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What are the Different Uses of Carbon Dioxide Cartridges?

By Maggie J. Hall
Updated May 16, 2024
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Craft materials and tools, food and household products, and recreation devices are some of the many items that commonly use carbon dioxide cartridges. Canisters, tanks or cartridges contain the pressurized colorless, odorless, tasteless gas, which acts as a propellant for dispersing various substances.

Many airbrush artists use carbon dioxide or carbon dioxide canisters instead of air compressors because this method of dispensing paint allows for portability, runs quietly and creates less vibration. The portability factor appeals to some do-it-yourself enthusiasts who choose carbon dioxide canisters to operate various pneumatic tools. Manufacturers also produce aerosol cans that dispense the gas for cleaning cameras, keyboards and other electronic equipment.

Air fresheners, hair spray and many other household products that are sold in aerosol cans contain carbon dioxide as the propellant. The food industry uses pressurized carbon dioxide in soft cheese spreads and whipped cream canisters. Carbon dioxide provides the bubbly fizz in beverages, and some companies use carbon dioxide for the carbonation in beer and wine instead of conventional fermentation methods. This method carries over to household use where small carbon dioxide cartridges generate the carbonation in homemade soda. The agriculture industry also uses of carbon dioxide canisters.

Plants require carbon dioxide for photosynthesis, and greenhouses frequently use carbon dioxide canisters. Some hydroponic growers claim that elevated levels of the gas enhance plant growth. At higher levels, the gas also acts as a deterrent to common plant pests. Aquarium keepers often use homemade carbon dioxide canisters as a food source for underwater plants in freshwater tanks and for coral in saltwater tanks. Other hobbyists have used carbon dioxide cartridges for decades.

Many middle and high school students learn aerodynamics, friction and propulsion principles by designing and racing cars propelled by carbon dioxide, while budding hunters and marksmen can learn basic skills using air guns. Ball bearing or BB guns and pellet guns typically use disposable carbon dioxide cartridges to propel ammunition, and the popular sport of paint ball includes markers with attached refillable carbon dioxide cartridges. Cyclists often carry thumb-sized carbon dioxide canisters for inflating bike tires.

Their quick dispensing and propulsive action also makes carbon dioxide cartridges useful in safety devices. Some fire extinguishers use carbon dioxide to disperse the fire retardant chemicals, and carbon dioxide is generally the propellant used in extinguishers designed specifically for electrical and flammable liquid fires. Recreational safety devices, including self-inflating rafts or vests, contain small carbon dioxide cartridges. When punctured by various mechanisms, the gas is released and inflates the device.

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Discussion Comments

By allenJo — On Jan 15, 2012

@hamje32 - It appears that carbon dioxide is the little gas that could, from inflating tires to propelling BB guns. Given that it’s so useful, I personally think that it gets a bad rap because people talk about it as the bad guy in climate change.

The way I see it, industries will always need this gas in some capacity and of course plants will always need it too. I plea for a more balanced debate on climate change that doesn’t paint carbon dioxide with such a broad brush.

I realize that nuances don’t make for great sound bites, but we’ll have to think more clearly if we want to balance concerns for environment with the needs of industry.

By hamje32 — On Jan 15, 2012

@NathanG - The carbon dioxide pump is used everywhere actually. I have a pressurized air duster that I use to clean my computer and monitor and it works great.

It delivers a strong blast of air and is far more effective than using a dry cloth, which is not effective at crevices and other small places. I usually go to an office supply store and buy a dozen of these cans, but I’ve noticed that one can alone will last me a long time before I need to replace it.

By NathanG — On Jan 14, 2012

I had no idea that so many of our food products contained CO2. I was vaguely aware that soft drinks might because these had been called “carbonated beverages,” but I didn’t exactly know how that worked.

What really surprised me is that cheese spreads include carbon dioxide in some form or another. I know that we exhale carbon dioxide and don’t inhale it, so I assume that in this form it would be safe to eat using one process or another.

It makes sense, however. I never understood how some of these food items got their light, airy consistency. Whether that makes such foods healthful or not, I suppose that’s a discussion for another day.

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