Can Carbon Monoxide Detector Detect Smoke?

Can Carbon Monoxide Detector Detect Smoke?

Carbon monoxide detectors have been existing since the mid-1990s. They detect any carbon monoxide gas, commonly called the “silent killer”. These devices sound an alarm when they sense any excess carbon monoxide. However, Can Carbon Monoxide Detector Detect Smoke?

Can Carbon Monoxide Detector Detect Smoke?
A Carbon Monoxide Detector

No, a carbon monoxide (CO) detector cannot directly detect smoke as they are specifically designed to detect the presence of carbon monoxide gas produced by the incomplete combustion of carbon-containing fuels such as gas, oil, wood, or coal.

Consequently, while carbon monoxide and smoke detectors serve important safety purposes, they are distinct devices designed to detect different hazards. Therefore, it is recommended to have both types of detectors installed in a home to ensure comprehensive protection against carbon monoxide and smoke incidents.

Generally, there is so much to learn about smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. Thus, engage with this article as we delve further into this subject.

What Is The Difference Between Carbon Monoxide Detector And Smoke Detector?

First, carbon monoxide and smoke detectors are both safety devices used to protect against different hazards in the home. Here is the main difference between the two:

  • Smoke detectors are designed to detect any presence of fire through smoke or heat. They sense the presence of smoke particles in the air, which triggers an alarm to warn occupants of a possible fire in the building.

On the contrary, carbon monoxide detectors detect carbon monoxide, mostly caused by improper ventilation through a furnace or generator. Carbon monoxide is produced by the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels such as gas, oil, and coal, and it can be extremely dangerous, potentially leading to carbon monoxide poisoning or, even worse, death.

  • Next, carbon monoxide detectors are recommended to be installed at knee height or chest height, as carbon monoxide is roughly the same density as air. Furthermore, they should be placed near bedrooms and sleeping areas, as well as in rooms with fuel-burning appliances like furnaces, water heaters, and stoves.

In contrast, smoke detectors are installed on the ceiling or the wall as smoke rises. Similarly, they are commonly placed in hallways, near bedrooms, and each level of the home to provide early warning in case of a fire.

  • Furthermore, when a carbon monoxide detector detects high levels of carbon monoxide, it sounds an alarm that consists of multiple loud beeps or a continuous siren. Even better, some models may also display visual alerts, such as flashing lights or digital readouts.

In contrast, smoke detectors usually emit a loud, intermittent alarm sound, often a series of beeps or a continuous siren. Moreover, the sound is intended to alert occupants to smoke or a potential fire.

  • Carbon monoxide detectors use electrochemical detectors to detect the presence of carbon monoxide gas. These sensors contain electrodes that are sensitive to carbon monoxide. Also, when carbon monoxide comes into contact with the electrodes, it generates an electrical signal that triggers the alarm.

Conversely, smoke detectors use different types of sensors to detect smoke particles. For example, the most common types are ionization and photoelectric smoke detectors. Ionization smoke detectors use a small amount of radioactive material to ionize the air between two charged plates. When smoke particles enter the detector, they disrupt the ionization process, triggering the alarm.

On the other hand, photoelectric detectors use a light source and a light-sensitive sensor. When smoke enters the chamber, it scatters the light, which is then detected by the sensor, triggering the alarm.

How Do I Know If There Is Carbon Monoxide In My House?

Unfortunately, carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas hard to smell, taste, or detect. However, there are a few signs that you can look for to detect it. They include:

  • While carbon monoxide is invisible, a leak or malfunctioning appliance can sometimes leave physical signs. Look for soot or yellow/brown staining around stoves, boilers, vents, fuel-burning appliances, or chimney connections.

Additionally, if the burner flame is yellow instead of the normal blue flame, that could be a sign. However, this cannot apply to some gas flames that produce the yellow flame for aesthetic reasons.

