Oxygen Tanks vs Oxygen Concentrators: 5 Tips to Help You Choose

Oxygen tanks and oxygen concentrators are both members of a group of medical devices that offer oxygen therapy to patients unable to get enough oxygen into their bodies on their own. Tanks and concentrators specifically, are uniquely designed to deliver oxygen to patients at home, on the go, or who are being transferred between medical sites.

Oxygen tanks or oxygen cylinders are metal tanks containing pressurized oxygen. To use these tanks, a line of tubing is connected to the tank at one end and then to a nasal cannula or oxygen mask at the other. This allows the oxygen in the tank to be delivered directly into the patient’s nose. Personal oxygen tanks are typically mounted on a trolley or other wheel-based device that allows them to be easily transported by the patient or a caregiver. 

Oxygen concentrators dispense oxygen in almost exactly the same way that oxygen tanks do, delivering oxygen directly to the patient via the same nasal cannula or oxygen masks. However, where oxygen tanks contain a fixed amount of pressurized oxygen, concentrators collect oxygen from the surrounding air, concentrate it, and then deliver it to the patient, removing the need for replacement or refilling. Concentrators are also available in multiple styles, offering larger models for using at home or in the hospital as well as more compact models perfect for traveling and moving out and about.

There are many similarities and differences between oxygen tanks and oxygen concentrators, and each has their own benefits. Because of this, finding the right product to meet you or your loved one’s needs might feel like an imposing task. This article will review some of these key differences and similarities, offer some important tips for finding the best product to meet your needs, and introduce some of the top products on the market, helping you make an informed decision that you feel confident in. 

Pros & Cons

Oxygen tanks and oxygen concentrators have several key differences, and each are defined by certain advantages and disadvantages.

Oxygen Tanks

Oxygen tanks contain pressurized oxygen that can be continuously released at specific flow rates to provide medical grade oxygen to the patient. These devices are usually mounted on a rolling apparatus—such as a small trolley or cart—that allows them to be rolled alongside the patient. 

Pros

  1. No power required. One of the most distinct advantages of oxygen tanks is that they take advantage of the pressurized oxygen within them to operate. By releasing the oxygen at one of several flow rate options, oxygen tanks are able to operate without requiring the use of a battery or electrical outlet. This ensures that the tank will be able to provide oxygen until its contents are depleted. 
  2. Silent. Since oxygen tanks are simply delivering their contents at a specified rate, there are no beeps or loud sounds associated with using them. This makes them great for use around other people in quiet environments like movie theatres or libraries, and ideal for napping or being around others who need to remain undisturbed, like babies. 
  3. Lower initial cost. Oxygen tanks are the traditional form of personal oxygen, and as such, they are often the most inexpensive, featuring the lowest initial price tag of all the different oxygen devices on the market. If the dollar amount of the initial purchase is your primary concern, oxygen tanks are probably the way to go.

Cons

  1. Heavy and/or unwieldy. One of the most commonly noted disadvantages of oxygen tanks is their weight and portability. While wheel-mounted cart systems, like this one by Drive Medical, make rolling oxygen tanks simple and easy, the tanks themselves are somewhat heavy. This means that lifting the tank—for example, to put it in a vehicle or carry it up a staircase—can be challenging due to the weight of the device.
  2. Limited to their contents. Oxygen tanks only contain a limited amount of oxygen, and once the tank has been depleted, it has to be refilled or replaced with a new tank. Once the oxygen within the tank is depleted, the tank must be refilled or replaced with a fresh tank. 
  3. Greater cost over time. Because oxygen tanks need to be refilled or replaced frequently, their initial low price adds up over time to make their cost higher long-term. 

Oxygen Concentrators

Instead of the limited amount of pressurized oxygen used by oxygen tanks, oxygen concentrators use a filtering system to take ambient air in from around the patient, compress and modify it to medical-grade standards, and then deliver it to the patient. These devices are available in both larger home-style models and smaller portable models that are more ideal for traveling and moving around on the go.

Pros

  1. Unlimited oxygen. The ability of oxygen concentrators to continuously draw in and treat air ensures that, unlike oxygen tanks, the concentrator will never run out of oxygen. This is frequently noted by customers as being one of the best features of oxygen concentrators. 
  2. Lightweight. Because they do not rely on pressurized oxygen, concentrators do not require a dense metal tank. This means that they are notably lighter and more portable than most oxygen tanks. In fact, many oxygen concentrators, such as the FreeStyle Portable Oxygen Concentrator, are designed to be carried in a backpack or side bag for ultimate convenience. 
  3. Greater versatility. Oxygen concentrators are available in a wide selection of sizes, models, and styles, each designed to perfectly accommodate a specific user base. While oxygen tanks are largely all the same, concentrators provide a greater variety of choices to ensure you get exactly what you need.
  4. Up-front cost. While oxygen tanks frequently need to be refilled or replaced, oxygen concentrators use ambient air and therefore don’t require the long-term maintenance costs that tanks do. All of your concentrators costs will come up-front in your initial purchase.

