Could my non-stick pan be setting off the CO/gas detector?
March 4, 2009 8:38 AM   Subscribe

Could my non-stick pan be setting off the CO/gas detector?

In the last two days, our carbon monoxide / explosive gas detector on the first floor of our home has gone off twice indicating that it detected explosive gas (not CO). Both times, I was cooking on our electric stove using a non-stick pan (just like this one, but smaller) that I often use. The detector is located about 8-10 feet from the kitchen. I was using the pan slightly hotter than I normally would, but not overly hot, on both occasions.

I had the gas company come out to test for gas leaks (none found!), but now I'm trying to figure out why the detector keeps going off. It doesn't seem likely to be a malfunctioning alarm because it isn't going off constantly. Is it possible that the non-stick pan got hot enough to give off a gas that set the alarm off? (FWIW, we have noticed recently that the pan gives off a slight chemical odor after I've cooked with it. I asked the gas man about this, but he gave a non-committal answer.)
posted by geeky to Home & Garden (11 answers total)
It's highly doubtful that your pan is the culprit. That would be some extremely crazy outgassing.

Does the CO/gas detector run on a battery? If so, it may need replaced. Detectors usually beep sporadically when the battery needs replaced. If it's hard-wired, there may be an issue with the connection. Additionally, whether battery or AC powered, it simply may need cleaned/dusted.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:47 AM on March 4, 2009

Is your pan scratched or flaking?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:17 AM on March 4, 2009

I think that it is more likely that what you're cooking is setting off the explosive gas detector. I don't know how they work but it must be using some sort of sensor to detect hydrocarbons in the air. Cooking puts hydrocarbons into the air, although I would be surprised that cooking would put enough of them into the air to set off your detector.
posted by 517 at 10:13 AM on March 4, 2009

Thinking about it some more, there's a pretty simple way to test if it's the pan, the food, of the stove that is setting of the detector.
posted by 517 at 10:29 AM on March 4, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions so far!

Thorzdad the CO/gas detector has a backup battery and is directly plugged into the wall. We've changed the battery and tried a different socket. Besides, this isn't a simple sporadic beep, this is a full on, ear bleeding alarm.

Blazecock Pileon No visible scratches or flaking.

517 I thought it might be what I was cooking too, but I've cooked both dishes before on numerous occasions and the detector has never gone off before this week. I'm very tempted to test the pan theory by heating up the pan and holding it next to the detector. However, I'm trying to avoid setting the alarm off again because it scares our poor dog half to death! The last time it went off, she hid in the basement for an hour. :(
posted by geeky at 10:56 AM on March 4, 2009

Do you have any gas appliances? A simple gas lead would not produce carbon monoxide, but faulty combustion, a cracked part in a burner, or something else could lead to a malfunction.

It is also a well-established practice for anyone who has pet birds that they do NOT have any non-stick cooking pans, because of the polymers that get released, but I have not heard anything about CO being released.

It IS possible that something in your cookware is interacting with the metals in the sensor part of your CO detector (they work via chemical reactions between gasses and the metal elements in the sensors) to make it give a false positive for CO.

But, if you have any gas appliances, my money would be on a malfunction in one of these, over and above a "mere" gas leak.
posted by Danf at 11:30 AM on March 4, 2009

Response by poster: I might not have made it clear in my initial question, but the detector went off signaling that it detected explosive gas specifically, not carbon monoxide.

Danf We do have a gas furnace and a gas fireplace, both of which were looked over and tested by the gas company just this morning. Both are in working order and neither set off the alarm while he was testing them.
posted by geeky at 11:41 AM on March 4, 2009

How old is the detector? Most have a useful lifespan of ~5-10 years (most usually significantly less than 10 years).
posted by torquemaniac at 12:09 PM on March 4, 2009

Response by poster: torquemaniac We purchased the detector a little less than a year ago.
posted by geeky at 12:55 PM on March 4, 2009

Carbon Monoxide is an explosive gas, which according to this site is one of the products of the degradation of PFOA, an acid used to bond non-stick coatings to pans.

I have no idea whether it would be released in sufficient quantities to trigger the alarm though, but it seems possible,
posted by Neiltupper at 1:43 PM on March 4, 2009

Response by poster: OK, follow up time. My pans are PFOA free (they are hard anodized, not traditional non-stick teflon). The alarm also went off while using a different pan. We now think it was perhaps the wine I was cooking with that was setting off the alarm. Every time it happened, I was deglazing a pan with wine. Perhaps the evaporating alcohol (an explosive gas) was setting the alarm off? I've done it a thousand times before without setting off the alarm, so who knows why it suddenly started.

To solve the problem, we replaced the CO/explosive gas detector with a new plain old CO detector. So far, no more alarms.
posted by geeky at 5:34 AM on April 4, 2009

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