  • Excessive condensation on the window pane when the appliance is placed, can also indicate poor combustion or ventilation. Therefore, if you observe water droplets on the interior part of the windows where there is a gas appliance, then it may be an indication that carbon monoxide is building up in your house.
  • If you observe that your pilot light is blowing out frequently, that could be another sign of a CO leak. Further, if the light is blue, it could indicate that the gas is not burning properly and CO is building up in the air.
  • Animals are often more sensitive to the effects of carbon monoxide than humans. Hence, pay attention to your pet’s behavior. If they appear unusually ill or lethargic, it could indicate CO exposure.
  • At the fireplace, chimney, or fuel-burning equipment, check for fumes, smoke, backdraft, or soot.  In addition, inspect your fuel-burning appliances, such as furnaces, water heaters, stoves, fireplaces, and gas dryers. 

Also, look for any visible signs of damage or malfunction. Improperly functioning appliances can release carbon monoxide into your home.

  1. Smoke builds up anytime you use your fireplace; additionally, if you can’t feel an upward draft when you open the chimney flue, that could be another sign.
  2. As stated earlier, carbon monoxide is a colorless and odorless gas, so it’s impossible to detect it with your senses alone. However, if there is a CO leak in your house, you may notice symptoms of CO poisoning in yourself or others in your household. 

Common symptoms include:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Chest pains
  • Tension headache
  • Stomach pains, vomiting, or nausea
  • Vertigo or dizziness
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness  of breath
  • Confusion
  • Fatigue or tiredness 

Also, if you notice that these signs reduce and you feel better when you are away from your house, then it could be an indication of CO presence.

If the symptoms worsen or appear when you are using fuel-burning equipment.

Lastly, if your house has carbon monoxide detectors installed, they will emit a loud, high-pitched alarm when CO levels reach a dangerous threshold. Also, listen for any beeping sounds from devices mounted on walls or ceiling. Therefore, if you hear a carbon monoxide alarm, it’s crucial to evacuate the premises immediately and seek fresh air.

Is It Better To Have Separate Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors?

Firstly, this comes down to your budget since the combined version can be affordable. However, it is recommended to have separate smoke detectors and carbon monoxide (CO) detectors for optimal safety. Although smoke and carbon monoxide are potential hazards in a home, they are caused by different sources and require different detection mechanisms.

Additionally, both detectors have different place requirements. For instance, smoke detectors should be installed in every bedroom, outside each sleeping area, and on every level of your home. Moreover, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends that smoke detectors should be installed on every floor of your house and also in hallways. 

Similarly, there should be a 30 feet distance between every smoke detector. Also, they should be placed on the ceiling since smoke and heat rise.

On the other hand, carbon monoxide detectors are designed to monitor the levels of CO in the air and alert you if there is a dangerous build-up. For this reason, they should be placed at knee height or chest height if there are children who could tamper with them.

Single-function carbon monoxide detectors are great since they can be placed at the correct level. However, if you are using a combined detector, you can install it on the ceiling so that it can be able to detect smoke properly.

But combined smoke detectors can still be an option, especially if you want to minimize the number of devices in your home or have limited space. Moreover, they provide dual protection against both fire and carbon monoxide hazards.

Also, you can save a lot of money since the individual detectors can cost more than the combined alarms. Additionally, it’s easier to install since there are fewer alarms than when installed separately. 

However, you must also consider that smoke detectors have a longer lifespan than CO detectors. This means a combined detector could have a shorter lifespan than separate detectors.

Therefore, whether to have a combined or separate smoke detector boils down to your personal needs and preferences.

What Does 3 Beeps On A Carbon Monoxide Detector Mean?

Three beeps on a carbon monoxide detector could indicate a potentially dangerous situation. However, it can also indicate something else. Here is what the three beeps usually mean:

3 beeps, after every 15 minutes – this could indicate a malfunction or error with the device. This could be due to a sensor problem, circuit issue, or other technical fault. In such cases, it’s important to address the problem promptly to ensure the detector is functioning correctly and providing accurate readings.