Cons

  1. Batteries required. Because they do not use pressurized oxygen within a tank, oxygen concentrators must rely on battery or electric power to perform their air filtering and oxygen flow. As is the case with any battery-powered device, the available charge in the battery must be considered. If the battery isn’t charged, it will eventually run out of power and the concentrator will shut down until charged again, which could be dangerous for someone who needs their oxygen at all times.
  2. Noisy. Oxygen concentrators collect oxygen from the air and then filter and compress it for the user. This process can often be noisy, due to the various components at work, and this is the most common complaint that concentrator users have. Many newer concentrator models have been designed to reduce this noise to barely noticeable levels, but there is often still some amount of sound associated with their operation.
  3. Expensive. Because of the complex mechanisms at work, oxygen concentrators are often quite expensive up-front. While this cost is a single purchase unlike that of oxygen tanks, many people may not be able to afford the high price tag all in one chunk even though it saves money in the long-run.

How to Choose

1. How are you going to use it?

If you’re looking for a good, solid device for oxygen therapy to use in your home, hospital room, or other facility, either a concentrator or a tank will do the job just fine. Oxygen tanks can easily move up and down the hallways of a home or facility on a mobile cart, while standard concentrators are great for more stationary uses in your bedroom or living room featuring handles or wheels for short-distance portability. 

However, if you’re planning to use your device for travel, running errands, or other more active jobs, a portable oxygen concentrator is a better solution, featuring a lighter-weight design and an array of convenient bags and cases for easy carrying.

2. How much oxygen do you need?

Oxygen tanks, specifically, come in a number of volumes. Depending on the oxygen flow rate that is recommended and the amount of time that the tank will be required, certain volumes may be better than others. However, it is important to consider that the size of the tank influences its weight: the larger the volume in the tank, the heavier it will be.

Oxygen concentrators don’t have a set capacity, so if you need a large amount of oxygen, a concentrator will most likely save you money in the long-run and probably be more convenient for you, as you won’t have to worry about constant refills and tank replacements. This high-capacity concentrator from Invacare offers more oxygen than any concentrator in our catalog, making it the perfect solution for users with high oxygen requirements.

Additionally, while most oxygen cylinders and concentrators offer a range of flow rates, it’s important to consider whether the device you finally select can offer your prescribed flow rate. Make sure you pay close attention to this particular specification when you’re comparing products.

3. How often do you travel?

If you’re a fairly stationary person, just looking for something that will accommodate you moving around a single room or home, then a compact concentrator like this one from Drive Medical is probably the best option. 

A combination of a larger oxygen concentrator like this stationary concentrator from Respironics, and the occasional oxygen tank might be the best solution if you’re someone who mostly stays in one place, but needs to go on short outings every once in a while.

If you’re a more active person who likes to travel, going on trips either by car or plane fairly regularly, or simply likes to engage in a more active lifestyle, then a portable oxygen concentrator like this innovative portable concentrator from O2 Concepts is the best option for you. 

4. What’s your budget?

Budget can be a very important consideration when selecting an oxygen therapy device, as it is when choosing any product. Often people may gravitate towards the lower buy-in price of oxygen cylinders, but it’s important to remember that if you have the extra money to spring for a concentrator, it will save you money over time by eliminating the need for refills and tank replacements.

Often Medicare or similar insurance systems will pay for the cost of a standard stationary oxygen concentrator, but they will often not cover the additional costs of a portable concentrator model. For this reason, a lot of people often forgo the higher price of the portable concentrator, but it can be a lifesaver if you’re someone who travels a lot or highly values the freedom to travel and engage in an active lifestyle.

5. What other components do you need?

Many oxygen tanks and concentrators come with optional transport accessories. These can be wheel-based mounts for oxygen tanks, bags and attachments for wheelchairs and walkers, or device-carrying side bags for portable concentrators. If you do not already have a device for carrying and/or transporting your oxygen device, this is something you might be interested in purchasing depending on how you intend to use your device.

