How To Test Your Carbon Monoxide Detector and Make Sure It’s Working Correctly

This article will tell you all about how to test carbon monoxide detector(s) and how to use the test button on carbon monoxide detector(s). (They’re both quite simple.) We’ll show you what appliances cause the biggest carbon monoxide (CO) risk in your home. Plus, give you advice on what to do if there’s a CO leak and, more importantly, how to prevent them from happening. It’s vital information that might save your life or prevent a family member from going to the ER.

In the United States, carbon monoxide kills nearly 500 people a year and sends another 50,000 to the emergency room. Those are alarming figures, no doubt, and stress the need for a working carbon monoxide detector in every home. (Some larger houses may need several of them.) That’s because, unlike smoke or flames, you can’t see, taste, or smell carbon monoxide. Without a detector, you would never know if there were a leak and your family was in peril. Read on to find out more and protect your home and family.

How To Test a Carbon Monoxide Detector to Be Sure It’s Working Correctly

A carbon monoxide detector that’s not working is like a bicycle helmet you never wear; dangerous to your health. That’s why it’s a good habit to regularly check your carbon monoxide detector and make sure it’s working correctly. Of course, you could simply Google “test carbon monoxide detector” or “test button on carbon monoxide detector”. We’ve made it even easier than that, though, with the following step-by-step instructions in 2 Parts.

Part 1 – Test a Carbon Monoxide Detector

  1. Locate the ‘test’ button on the carbon monoxide detector in your home.
  2. Push the button and listen for the siren.
  3. If the siren doesn’t sound, the detector likely needs batteries. If you have a security service, it’s also possible the connection to their service is disabled.

The reason for Part 2 is that even if your detector’s alarm is working, it still might not be detecting CO. In other words, you have to test this separately to be confident your detector is working 100% correctly. So after testing the batteries or connection in Part 1, you need to test your device’s ability to detect carbon monoxide in Part 2.

Part 2 – Test a Carbon Monoxide Detector

  1. Purchase a CO testing kit at your local Lowes, Home Depot, or on
  2. Use the included canister of CO to spray onto your carbon monoxide detector.
  3. Be patient. It sometimes takes up to 30 minutes from exposure to CO for the alarm to sound.
  4. If no alarm sounds, your device may need batteries or might be malfunctioning, damaged, or broken.

Keep in mind that if you have a professional security service, you may need their help. Some will have advice and directions on how to check your specific device. Others might even offer a service to check your device for you, so be sure to ask.

Close-up Of Electrician Hands Removing Battery From Smoke or carbon monoxide Detector

What Are the Signs of a Carbon Monoxide Leak?

As we mentioned earlier, you can’t see, taste, or smell carbon monoxide. That being said, there are a few methods you can use to detect a leak. Like testing your carbon monoxide detector, checking for CO leaks regularly is an excellent idea. Here are some of the signs you should be looking for:

  • Your gas appliances have a yellow or orange color to the flames rather than blue. (Keep in mind that fires with “fuel effects” and colored flames don’t apply.)
  • Around the appliances in your home, like your dryer, you see yellow and brown stains or soot.
  • If your pilot light is blowing out frequently, that’s a sure sign there is a CO leak.
  • Interestingly, if you see more condensation than usual on the inside of your windows, a CO leak might be causing it. The reason why is that one of the byproducts of combustion is water, and water causes condensation. If there’s more condensation on your windows, it could mean CO isn’t venting outside correctly.
  • If your home begins to smell stale and stuffy, a seal leak may be the culprit.
  • You get a distinct smell of “burning” in your home.

IMPORTANT: If you notice any of the signs above, you should call a professional gas service to your home. They can advise you of the cause and the solution to any CO leak problems you might have. It’s also an excellent recommendation to check your major gas appliances every six months. That way, you can prevent a small leak from becoming a disaster. Also, excellent ventilation around larger appliances like your HVAC is essential.

What Are the Signs You Have CO Poisoning?

The fact that carbon monoxide has no taste or odor and is invisible makes it incredibly difficult to detect. The fact that it mimics the flu or food poisoning also makes it difficult to detect if you have CO poisoning. Of course, the problem is that many people will take a pain reliever and dismiss their symptoms. That can be a dangerous situation and lead to a visit to the emergency room. That’s why it pays to know the physical signs of CO poisoning, which include:

  • Headaches and / or dizziness
  • Being always out of breath
  • Feeling nauseous
  • Feeling tired or depleted of energy.
  • Experiencing chest or stomach pain
  • Having problems with your vision, including blurred vision
  • Acting erratically or unusually
  • Feeling faint and losing consciousness.

One thing to keep in mind is that if everyone feels this way, that’s a huge CO leak indicator. More telling is when everyone in the family feels fine away from home but ‘sick’ when they’re at home.

Man testing smoke or carbon monoxide detector

What Should You Do If You Believe You Have CO Poisoning?

CO poisoning can, unfortunately, be deadly. If you believe that you or a family member is suffering from CO poisoning, you must act quickly. (A few scant minutes could make a significant difference.)

  1. If possible, open all the windows in your home and let in some fresh air. (Even in winter if necessary!)
  2. Gather the family and go outside right away.
  3. If anyone in the family is having obvious symptoms, call 911.
  4. Call your local gas company or a local plumber right away.
  5. Stay outside until the leak is fixed. (You might need to seek shelter at a neighbor’s house until the problem is repaired.)

If you’re taken to the hospital, there are several treatments for CO poisoning. The good news is that in most cases, treatment is 100% successful. They include:

  • Having an oxygen mask placed over your nose and mouth and breathing pure oxygen for a short time.
  • Receiving hyperbaric oxygen therapy, which is done in a pressurized oxygen chamber.

What Are the Best Methods to Prevent CO Leaks?

Preventing CO leaks is the best way to avoid the hazards and dangers carbon monoxide can cause. Yes, you want to test carbon monoxide detector(s) regularly by using the test button on carbon monoxide detector(s). But that won’t stop a leak, only alert you that there’s one present. So, again, it’s better to prevent leaks from happening in the first place. To do that, we recommend you follow the advice below:

  • Have all of your major appliances that burn fuel maintained regularly by a professional.
  • If you have a fireplace, keep it very clean and well ventilated.
  • Never start your car, motorcycle, lawnmower, or any gas-powered vehicle in an enclosed garage.

Major CO Leak? You Might Want To Store Your Things While it’s Being Repaired.

A major CO leak that needs repairs can be quite problematic. For example, if you live in an apartment, it might not get fixed immediately. If that’s the case, storing some (or all) of your things in a storage unit might be necessary. Severe CO leaks can seep into some furniture and cause damage or odor problems. You might even want to move if the problem is indeed severe. Putting your things in storage will give you time to look for a new, better place to live. If anything, you can put your most valuable items in storage while repair personnel get the job done. iStorage provides safe, secure storage units that are very affordable and clean.

In Closing

As we mentioned at the start of this article, carbon monoxide can be deadly. We would hate to see anyone injured and thus hope you will take the above advice to heart. We urge you to regularly check your CO detection devices. (If you don’t have them, you can purchase them at any big-box home improvement store.) Also, make checking around your appliances a habit in your home. Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Preventing a CO leak could save your family from a lot of misery.

This article was originally published on 05/22/2018. This article was updated on 02/18/2021