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11 Critical Tips on How to Detect Carbon Monoxide in Your RV

| Updated Dec 22, 2023

All of us must know how to detect carbon monoxide in your RV. This is serious if you want to make sure you are safe in your RV. Please read.

Carbon monoxide is an invisible, odorless gas that you don’t expect to encounter when traveling the great outdoors. However, some of your RV appliances emit carbon monoxide, which can be dangerous to your health. It’s important to be aware of the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning and how to prevent it while enjoying your RV.

There are fewer topics more important than how to detect carbon monoxide in your RV. So pardon me for this just-the-facts article.

With so many newbies embracing the RV Lifestyle these days, we need to talk about this.  Besides, even longtime RVers need to refresh themselves on how to detect carbon monoxide in your RV and making sure all our CO emitting appliances are well maintained.

Dangers of Carbon Monoxide

Jennifer and I took the RV out one weekend and heard an incessant beeping in the middle of the night. I had immediately assumed it was the smoke detector, but it wasn’t the source. It took me a few minutes (perhaps in my sleepy haze) to realize it must be the carbon monoxide detector.

Thankfully, the beeping was just a warning that the CO detector’s battery was low. If it had been a warning for CO saturation, my sleepy haze could have actually been a sign of carbon monoxide poisoning.  

According to the CDC, approximately 50,000 people end up in the emergency room each year due to accidental CO poisoning. Worse, at least 430 people die.  CO poisoning is a serious risk, especially where any fuel-burning machines or appliances exist. As we all know, an RV itself is a fuel-burning machine with plenty of fuel-burning accessories in and around it!

CO Risks in an RV

Essentially, any fuel-burning source contributes to the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning. The following are common culprits for carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • The towing vehicle (if you have an RV trailer)
  • Generators
  • Ranges
  • Refrigerators
  • Camping stoves
  • Heaters
  • Grills
  • Lanterns
  • and more

Some of these risks are located inside your RV, but many surround your RV at camp. So, you must be mindful of things that emit CO not only in your RV, but around it. Including your neighbors’ equipment! Do the first rule in how to detect carbon monoxide in your RV is.. be aware of the sources of CO.

How to Detect Carbon Monoxide in Your RV

11 Critical Tips on How to Detect Carbon Monoxide in Your RV 1
Gas burning from a kitchen gas stove

You can't. Humans cannot detect carbon monoxide. It is odorless and colorless, which is why it’s called the quiet killer. We must rely on sensors to detect carbon monoxide.

If your RV is not already outfitted with a CO detector, you must invest in one right away. A good CO detector costs from $15 to $30, and it can save your life. Talk about a great investment!

If the detector senses an unsafe amount of CO, it will sound the alarm. The alarm is much louder than the beep that warns of a low battery. Since carbon monoxide makes people light-headed and pass out, it takes a loud noise to bring them to their senses.

Early Signs of CO Poisoning

Though humans can’t detect carbon monoxide, we certainly show symptoms of it. If you are aware of these symptoms, you can realize there’s a serious problem more quickly.  Besides the detector, the symptoms are another way to detect carbon monoxide in your RV. These symptoms progress fast– Don’t try to “shake them off”!

Carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms include:

  • Dull headache
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Confusion
  • Blurred vision
  • Loss of consciousness

11 Tips to Keep Your RV Safe from Carbon Monoxide

The CDC provides a CO Poisoning Prevention Guide, but here are 11 main tips for CO safety.

  1. Replace the batteries in your CO detector every 6 months.
  2. Keep all vents free of debris.
  3. Try to place your generator away from your RV (and your neighbors).
  4. Point your generator’s exhaust away from your RV (and your neighbors).
  5. Inspect your generator’s exhaust system every time to ensure it’s not damaged.
  6. Keep any windows and vents closed if in close proximity to a running vehicle or generator.
  7. Never use range burners to heat your RV.
  8. When cooking with the range, use the range fan and keep a nearby window cracked open.
  9. Follow all directions and warning if using gas-powered heaters.
  10. Be aware of your neighbor’s setup, and make sure they are not directing any exhaust your way.
  11. Regularly inspect and keep up with maintenance for your appliances.

Where to Place a CO Detector in Your RV

A monitor is the best way to learn how to detect carbon monoxide in your RV
Of you are looking for the best way to detect carbon monoxide in your RV, make sure you have a good CO monitor. This one from Alert Plus costs around $18 on Amazon –

A reader made a good point in the comments below that we want to share here. He says:

“Please advise against the combo smoke and CO detector for the simple reason smoke detectors need to placed high up, like on the ceiling, and CO detectors need to be placed at least a few feet off the floor. Smoke rises, and CO stays lower. The same is true for LP detectors, which are usually placed at floor level in RV’s anyway.

