Do portable air conditioners produce carbon monoxide?

During the summer months when the heat outside becomes oppressive to bear, people naturally gravitate indoors under the cool air of the air conditioners. For people whose houses do not have a central cooling system or those who cool only the rooms they regularly use, portable air conditioners become the natural and simple choice.

Portable air conditioners definitely help in improving air quality but there have been many instances where people supposedly suffered from carbon monoxide poisoning due to the portable AC units. This claim is hardly new and has been in the rounds for a long time. But the main question of concern is how much of this claim is true and based on actual facts rather than half-guessed misinformation.

If people cannot relax inside their homes and in front of the cool AC air for fear of their health being harmed then it is truly a frightening scenario. But as already mentioned, is the claim that portable AC generates carbon monoxide even true? No, it’s not. Let us elaborate this statement some more.

Do portable air conditioners produce carbon monoxide?

Do portable air conditioners produce carbon monoxide
Cat on the floor near the unboxed new portable air conditioner / Ifeelstock /

No, portable air conditioners do not produce carbon monoxide.

The thing about carbon monoxide is that it is produced when fuel is burned, or in other words, carbon monoxide is the resulting gas when there is combustion of any fuel involved.

Many sorts of heating devices use fuel to generate heat and this may include, furnaces, gas stoves, generators, etc. But this is not the case for a portable AC which uses electricity to control temperature.

There is no fuel burned in the running of a portable AC so there is no question of Carbon monoxide being generated by the unit itself.

But this is such a widespread myth, there must be some foundation to it. Why do so many people believe that the AC is poisoning the air by injecting CO into it?

Well if you look at the structure of a portable air conditioner, it has an exhaust pipe attached to its side that is usually led outside the house through a window or a cut-out vent. This exhaust pipe expels all the hot air and water vapor that is generated when the unit is cooling the air.

Now sometimes, this waste air and vapor may leave the pipe as a white smoky gas as often seen from the exhaust pipes of cars and other vehicles. On top of this, unlike car emissions which have a distinct smell, the gas from the AC exhaust does not have any smell just like carbon monoxide which is infamous for being an odorless gas.

Well, CO is also colorless but people for some reason see a white odorless gas coming out from the exhaust pipe of their AC, they almost always think it is carbon monoxide or some other harmful gas when in reality, it is just steam and completely safe.

Do portable air conditioners emit harmful gasses?

It is commonly stated that air conditioners contribute to global warming because it generates and emits harmful glasses. While portable AC units cannot totally be freed from being associated with harmful gasses, it will still be wrong to say that these machines actively emit toxic gasses.

The thing is, all air conditioners, be it window ac or split ac, or portable ac, have a substance called refrigerant which basically does the job of cooling the air that is collected. This refrigerant is a gas called R410A which happens to be a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.

But the refrigerant is trapped inside the AC using a copper pipe and it moves around in a closed loop to cool the air. Unless and until the copper pipe is damaged and starts leaking, there is no way the refrigerant will be released into the air. If the said copper pipe is not brazed properly then the high pressure from the refrigerant can crack the pipe.

Therefore, running your portable AC unit will not emit any harmful gas but if you must know, while the copper pipe is filled with the refrigerant when the AC is being manufactured, it escapes into the air which ultimately contributes to global warming.

Are portable air conditioners safe to breathe?

Portable air conditioners greatly improve the air quality inside the room as there is an air filter attached to it which traps dust, pollens, and allergens before circulating the clean air into the room.

So yes, portable air conditioners are quite safe and have not been reported to cause any respiratory issues in people.

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Final Words

Now you know that carbon monoxide is not generated by portable AC units. But you should consider some other things such as if you are living in an apartment with ventilators, the CO may be coming in from the neighbors who may have a furnace or fuel-burning device.

No matter what, if you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning then you should not waste time and immediately consult a doctor. CO is a silent killer and it is best to take all precautions if you suspect poisoning.

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