Well, I had a post scheduled to go up today on potato towers. In fact it actually was up for 8 hours, even though I hadn’t finished it yet. I took it down and am replacing it with this post, and the potato tower post should go up next week. (Why I am even explaining this is beyond me, as no one reads this blog.)

Any how, I need to put up this post instead, to caution homesteaders so they don’t make the same mistake that I made.

A week ago I purchased two bushels of pears, with the intent of canning them. And, for the last two nights, I have done a 7 quart water bath canner full of them. Last night I wrapped up canning my batch of pears, cleaned up and went to bed. At 2 in the morning, our carbon monoxide detector went off.

Now a bit of background: Our smoke detectors have been prone to false alarms in the past. But we still get up, evacuate our kids and call the fire department to make sure that everything is okay. Last night we did the same thing, though I was a bit more worried than usual, as our CO detectors have never gone off before, false alarm or otherwise. It has always been our smoke detectors.

Well, the fire department showed up, and tested the air, and there was CO present in our house. However, they suspected, having seen the canning supplies on my counters, that my canning on my gas stove had caused it. I was somewhat indignant. I am always careful in using my appliances, and I have canned several times before and never had a problem. However, we still called the gas company to send out a technician to double check that our furnace and water heater were not spilling CO.

He got here around three in the morning, and went to work. (As an aside, through this whole ordeal, no one from the fire department or the gas company ever criticized us. They were all wonderful and helpful, and glad to rule out any problems we might have.) The technician checked our CO levels, which were practically gone, as we had vented the house by opening windows at the fire department’s advice. He checked our furnace and water heater, and neither was spilling CO or having any problems. And then he checked our stove. It was also burning cleanly. Then he told us what had almost certainly happened to set off our CO detector.

Here is what we learned:

  • A gas stove in your house, unless it has a hood over it that vents outside, will put out tiny quantities of CO during normal use. This is generally not a problem, as one generally does not leave it on for hours at a time.
  • If the flame is high enough to be in direct contact with the pot or pan, it will not burn quite as cleanly, and put out a little more CO.
  • The longer the stove is running, the more CO will be emitted.
  • So if you are canning on your gas stove, you likely will have at least one burner on for a long time, and quite likely will have multiple burners on (making syrup to can fruit in, simmering lids, etc.) You will also likely have the flame as high as possible to keep the large pots boiling. This adds up to a build up of CO in your house.
  • If you can using your gas stove, open a couple of windows to vent the house, and prevent any build up of CO. Or use a camp stove outside to can. They can boil large amounts of water much more effectively anyways.

I felt it necessary to share this post today, because prior to last night, I had no idea that there was any danger of CO emissions from my stove. Now that I know, it makes sense to me, but prior to today, I had never taken the precaution of venting the kitchen while canning. Now, my family was probably never in any serious danger. We have a large, airy house, and CO detectors are made to go off well before CO levels are very dangerous. But it is still well to take precautions.

Today my mother came with her camp stove and helped my finish my pears, all 35 jars. We set up the stove on the front porch, and the temperature was just perfect to enjoy canning outside (though we did the prep work inside). We didn’t have to heat up my kitchen either.

So to sum up, if you have a gas stove, vent your kitchen when using it for extended periods (canning, large amounts of baking, Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners). Even better, use a camp stove to can on, OUTSIDE (NEVER use a camp stove inside), as it is more effective, and often more pleasant to can on a camp stove. And if you don’t have working CO detectors in your house, get them. Put one on each level. I hope this post has helped someone.

P.S. This isn’t my best writing, I’m sure, but please forgive it, as I am running on minimal sleep after the adventures of last night.