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The Do’s and Don’ts of Using Supplemental Oxygen at Home

Using supplemental oxygen at home can go a long way towards improving or maintaining the quality of life for a person who has COPD. It can help reduce your shortness of breath so that you can be more active. It can also help you feel more alert when awake, as well as to rest more peacefully at bedtime. Some people need supplemental oxygen when exercising, while others use it only while sleeping. And some people need to use it continuously.

Home supplemental oxygen delivery methods:

  • In gas form, via an oxygen cylinder (the old-fashioned bullet-shaped metal tanks)
  • In liquid form, via a barrel-shaped metal tank that converts the liquid to gas upon release
  • Via an oxygen concentrator, which extracts oxygen from your environmental air

Your doctor will work with you to decide what your oxygen needs are and will write a prescription for the exact flow rate (liters per minute), frequency and delivery system that is the best fit for you. Home oxygen is quite safe when used properly. Contrary to what you may have heard, oxygen is not explosive and does not burn, but it can support fires that are already burning. So follow these do’s and don’ts when using your oxygen to avoid any hazards.

Do’s and don’ts for all types of oxygen

Although care and cleaning tasks can vary slightly with each of the different types of oxygen delivery systems, there are some universal safety precautions to take regardless of whether you are using oxygen cylinders, liquid oxygen or a concentrator.

Positive actions to take when using oxygen

  • DO post a sign in the room where you have your oxygen that there is to be “No Smoking”
  • DO notify your local fire department that there is oxygen in the house
  • DO make sure you have a functioning smoke alarm in or right outside the room where oxygen is being used
  • DO have a fire extinguisher close at hand by your oxygen tank and know how to use it
  • DO store your oxygen system in a well-ventilated area
  • DO turn off your oxygen when you’re not using it; don’t set the cannula or mask on the bed or a chair even for a few minutes if the oxygen is turned on
  • DO use 100% cotton bed linens and blankets, as they are less likely to give off sparks from static electricity
  • DO use only water-based lubricants on your nose and lips, when needed, e.g., KY Jelly or Surgilube
  • DO stay at least 10 feet away from open flames, such as a fireplace, gas heater or stove, candles, etc.
  • DO be sure to monitor your gauges on your oxygen equipment to make sure they are not running low; notify your oxygen supplier with plenty of time for them to deliver refills
  • DO be sure to ask questions of your doctor and/or oxygen delivery person when you have them

Actions and situations to avoid when using oxygen

  • DON’T change the flow rate on your oxygen from what your doctor prescribed; getting the right amount of oxygen for your condition is essential to your health
  • DON’T smoke while you’re on oxygen!
  • DON’T use petroleum-based lubricants like Vaseline, Chapstick, or Blistex on chapped lips or nostrils
  • DON’T use any electrical appliance while on oxygen. This includes hair dryers, curling irons, heating pads and electric razors.
  • DON’T use anything flammable around oxygen equipment, such as cleaning fluid, paint thinner, aerosol spray cans (even hair spray, air fresheners and deodorant)
  • DON’T cut or splice your oxygen tubing and never use more than a 50-foot long tubing
  • DON’T store your oxygen in an enclosed space such as a closet or in the trunk of a car
  • DON’T use vapor rubs, oil-based hand lotions or petroleum jelly or have oily hands when using your oxygen equipment
  • 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

Do’s and don’ts for using oxygen cylinders

Here are some additional precautions when dealing with an oxygen cylinder delivery system:

  • DO store the cylinder in an upright position, using a cart or strapped or tied into place, so that it will not fall over (if using small, portable tanks, they can be stored on a cart or laid down flat on a level surface)
  • DO keep your cylinder in a place where it is not likely to get knocked over
  • DON’T run short of oxygen; have back up tanks available

Do’s and don’ts for using liquid oxygen

Here are some additional things to be aware of when using liquid oxygen:

  • DON’T turn the tank on its side, as this can allow the liquid oxygen to leak out
  • DO keep the tank at least 5 feet away from space heaters, electric or gas heaters, steam pipes, furnaces, and radiators

Do’s and don’ts for using oxygen concentrators

These are a few more safety tips when using an oxygen concentrator:

  • DON’T ever use an extension cord to plug in your concentrator or plug anything else into the same outlet
  • DO keep the unit at least 6 inches away from the wall, curtains or anything else that might block the filter or prevent air circulation around it; this will also help avoid heat build up (never cover the unit with anything either)
  • DO notify your local power company that you have an oxygen concentrator in use, so that you will be given priority during power outages
  • DO consider buying a backup generator in the event of power outages

Please be sure to check out our upcoming article on the Do’s and Don’ts of Traveling with Oxygen.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • allainjen71
    9 months ago

    hi I am going from Kelowna BC to salmon arm BC in a week or so to pick up a in home oxygen system that is approx 3 feet tall by 2 feet wide. that belonged to my dad who had passed away June of last year. So my question is how do I transport it in the car back home in the heat? The travel time from A too B, is about a hour and a half. Any suggestions? If so please comment. Thanks!!

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    9 months ago

    Hi allainjen71 and thanks for your post. It’s virtually impossible to us to provide you with definitive guidance for transporting this in-home oxygen system without details of the unit. Even then, it would be inappropriate and unfair to you to give that sort of advice.
    Having said that, I can tell you, in the most general of terms, that if this is an electrical device, you should be able to transport it the way you would any piece of electrical equipment by car. Make certain it is secured and not jostled about.
    However, if this is some sort of medical oxygen cylinder system, it would be best for you to ask your local safety officials (fire department/police department) for further instructions.
    Please do check back and let us know you this all worked out for you.
    Good luck!
    Leon (site moderator)

  • bob54
    9 months ago

    Hi allainjen
    from bc myself ,Cloverdale,best advice before you go would be to consult with your local medical oxygen supplier they are very knowledgeable about anything to do with these devices.take care..bob

  • Gayla
    3 years ago

    why can’t you use chapstick or vaseline or blistex on your lips if you use oxygen?

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi Gayla – that’s an excellent question. The issue really isn’t the product itself but rather any petroleum-based product is considered unsafe to use around oxygen. The reason is that oil and petroleum-based products are considered to be highly flammable. Since oxygen supports combustion, the two should not be mixed for safety concerns.
    I hope this provides some insight for you, Gayla.
    All the best,
    Leon (site moderator)

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