your carbon monoxide (CO) detector. Instead, it is recommended to use carbon monoxide gas that is available in a bottle or can. It is also important to periodically test carbon monoxide meters and detectors to ensure their sensitivity to carbon monoxide gas. We present a simple method of testing CO detectors and meters without requiring any special tools.

Pros

Cons

  • How to Test Carbon Monoxide Alarm is easy and quick.
  • Bump testing assures your carbon monoxide alarm is operational.
  • Assures you do not have a defective carbon monoxide meter.
  • Requires only household equipment to undertake a real test.
  • Most people expose their carbon monoxide detectors to exhaust gas - do not do that!
  • When purchasing a new CO detector, most people assume the detector is functioning at 100%. Dont assume. Test and Verify.
  • All carbon monoxide detectors and meters have a finite life. Their life span ranges from 2 to 10 years. Be attentive.
  • CO detectors may require battery changes. We recommend yearly battery changes.

 

Can I Use Car Exhaust to Test a CO Detector?

No.

The most IMPORTANT rule regarding your carbon monoxide detector or meter is to never expose it to engine exhaust gas. I repeat:

Never expose your CO Detector to engine exhaust gas.

Many of us think, "It's a great idea - let's test the CO detector with our vehicle exhaust!". Engine exhaust gas is a terrible source of carbon monoxide because:

  • The carbon monoxide concentration is NOT constant. Exhaust gas varies in CO level. Sometimes it is low and sometimes it is high.
  • It has a large amount of humidity and is expelled at a high temperature. The combination of high temperature and humidity will likely damage the CO sensor and present a false reading.
  • High content of humidity in an air stream, such as vehicle exhaust gas, is a "false signal" culprit. 
  • The exhaust gas has acidic gas components such as NOx that cancel the real CO sensor output. Special filters are needed to remove humidity, treat acidic gases, and condition the exhaust stream before it is exposed to the gas sensor of your CO detector.

Technical Test: How Can I Test My Carbon Monoxide Detector?

The proper way to test your carbon monoxide detector is to obtain a CO bottle or CO test can gas. You can spray the gas onto the detector to confirm sensor function and proper LED and buzzer alarm operation. This type of testing is generally referred to as bump testing. There are many other method on How to Test Carbon Monoxide Alarm on YouTube and other resources, but exposing the CO alarm to real carbon monoxide gas is the ultimate test.

    Home Test: How to Test Carbon Monoxide Alarm? (with Kebab stick)

    Another way to test your CO detector is the "kebab stick" method.

    Perfect for a quick domestic check.

    1. Obtain a match or kebab stick and get it to smolder.
    2. When anything smolders, especially incense, it produces a high concentration of carbon monoxide (although the absolute volume is relatively small).
    3. Place the smoldering stick in a glass mug upside down with your detector.
    4. Watch the detector readings increase until it alarms.
    5. See the video below.

    Incense sticks work just as good, they smolder and actually produce a fair amount of carbon monoxide when confined in a small volume of space.

    Should I Press the Test Button on My CO Detector?

    Yes you should. 

    A quick test that most of us remember is to press the TEST button your CO detector. This is very important because it confirms the buzzer, LED, and electronics are working properly. However, it does not verify that the CO detector is properly sensing carbon monoxide gas. Therefore, we recommend pressing the TEST Button weekly or monthly and exposing the detector to actual CO gas once per year.

    What About Low-Level Carbon Monoxide Detectors?

    Follow the same procedure to test low-level carbon monoxide detectors. Just be aware that the low-level detectors will alarm much faster and at lower thresholds than a typical UL2034 CO detector purchased from Amazon.

    For example, the FORENSICS low level CO detector triggers an audible alarm when CO is detected at levels > 25ppm. Such low-level alarming is closer to various government gas exposure limits than traditional carbon monoxide detectors following the UL2034 alarm schedule (70 ppm for 60 - 240 minutes).

    We emphasize that a low level carbon monoxide detector IS NOT a replacement for a UL2034 carbon monoxide detector, which is mandatory per most local code and state legislation.


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