How do CO2 Cannons work? Are they safe?

CO2 cannons are a popular special effects device that can be used in multiple types of venues as a way to enhance laser lights or create an atmospheric effect. 

Below you’ll get a breakdown of how CO2 cannons operate and how they can be used in special effects. Keep reading to learn more about CO2 cannons and how they work. 

How CO2 cannons work

CO2 cannons mainly consist of a tank storing pressurized CO2, valves, and a hand nozzle. By pressing the nozzle trigger, the CO2 is released and expands, transforming into a dense gas. This creates a thick white fog-like plume that can be as long as 25 feet.

There is no system to propel the gas, the plume is simply created by the expansion of the CO2 from its pressurized liquid form to its natural gas form. In the process, the CO2 cools down to temperatures as low to -40°F. CO2 is odorless and tasteless.

What are the parts of a CO2 cannon?

CO2 cannons can be broken down into three major components. The main parts of a CO2 cannon are as follows: 

  • Handle: The handle of a CO2 cannon allows it to be aimed and triggered in whatever direction you want the CO2 smoke effect to be pushed.
  • Tank: The tank is what holds the liquid CO2 cartridge. This is where the propellant in the CO2 cannon is stored.
  • Nozzle: The nozzle of the CO2 cannon dispenses the expanded CO2 as it contacts the ambient atmosphere. Its purpose is also to push the fog a bit further than the handle so that it doesn’t freeze your hand.

Because CO2 cannons are simple and easy to operate, they can be used even by people who don’t have other experience in special effects.

Do CO2 cannons run on power? 

CO2 cannons use a mechanical valve system that doesn’t have to be connected to power like electricity to operate. This power-free feature makes CO2 cannons useful for outdoor applications where electricity isn’t readily available. 

The lack of electrical hookups also makes CO2 cannons much safer to operate than stage lighting, pyrotechnics, and other kinds of powered special effects. 

How long does a CO2 cannon last?

CO2 cannon can last for 1.75 seconds per pound of liquid CO2. That means that a tank of 20 lb, can last for about 35 seconds, that’s 18 sprays of 2 seconds. A tank of 50lb will last 88 seconds, or 44 sprays of 2 seconds.

How much CO2 does a CO2 cannon take?

CO2 cannons typically run on liquid CO2 tanks usually ranging from 20 to 50 pounds.

What are CO2 cannons used for?

CO2 cannons are used in concerts and clubs to provide a nice entertaining effect thanks to their white plume. It also cools down the atmosphere but is more of a secondary effect than its main purpose.

CO2 cannons are popular in the following professions:

  • Cinematography
  • Nightclub entertainment
  • Bands and DJs
  • Live theatrical production

Are CO2 cannons safe?

CO2 cannons are safe if not sprayed at people directly below a range of 6 feet. Below the risks are asphyxiation by CO2 and burning due to cold temperatures (-40°F). If used at a proper distance, CO2 cannons present no risk. Unlike other gases, CO2 does not pose any risk of fire as it is not combustible.

If used in small spaces with poor ventilation, and using a lot of CO2 cannons, then there is a risk of CO2 saturation that could cause the following symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Loss of consciousness

But you really need to use a lot of CO2 for that to happen. If you are using a single cannon with a tank of 50 lb, you shouldn’t have to worry about CO2 saturations. A lot of clubs use it on a regular basis, just don’t aim directly at people.

In entertainment, CO2 is liked for its zero risk of combustion. Meaning it can be used near a fire without risks. In fact, CO2 is a common fire suppressant you can find in many fire extinguishers.

The fact that a CO2 cannon does not need electricity to run also makes it worry-free to operate.

Storage and transportation

The CO2 cannon itself does not represent any risk of storage, but the CO2 tank it plugs onto can be hazardous with temperature changes. Indeed, the CO2 inside will expand when the temperature increase, increasing the pressure in the tank.

The compressed gas association (CGA) recommends storing CO2 bottles below 125 F°. Please note that if you didn’t buy your CO2 in a shady location, your CO2 bottle should be equipped with a safety relief valve that will be triggered at temperatures above 125°F (mostly around 150°F).

Thanks to this safety valve, storing and transporting CO2 cylinders shouldn’t be an issue. But it is recommended not to let the tank in your car with no surveillance since the temperature can rise to such values on a hot day without AC.

What are the advantages of using a CO2 cannon? 

CO2 cannons offer the following advantages as a special effects device: 

  • Ease of use: CO2 cannons are easy enough for anyone to operate them. This can help save venues money in SFX technicians.
  • Portability: Handheld CO2 cannons can be carried from venue to venue, making them a useful investment for performers like musicians and DJs.
  • Rugged design: CO2 cannons are sturdy enough that they can be used in both indoor and outdoor venues.
  • Safety: CO2 cannons are less dangerous to operate than many other special effects like pyrotechnics.

Whether you’re looking to rent a CO2 cannon for a once-in-a-lifetime event or you want to invest in purchasing CO2 equipment for a traveling stage show, these cannons are a useful special effects tool.

If you want to buy one that is affordable yet reliable on Amazon, the ones from Moka SFX are great.  


Owner and writer of DJ Roundabout. DJing is my passion since 2008. I like all aspects of DJing: mixing but also the more technical aspects: Lights, Speakers, DVS, etc. I even made my own light effects with a home theatre projector!

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