How to Use an Oxygen Tank

To see the safest way to open an oxygen cylinder valve, watch this demonstration from Brian Farbelow, registered respiratory therapist and senior director of VITAS Home Medical Equipment.

Once your physician prescribes oxygen, you may ask yourself, “How do you use a portable oxygen cylinder?” Understanding the steps is important in establishing a routine that is easy to remember. This guide explains how to safely use your oxygen cylinder at home.

How to Turn On an Oxygen Tank

The first task in using your oxygen cylinder is turning it on.

  1. Use the cylinder wrench to turn the oxygen cylinder valve by at least one half-turn counterclockwise. If your cylinder has come with an attached toggle, you may use this in place of the supplied wrench.
  2. Check the pressure gauge to verify that there is enough oxygen in the tank (full is approximately 2,000 psi).
  3. Adjust the liter flow using the dial on the regulator in accordance with your physician's prescription.

How to Use an Oxygen Tank at Home

This step will explain how to operate your oxygen cylinder. 

  1. Attach the tubing and nasal prongs (cannula) to the oxygen regulator nipple as required. Be sure to check that the tubing is not bent or blocked.
  2. Adjust your nasal prongs (cannula) to ensure a comfortable fit.
  3. Set your flow rate to the setting provided by your physician.
    • Avoid changing the flow rate unless instructed by your physician.
  4. Put the nasal prongs (cannula) in your nose and breathe normally.
    • If you are unsure of whether oxygen is flowing, you can test it by placing the nasal prongs (cannula) in a glass of water. If you see bubbles, the oxygen is flowing.

How to Turn Off an Oxygen Tank

The final step once you have finished using your oxygen cylinder is to turn it off. It is very important to turn off your oxygen cylinder when you are finished using it.

  1. Use the cylinder wrench or attached toggle to turn the cylinder valve clockwise until completely off or closed.
  2. Turn the dial to the “2 LPM Continuous” position, allowing the oxygen to bleed out of the regulator until the oxygen regulator pressure gauge reads zero.

Safety Tips for Using an Oxygen Tank

Remember that oxygen must be handled safely, or it may cause fires. Here are some tips on how to safely use your oxygen tank:

  • When using or storing oxygen, keep oxygen at least 10 feet away from open flames and other sources of heat. Oxygen cylinders and tubing require the same consideration. Remember, electric appliances like toasters, space heaters, hair dryers, electric blankets, and electric razors have the potential to overheat and may spark when in use. Never smoke or allow smoking around any oxygen source and its tubing.
  • Don’t use flammable materials near oxygen. Hair, aerosol sprays, paints, and paint thinners can all pose risks. Even certain petroleum products like Vaseline and VapoRub can pose a danger. A spark can quickly ignite these types of products, increasing the risk of fire and severe burns.
  • Keep oxygen cylinders and tubing in well-ventilated areas because oxygen tends to build up in the surrounding air and concentrate in clothes, bedding, and curtains. Never store oxygen cylinders in a closed area such as closets or under a bed.
  • Protect your oxygen cylinder from being jostled or knocked over.
  • Store the oxygen tank upright in an approved storage device.
  • If a tank is knocked over and begins to make a hissing noise, turn it off right away. If the regulator breaks or you cannot turn it off, immediately leave the room and notify the fire department and the medical supply company.
  • Be careful not to trip over the tubing.
  • Turn oxygen off when you are not using it.
  • Always follow the instructions provided by your supply company.

Through our home medical equipment (HME) teams, VITAS provides home medical equipment, including oxygen cylinders, to our patients as part of the Medicare hospice benefit. Our dedicated team members also provide training and support on using the equipment.

Get our oxygen safety guide for hospice patients.


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