Carbon monoxide detectors are becoming increasingly important for households, corporate spaces, and rentals. One of the questions most homeowners ask when installing a carbon monoxide detector is if it will detect diesel fumes. As this is a life-and-death matter, this educational post aims to answer this question in detail. 

Yes, a carbon monoxide detector can detect diesel fumes. This device senses any potentially hazardous environmental gas, including diesel fuel. Most detectors will alert you when this killer gas accumulates from diesel-powered generators or vehicles or burning fuels like coal, wood, natural gas, or kerosene. 

Let’s discuss what exactly carbon monoxide is and why detecting this type of gas is essential. We’ll also explore how diesel fumes can be dangerous and how the best carbon monoxide detectors work. 

Understanding Carbon Monoxide (CO) and Why It’s Dangerous

You can’t see carbon monoxide (CO) with your naked eyes, nor can you discern it with smell. This odorless gas is also tasteless and highly toxic to humans and animals. It’s hazardous because it’s lethal and undetectable with our five ordinary senses. Only specialized equipment can detect it before it eliminates your entire household. 

So, what makes it so lethal? This gas is dangerous because it binds to hemoglobin in red blood cells more strongly than oxygen does. Thus, breathing it poisons your blood, reducing oxygen transport to vital organs and tissues. 

Your body starts shutting down, and the symptoms quickly leading to demise include: 

  • Headache.
  • Dizziness.
  • Nausea.
  • Confusion.
  • In severe cases, unconsciousness or death.

The Sources of Carbon Monoxide (CO)

This undetectable, lethal gas can originate from numerous sources. Slow-flowing sources in open areas require you to be vigilant for long-term exposure. On the other hand, sudden influxes in enclosed spaces can be fatal in a few minutes or seconds. Some carbon monoxide sources include:

  • Unvented fuel-burning appliances in homes.
  • Vehicle exhausts, especially cars with malfunctioning engines or those stuck in a traffic jam for extended periods.
  • Charcoal grills.
  • Back drafting from furnaces, water heaters, and other gas appliances when air pressure is low inside the house. 
  • Smoking cigarettes indoors or in any enclosed space.

One of the most common sources of carbon monoxide is incomplete fossil fuel combustion in engines, including gasoline and diesel engines. When fuel doesn’t burn completely, this gas is produced as a byproduct.

These fumes can leak from the car engine and enter your home or workplace. They can also accumulate in a garage without proper ventilation. If your property isn’t equipped with a carbon monoxide detector, you can be exposed to lethal levels of this gas.

How Does Diesel Produce Carbon Monoxide?

Diesel fuel is hydrocarbon-based, primarily composed of alkanes, cycloalkanes, and aromatic compounds. Diesel engines compress air and inject diesel fuel into the highly compressed air, which causes combustion upon ignition.

When the air-fuel mixture isn’t sufficient, incomplete combustion occurs, producing carbon monoxide as a byproduct. It can happen if the engine has problems with the fuel injection system or ignition system. 

In such cases, it helps to take corrective measures quickly to avoid any long-term exposure danger. 

Emissions Standards

Emission standards are rules and regulations set by governments to limit the amount of pollutants emitted from engines. Emissions standards for diesel engines vary by region, but they typically include limits on carbon emissions. These standards encourage using advanced engine technology and exhaust after-treatment systems to reduce carbon emissions.

The US government has specific standards for cars with gasoline-powered and diesel-powered engines. All new vehicles must meet specific criteria to be sold in the country. 

How Carbon Monoxide Detectors Work

Carbon monoxide detectors are devices designed to alert occupants of CO gas in the air. They utilize various sensing technologies, the most common being electrochemical sensors. 

These sensors have electrodes immersed in a chemical solution. When carbon monoxide is in the air, the electrodes react with it, and the chemical reaction generates an electrical current, triggering the alarm.

The Importance of Early Detection

Early detection is crucial because it allows people to evacuate a building or area before the levels become life-threatening. It’s essential to have capable detectors where combustion appliances are used, like homes with wood, coal, oil furnaces, gas stoves, or attached garages.

Will a Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detector Detect Diesel Fumes?

Most decent carbon monoxide detectors can detect CO gas, regardless of its source. However, there are limitations to their effectiveness in detecting diesel fumes, including: 

1. Sensitivity

Standard detectors are generally more sensitive to carbon monoxide than other gasses like nitrogen oxides (NOx) or particulate matter in diesel exhaust.

2. Concentration (Detection Threshold)

The concentration of this gas in diesel exhaust is usually much lower than the levels required to trigger a standard detector. Additionally, these detectors may not trigger an alarm at low concentrations, which could be found in outdoor air or well-ventilated areas with minimal diesel exhaust.

An advanced detector that uses infrared or chemiluminescent optical sensors is usually necessary for effective detection. 

3. Interference

As specified earlier, diesel exhaust comprises various gasses, particles, and compounds. Depending on the composition, some might interfere with a carbon monoxide detector’s ability to detect accurately. Cutting-edge sensors, however, easily overcome this problem.

How to Protect Yourself from Diesel Fumes

The best way to protect yourself from the danger of diesel fumes is minimizing exposure via: 

1. Ventilation

Ensure good ventilation in indoor areas where diesel engines are used, such as garages or workshops. Use exhaust fans and open windows and doors for constant fresh air.

2. Exhaust Systems

Diesel engines should have adequately functioning exhaust systems that direct fumes away from occupied spaces.

3. Personal Protective Equipment

Individuals should wear appropriate respiratory protection in high-exposure environments, such as industrial settings.

4. Specialized Air Quality Monitors

To accurately monitor diesel fume exposure, consider using specialized air quality monitors to detect a range of pollutants, including particulate matter and specific gasses like nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

Here are our thoughts on the best place to put a smoke detector

Final Thoughts on Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Smoke detectors should be placed in any area where diesel fumes may be present. It includes indoor spaces such as garages or workshops or outdoor areas with heavy traffic or frequent use of diesel engines. 

Furthermore, exhaust systems must properly function to remove diesel fumes from these spaces safely. Consider investing in high-quality air quality monitors and personal protective equipment to protect your family and staff further. 

Lastly, it’s essential to regularly check carbon monoxide detector batteries and test them to ensure they’re working correctly. Contact us if you have any questions about this or need further guidance. 

Leave a Reply