Every time we breathe, oxygen enters our respiratory system and is discharged into our bloodstream through our lungs and circulatory system. The third most abundant element in the universe after hydrogen and helium, oxygen is an odorless, colorless and tasteless gas at room temperature and a key catalyst in many chemical reactions. So, while that does not make oxygen flammable in and of itself, it does mean that oxygen users need to be cautious and keep a safe distance from fire, sparks and other flammable materials.
Safety Tips and Precautions for Portable Oxygen Concentrators
Portable oxygen concentrators (POCs) are safe. However, certain precautions should be taken to ensure continued safety, and if these precautions are adhered to, the use of a portable oxygen concentrator will be safe even when traveling by car or plane.
The American Lung Association encourages safety precautions for use of POC devices that are summarized here. Take note of the following tips:
- Don’t smoke and don’t allow others to smoke near you. Post “No Smoking” and “No Open Flames” signs in and outside your home to remind people not to smoke.
- Keep sources of heat and flame at least five feet away from where your oxygen unit is being used or stored.
- Don’t use oxygen while cooking with gas.
- Don’t use any electrical appliances such as hair dryers, curling irons, heating pads and electric razors while wearing oxygen.
- If you wear oxygen while sleeping, consider using 100% cotton bedding which is less likely to cause static electricity.
- Always have a fire extinguisher nearby.
- Don’t use aerosol sprays such as air fresheners or hairspray near the oxygen unit. Aerosols are very flammable.
- Avoid flammable creams and lotions such as vapor rubs, petroleum jelly or oil-based hand lotion. Use water-based products instead.
- Never oil the oxygen unit, and don’t use it with oily or greasy hands.
- Don’t use alcohol-based hand sanitizers, unless you thoroughly rub them into your skin and let your hands dry completely before handling oxygen equipment.
- Strictly follow the safety instructions provided by the oxygen supply company and the manufacturer.
Store Oxygen Safely 
- Keep your supplemental oxygen delivery device (tanks or concentrators) upright at all times, never on its side.
- Don’t store your supplemental oxygen delivery device (tanks or concentrators) in an enclosed space, like a closet or trunk.
- Be careful not to trip over the tubing. Never cut your tubing or use more than a 50-foot long piece.
- Never use an extension cord to plug in your concentrator or plug anything else into the same outlet.
- Turn off your oxygen when you’re not using it. Don’t set the cannula or mask on the bed or a chair if the oxygen is turned on.:
- Keep oxygen concentrators several inches away from walls or curtains and never place anything over your concentrator.
- Have a functioning fire extinguisher and smoke alarms close by at all times.
Encouraging for those who use POCs when traveling by air, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued acceptance criteria for POCs used onboard aircraft. All POCs that satisfy the acceptance criteria and are not previously identified in SFAR 106 must also bear a label with the following statement in red lettering: “The manufacturer of this POC has determined this device conforms to all applicable FAA acceptance criteria for POC carriage and use on board aircraft.“
By following simple safety guidelines, POC usage is safe, so you can live your life while on oxygen therapy.
Frequently Asked Questions: Portable Oxygen Concentrator Safety
Is oxygen flammable?
Many people have heard that there is an increased fire risk when oxygen is used, so it is only natural to wonder, “Is oxygen flammable?” Oxygen itself is not a flammable gas, but it does support combustion. This means that fires ignite and burn more easily, and hotter, in an oxygen-rich environment.2 In order to maintain a safe environment while using supplemental oxygen, it is important to adhere to safe practices. Never smoke near oxygen, and always stay at least 5-10 feet away from heat sources, sparks and open flames. Keep your portable oxygen concentrator in a well-ventilated area at all times to avoid creating an oxygen-rich environment.
Why is smoking not permitted near an oxygen source?
Smoking increases the risk of a fire when oxygen is in use, and puts the user in danger of severe burns or other serious injuries. In fact, studies show that the majority of fires where home oxygen was in use were caused by smoking.4 Lighters, matches, cigarettes, cigars and even smoldering ashes are all a fire hazard near supplemental oxygen. Do not smoke, or allow anyone else to smoke, when you or someone else is using supplemental oxygen. It is simply not worth the risk.
- The Story of Oxygen | Respiratory Care (rcjournal.com) Heffner, John E. MD. “The Story of Oxygen.” Respiratory Care. Vol. No. 1 18-31. January 1, 2013
- Reducing the risk of oxygen-related fires and explosions in hospitals treating Covid-19 patients https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8223129/
- Using Oxygen Safely | American Lung Association
- Kopf, David. “U.S. Home Oxygen Fires Claim a Life Every Four Days.” HME Business, HME Business, 19 Sept. 2019, hme-business.com/articles/2019/09/19/fires.aspx