Who’s at Risk of CO Poisoning?

Everybody is at risk of CO poisoning, though some succumb more quickly to its effects. CO poisoning is particularly dangerous for people who are sleeping, intoxicated, older, young, or unwell. Plus, humans aren’t the only ones at risk!

An intoxicated person could easily dismiss the symptoms as being tipsy.

A sleeping person may lose consciousness before ever realizing any symptoms.

The elderly, children, and infants are also more susceptible to CO poisoning. The poison will normally affect them more quickly due to their underdeveloped or weakened constitutions.

People with pre-existing health conditions will also be at greater risk. For example, people with chronic heart disease, anemia, or respiratory issues, like asthma.

And don’t forget about your pets! Despite their superior sense of smell, dogs and other pets cannot detect carbon monoxide either. They will be affected much more quickly than humans due to their smaller size.

How to Prevent CO Poisoning

Setting up a CO detection system is essential, but it shouldn’t stop there. The best way to ensure your safety is to get ahead of the problem. Which means you should take regular precautions to prevent CO from saturating your RV.

RV Safety

RVing is often consider luxury camping, but that doesn’t mean it’s without risk. Driving on the open, road, dirt roads, and even being parked, can cause damage to your RV and equipment. In some cases, damage or improper maintenance results only in repair costs. But other times, it can have catastrophic results.

Don’t overlook something as simple as replacing batteries in your carbon monoxide detector. Don't take safety for granted while RVing . Don't cut corners by not clearing vents or by waiting for our CO detector to beep in the middle of the night. 

Since we're talking safety…

Read Next: What To Know: RV Fire Safety

Mike Wendland

Published on 2023-12-20

Mike Wendland is a multiple Emmy-award-winning Journalist, Podcaster, YouTuber, and Blogger, who has traveled with his wife, Jennifer, all over North America in an RV, sharing adventures and reviewing RV, Camping, Outdoor, Travel and Tech Gear for the past 12 years. They are leading industry experts in RV living and have written 18 travel books.

8 Responses to “11 Critical Tips on How to Detect Carbon Monoxide in Your RV”

April 01, 2024at11:06 am, Jeff Wildrick said:

When buying a CO detector, or even a smoke detector, please be sure to get a device that is specifically rated for RVs. These may cost a bit more, but the interior electronics have been designed to withstand the bangs, rattles, shakes, and bumps suffered by our vehicles as they move down the road.


November 30, 2022at7:23 pm, Bob White said:

I have a 33′ motor home what I do is shut down my Propane after using it for stove et cetera That way I can sleep comfortably at night And still crack the windows a bit just to be sure But that’s how I had a situation And also have the detectors


December 02, 2022at4:14 pm, Team RV Lifestyle said:

Thanks for sharing your tips, Bob! Team RV Lifestyle


October 12, 2020at10:21 am, Bob said:

It seems you use CO (carbon monoxide) and CO2 (carbon dioxide) interchangeably they are not. While high levels of CO are deadly, high levels of CO2 can also have negative health effects. I now have both types of detectors in my home. CO2 is most often the result of poor and inadequate ventilation and can result in sleepless night and brain fog resolved by opening a window. As more and more CO2 detectors come to market it is important that people know the difference and while using CO2 in this article may be typos, reducing CO2 levels in our RVs is also important, eliminating CO is vital. Know the difference.


October 07, 2020at2:16 pm, Dan Q. BoondockerDan. said:

Thank you, thank, thank you. I’m an old hat at RVing and don’t put much thought into this. Unless I’m using the stove to make coffee 3x in the cold mornings with heat on. I’m a winter camper in a small travel trailer. I’m adding a backup one right next to my factory one. And yes, I clicked on your link as you deserve the credit.
Thanks again,


October 06, 2020at10:14 pm, Mike Wendland said:

Great point, Mike. Thanks for sharing!


October 06, 2020at12:13 pm, mike cianci said:

please advise against the combo smoke and co detector for the simple reason smoke detectors need to placed high up like on the ceiling and co detectors need to be placed at least a few feet off the floor. smoke rises and co stays lower. same for lp detectors which are usually placed at floor level in rv’s anyway.


December 21, 2023at9:48 am, John Thomas said:

CO has a molecular weight of 28.0 and air has an average molecular weight of 28.8 so CO is actually lighter than air. In my 45+ years of public education in fire safety and EMS, I have always recommended that CO detectors be placed high on a wall or on a ceiling. I have never understood why the combination detectors are placed near the floor in RVs. LP gas is heavier than air and CO is lighter than air. Never made sense to me. They are also usually mounted near an entry door and if the door is not air tight, the fresh air leaking in could affect the activation of the alarm. Not looking for a debate, just my observation on the subject.


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