Gas Powered Tools Create Carbon Monoxide Risks

The carbon monoxide risk of death and brain damage associated with portable electric generators is the same for other gas powered tools such as concrete saws, power washers and lawn mowers.

By Rebecca Martin

In the Spring many of us have projects that have been waiting for warmer weather and yet few of us understand the inherent dangers of many of the small gas-powered devices that will soon be in use in and around our homes and properties. The largest percentage of carbon monoxide deaths are linked to common gas-powered tools such as generators, power washers, paint sprayers, leaf blowers and lawn mowers. The U.S. Product Safety Commission has reported that deaths from non-fire carbon monoxide cases are trending upwards.

During the years between 2009 and 2019, gas powered tools caused nearly 2000 deaths. In 2019, deaths reached a high of 250 for that year with portable generators accounting for around 40% of those deaths. Men and people over the age of 45 were the most common victims of gas powered tools related deaths, and while no definitive research explained the demographics of risk, one could surmise that the demographics coincide with those most likely to be operating gas-powered devices.

gas powered tools

It is not just generators that create great danger of carbon monoxide poisoning, but all gas powered tools because any engine that burns fuel, must be used outdoors and away from windows, doors and air intakes.

Portable generators are the main contributor to deaths from non-fire carbon monoxide deaths especially during the winter months and in the advent of colder weather, but not much emphasis is placed on other types of gas-powered consumer products which pose the same types of risks if improperly used. Which means never use a gas powered tool INDOORS including in garages.

While deaths are often used to emphasize the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning to the public, injuries are undoubtedly the most likely to be underestimated in studies. Symptoms of carbon monoxide may go undiagnosed and unreported.

In addition to portable generators, much of the equipment used in the landscaping and horticultural industry are capable of producing carbon monoxide. The risk of carbon monoxide poisoning is also present anytime there is a use of an internal combustion engine as carbon monoxide is the result of incomplete combustion. Incomplete combustion can occur when a rich fuel mixture is used or in the presence of a dirty or plugged air filter.

Running any type of fuel-powered device in an enclosed or semi-enclosed space can lead to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide “even if doors/windows are open and you are using a fan.” And just because you have used a particular piece of equipment in a particular way in the past doesn’t mean that the danger doesn’t exist. It exists anytime there is combustion, and past experiences may have just been luck.

One of the insidious characteristics of carbon monoxide poisoning is its ability to cloud the senses of the victim who is then unable to accurately assess their exposure and as a result, unable to get help until it is too late.

Another potential risk of exposure can occur from operating fuel-burning devices near air intake for buildings. A lawn mower left running near an air intake is more deadly than running a car in a garage. (Modern cars generated less than 1% as much CO as lawn mower would generate because lawn mowers don’t have electronic fuel injection and catalytic converters. For this reason, devices like high power washers should have the pump and power unit placed outside, away from air intake, and only the wash line should be used inside. This is true for all fuel powered devices such as air compressors.

Spring is often a time when power washers are in use. House siding may need a spray down after winter or before a fresh paint job, privacy fences are sprayed prior to resealing, walkways are sprayed…often too much pressure is used to make these jobs go faster. Most residential uses of pressure washers require 2000 psi or less which can be accomplished by using an electric power washer rather than renting a more powerful gas-powered washer. One way to avoid carbon monoxide danger is to opt for the electronic version of tools in cases where the use of electric tools can be safely used.

Lawn mowers should never be run in a closed or partially closed space while adjusting or repairs. We tend to think of garages as workspaces that are safe if the door is open, but an attached garage can act as a backdraft directly into the home. The same rules apply to smaller devices such as leaf blowers and gas-powered trimmers.

Concerns over the environmental impact of gas-powered landscaping devices have reached legislative attention. In Colorado, for instance, the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission has approved new regulations to reduce emissions. These regulations will ban the summertime use of gas-powered mowers, weed whackers, leaf blowers and other tools by the state government beginning in June 2025 and by local governments the following year. Concerns over costs to commercial firms and private individuals blocked an overall ban on gas-powered devices. It should be noted that such measures are attempted because industry-based improvements have not been voluntarily forthcoming and small consumer products continue to pose a danger to users.

Two-stroke engine powered leaf blowers are another culprit in health issues. “More than 30% of a leaf blower’s fuel/oil mixture gets emitted unburned as an aerosol that contains a host of toxins that can cause eye, skin and respiratory tract irritation, neurological effects and has been linked to lymphoma, leukemia, and other types of cancer. The carbon monoxide in the exhaust can cause both mild and serious effects to the operators, from headaches, dizziness, weakness and nausea to vomiting and disorientation.”,risk%20to%20become%20seriously%20ill.

If you must use fuel-powered consumer devices, make sure that you read manufacturer’s warnings. If renting a piece of equipment, make sure that the manufacturer’s recommendations are part of your rental agreement.

Never run any consumer device in an enclosed or partially enclosed space and be aware of the common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, headaches, shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, chest pains. If you experience symptoms, you suspect may be caused by carbon monoxide, get to fresh air, and call 911. Do not attempt to drive yourself to an emergency room because your judgement could be impaired, and you might be a hazard to other drivers.

Do consider replacing gas-powered devices with electric ones where applicable and if using a landscaping company, ask that they also use electronic devices when possible. Commercial landscapers may not respond to change unless the public lets them know that there is a reason to change. Supply is equal to demand. Leaf blowers have contributed to unnecessary noise pollution for a very long time, but the health concerns make them much more worrisome.

As the weather warms up and we are all anxious to get outdoors and enjoy the fresh air, it is imperative to make sure all our tools are properly maintained and ready to go and that we treat those tools with respect considering the risks they can hold for our health and safety.

Make sure you know where the air intakes into your home or building are as well. Air naturally enters your home through open windows and doors, through openings, joints, and cracks, and around doors and windows. Fresh air intake can be in the form of a hood on an exterior wall, or chimneys on the roof. They can be in the form of a plastic pipe. Gas furnaces, gas heaters, gas water heaters and gas dryers have air intakes.  Some vents run through an attic, some lead directly outside. Be familiar with vents entering and exiting your home. Normally intakes are screened to prevent debris and pests from entering your home. Knowing how the air enters your home can save you from unknowingly running a fuel-burning device in its proximity.

The National Carbon Monoxide Awareness Association recommends:

Limit the duration of use of fuel-burning/combustion equipment and never use them indoors. Be cautious when using these items in corners or in tight spaces as they are more likely to create a build-up of carbon monoxide, even without overhead cover. As recommended above, keep equipment well-maintained to keep emissions low, reducing the likelihood of a dangerous situation. Carry a portable carbon monoxide detector while using this equipment. The detector will inform you of any elevated levels of carbon monoxide, giving you the opportunity to turn off the equipment and move to an area with clean air.

Consider switching to any electric alternatives available for these items. These electric tools eliminate carbon monoxide emissions and as a bonus are often quieter than their combustion counterparts.

For more information on the National Carbon Monoxide Awareness Association visit

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