However, if there are 4 beeps, a pause, followed by 4 beeps, could indicate carbon monoxide, and you should move outside and look for help.

In addition, in many carbon monoxide detectors, a low battery can trigger a warning sign, often a series of short beeps. Therefore, if you hear three beeps from your CO detector, the batteries may be running low and need to be replaced. Better still, check the user manual for your specific device to confirm the meaning of the beeps.

On the other hand, if there are 5 beeps every 5 minutes, that could indicate that the detector is no longer useful and you should install a new one.

Ultimately, while there are common reasons for three beeps, it’s crucial to consult the user manual or manufacturer guidelines for your specific CO detector to understand the exact meaning of the beeps.

The manual will provide detailed information on interpreting the alarm signals and guide what actions to take in response to different beep patterns.

Alternatively, if you suspect a carbon monoxide leak or if your detector is sounding an alarm, it’s important to evacuate the premises immediately, call emergency services, and seek fresh air until the situation has been resolved.

What Are Two Warning Signs Of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

Two warning signs of carbon monoxide poisoning are:

Flu-like symptoms: one of the early warning signs of carbon monoxide poisoning is experiencing flu-like symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, vomiting, headache, weakness, and shortness of breath. (As stated earlier). Also, these symptoms may be accompanied by confusion, blurred vision, and chest pain.

Cherry-red skin or lips: in severe cases of carbon monoxide poisoning, individuals may exhibit a cherry-red or bright pink color on their skin or lips. This occurs due to the formation of carboxyhemoglobin, a compound that results from the binding of carbon monoxide to hemoglobin in the blood.

Unfortunately, these symptoms may not always be present, especially in mild cases of poisoning. Even worse, the symptoms may resemble the flu, making it difficult to differentiate them.

It is worth noting being exposed to carbon monoxide for a long time without medical treatment can lead to long-term, serious effects, or worse, death.

Can Anything Other Than Carbon Monoxide Set Off A Carbon Monoxide Detector?

While carbon monoxide detectors are specifically designed to detect carbon monoxide (CO) gas, they utilize specialized sensors highly sensitive to carbon monoxide levels in the surrounding air. As a result, Carbon monoxide detectors are not triggered by other gasses or substances.

However, certain conditions, substances, or malfunctions can cause false alarms in carbon monoxide detectors. These false alarms may be triggered by:

  • Lack Of Enough Ventilation

If your home lacks enough fresh air (airtight), harmful gasses and CO may build up inside your house.  This may end up triggering the carbon monoxide detector, suffocation, and other medical problems.

  • Active Fire And Smoke Sources

Installing your CO detector near a barbecue grill, wood stove, or fireplace can give you a wrong reading of the CO level in your house, hence triggering a false alarm.

  • Moisture

Moisture from your bathroom can trigger your CO alarm. Therefore, avoid installing CO alarms in areas with excess moisture.

  • From Neighbors

Smoke may also come from the walls or floor of a neighbor. Confirm from neighbors if they have a fuel-burning appliance that can cause CO to slip away from the chimney stacks, thus allowing carbon monoxide to enter your home through a joint loft space.

  • Replace Date

CO alarms can be unpredictable once they have expired, and this can cause false alarms. Detectors have a limited lifespan, around 5-7 years, after which they may not function accurately. Therefore, regular maintenance and replacement according to the manufacturer’s recommendations are essential.

  • Lead Acid Battery Chargers

These kinds of batteries produce hydrogen gas, which can trigger CO detectors.

  • The Wrong Type Of Carbon Monoxide Alarm

The carbon monoxide alarm you have installed may not be the right type for the premises.

  • Homes Next To Busy Roads

Living near busy roads can result in high levels of CO in your premises, especially if the windows are open. This is because traffic fumes can enter your house and trigger your alarm.

