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The dangers of carbon monoxide and burning charcoal indoors

What do we mean by charcoal burning?

The use of charcoal burners, charcoal barbecues or charcoal grills for cooking and heating.

What are the dangers of burning charcoal indoors?

When charcoal is burned it gives off a poisonous gas called carbon monoxide, which you cannot see, smell or taste. If charcoal is burned indoors, or in an enclosed space, the gas cannot escape and it builds up in the air that you are breathing. Carbon monoxide can make you unwell very quickly and large amounts can overcome you in minutes without warning, causing you to lose consciousness and suffocate.

Can I do anything to stop carbon monoxide from being produced when I burn charcoal?

No - carbon monoxide gas is always produced when charcoal is burned.

If I need to burn charcoal what should I do?

  • Never burn charcoal indoors to cook or to heat your home
  • Always burn charcoal outside in an open area where the carbon monoxide gas can quickly escape.

Can carbon monoxide be given off from anything else in the home?

Yes - carbon monoxide gas can be given off from other appliances in your home, and from wood and coal fires, so it is important to:

  • Make sure all gas appliances, such as fires, heaters, stoves, and ovens, in your home are properly installed and well maintained. If you rent your home, this is the responsibility of your landlord.
  • Install a battery operated carbon monoxide detector if you have gas appliances in your home.

What are the symptoms of breathing in carbon monoxide?

Low levels of carbon monoxide can cause you to feel sick, lead to shortness of breath and mild headaches.

At moderate levels, you or your family might experience some or all of the following symptoms:

  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • tiredness
  • weakness
  • feeling confused
  • feeling sick

Will some people feel unwell before others?

People suffering from heart or chest problems, babies and small children, unborn children, expectant mothers and pets may be affected by carbon monoxide poisoning more quickly than others, and may be the first to show symptoms.

What should I do if I think I am suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning?

  • You need to breathe in fresh air immediately. Either go outside or open the windows and doors to allow fresh air into the room.
  • Turn off all heating or cooking appliances.
  • Seek medical advice and tell them that you think that you may be suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Have appliances in your home checked to pinpoint the source of the carbon monoxide

The Health Protection Agency and advice on chemicals and poisons

We provide advice on the way that chemicals and poisons can affect or threaten health. This might include specific incidents like chemical fires, chemical contamination of the environment, or accidents in the home or at work. We are also researching the effect of long-term exposure to chemicals and poisons on the body and the possible link with illness.

More information about the Health Protection Agency and about chemicals including carbon monoxide is available on our website and from the Department of Health  [external PDF].

If you have concerns about your health contact NHS Direct on 0845 4647 or visit the website, or see your family doctor.

February 2006


charcoal burning (PDF, 123 KB)

Last reviewed: 7 August 2013