  • Broken Or Low-Quality Alarms

Using cheap or low-quality detectors can be very risky because outdated and substandard safety devices can fail to notify you about real emergencies. Additionally, it can give out false alarms.

  • Chemical Vapors

Some chemicals or household products that release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) may trigger a false alarm. These include cleaning agents, solvents, adhesives, paints, and aerosol sprays. However, this is not directly detecting carbon monoxide but rather a response to the chemical vapors.

  • Other Gasses

Although carbon monoxide detectors are primarily designed to detect CO, some may respond to certain other gasses, such as methane (natural gas), propane, or butane. However, this would depend on the specific design and capabilities of the detector.

Therefore, it is important to read the manufacturer’s instructions and specifications for your specific carbon monoxide detector to understand its detection capabilities.

  1. Lastly, using a grill near open windows and doors or in the garage can cause carbon monoxide poisoning and fire hazards.

Frequently Asked Questions


What Are The Ways Of Preventing Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

  1. Avoid using gas ovens to heat your home. Use it for the intended purpose.
  2. Ensure furnaces, chimneys, and gas stoves to confirm if they are working properly.
  3. Keep garage doors open before starting a car, especially if the garage is close to the house. Also, do not leave any vehicle running in the garage.
  4. Clean your flue and chimneys clean at least every year.
  5. Place and use your gasoline-powered generators outside the house. Additionally, they should be away from windows and vents or 25 feet from your premises.
  6. Use gasoline-powered equipment and barbecue grills outdoors.
  7. Install CO monitors on your premises and ensure they have new batteries.
  8. If there is deep mud or snow in your exhaust pipe, ensure no one is in your car when the engine is running.

What Causes Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

Below are some of the appliances that can cause carbon monoxide:

  • Portable generators
  • Gas boilers
  • Wood, gas, and coal fires
  • Gas cookers and clay ovens
  • Gas or paraffin heaters

Can Carbon Monoxide Detectors Detect Natural Or Propane Gas 

Standard carbon monoxide detectors are not designed to detect natural gas or propane leaks. However, there are combination detectors available that can detect both carbon monoxide and combustible gasses like natural gas or propane.

Can Carbon Monoxide Detectors Be Installed In RVs or Boats?

Yes, there are carbon monoxide detectors specifically designed for RVs, boats, and other recreational vehicles. Batteries often power these detectors and can be easily installed in such vehicles to provide early warning in case of carbon monoxide build-up.

How Often Should I Test My Carbon Monoxide Detector?

It is recommended to test your carbon monoxide detector at least once a month to ensure it is functioning properly. Most detectors have a test button that you can press to initiate a self-test. Additionally, you should follow the manufacturer’s instructions for any specific testing recommendations. 

Can CO detectors be interconnected?

Yes, many carbon monoxide detectors can be interconnected, meaning that if one detector detects carbon monoxide, it will trigger all interconnected detectors in the system to sound an alarm. Interconnection can be done through wiring or wireless technology, depending on the specific model.


A carbon monoxide detector is an important appliance that has existed for a long time. As discussed earlier, it can help to detect carbon monoxide earlier, thus preventing any hazards. While it can be an important appliance, the question remains…

Can Carbon Monoxide Detector Detect Smoke?

As discussed earlier, carbon monoxide detectors are designed specifically to detect the presence of carbon monoxide gas, which is odorless and highly toxic. However, while these detectors are crucial for safeguarding against carbon monoxide poisoning, they are not capable of detecting smoke.

On the contrary, smoke detectors are designed to sense the presence of smoke particles in the air, indicating the potential presence of fire. Therefore, it is important to note that both detectors serve different purposes and are essential for maintaining home safety.

Lastly, it is recommended to have both carbon monoxide detectors and smoke detectors installed in your home to provide comprehensive protection against both carbon monoxide and fire hazards.

Thank you for reading this piece, and I hope this clears up the confusion about whether carbon monoxide detectors can detect smoke.

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