Additionally, there are a number of other items that may or may not be included with your oxygen tank or concentrator that you should consider. Items like oxygen tubing, nasal cannulas, and oxygen masks are required for proper oxygen therapy delivery, so if you don’t have them already, you might be interested in a product that includes them as a bundle, or you can purchase them separately for more control over the type of tubing and mask you ultimately use.

Products like flow regulators, oxygen conservers, and other accessories may also be something to consider before making your final purchase.

If you do intend to choose an oxygen cylinder over a concentrator, you may also be interested in a storage rack for your cylinders so that you can keep multiple on hand, or a home fill system so that you can forgo the cost of a concentrator and instead save yourself money by refilling oxygen tanks yourself.

Rehabmart’s Top Picks

Finding the right oxygen tank or oxygen concentrator for you or your loved one may seem like a challenge. Fortunately, Rehabmart offers a wide selection of these devices from trusted medical equipment manufacturers such as Invacare, Respironics, O2 Concepts, and many others.

To help you make an informed decision on the best concentrator to meet your needs, we’ve outlined just a few of our favorites based on the most important buying features you may be considering:

Most Versatile Standard Concentrator

If you’re looking for a versatile oxygen concentrator that does its job well and is dependable, then the Compact DeVilbis Oxygen Concentrator by Drive Medical is the one for you.

Highest Capacity Standard Concentrator

If you need a large amount of oxygen and are looking for a concentrator that’s up to the task, then the Platinum 10-Liter Oxygen Concentrator with SensO2 by Invacare is the perfect solution.

Quietest Standard Concentrator

If sound output is your highest concern, then the Perfecto2 V 5-Liter Oxygen Concentrator by Invacare is one of the best. At only 42 dB of sound output, this concentrator puts out only an ambient sound that makes it easy and non-distracting to use at all times, even while sleeping. 

Best All-Around Portable Concentrator

If you’re looking for a dependable portable concentrator with good battery life and easy operation, then our pick for the best all around is the OxLife Independence Portable Oxygen Concentrator System by O2 Concepts. This lightweight, highly portable concentrator is easy to pick up and stow even on cramped airplanes.

Smallest Portable Concentrator

If size is your biggest concern and you just can’t be bothered to lug around anything bulkier than a small tote, then the Platinum Mobile Oxygen Concentrator by Invacare is the best option, weighing less than five pounds and coming complete with its own carrying case.

FAQs

How does an oxygen concentrator work?

  1. They take in ambient air from the surrounding area.
  2. They compress the air inside the machine.
  3. They remove nitrogen from the air via a filter and sieve beads.
  4. They push the purified oxygen through attached tubing.
  5. Oxygen is delivered right to your nose & mouth through a nasal cannula or mask.

How do I clean my oxygen concentrator?

  1. Unplug your oxygen concentrator.
  2. Wipe down the outside with a soft cloth moistened with mild soap and warm water. Allow to air dry, or dry with a lint-free cloth.
  3. Clean the particle filter by removing it per manufacturer instructions and soaking it in warm water mixed with mild soap. Rinse to remove excess soap.
  4. Clean your nasal cannula by soaking in a solution of warm water and mild soap. Rinse thoroughly and hang to dry.

How often should I clean my oxygen concentrator?

  • Wipe down your tubing and nasal cannula each day with alcohol.
  • Experts recommend you clean the outside of your concentrator and any external filters at least once a week.
  • Most manufacturers recommend cleaning the particle filter at least once a month.
  • Check your owner’s manual to find out the recommended service intervals for your specific concentrator model.

Can portable oxygen concentrators be used with CPAP or BiPAP devices?

Yes! Continuous flow oxygen concentrators are absolutely safe to be used with most sleep apnea devices. But, if you're worried about a specific model of concentrator or CPAP/BiPAP device, contact the manufacturer or discuss your options with your doctor.

Will Medicare pay for a portable oxygen concentrator?

Most of the time, no. Medicare does have billable codes for portable oxygen concentrators. However, with reductions in how much Medicare will pay there continues to be less and less incentive for your local oxygen equipment company to provide you with a portable oxygen concentrator.

Most choose to provide you with the less expensive, old-fashioned system consisting of a home oxygen concentrator and multiple oxygen tanks that have to be refilled and delivered routinely. However, if you have the financial ability to choose a portable concentrator on your own, they're a great option for increased independence and freedom.

Recommendations for further reading

For more detailed reviews and customer feedback, check out Rehabmart’s picks for our Top 5 Best Oxygen Concentrators. You can also check out our entire selection of oxygen therapy products, where you can browse our entire catalog of tanks, concentrators, accessories, and more! Whether you’re just considering your options or ready to make your final purchase, visit Rehabmart to find the best product for you.

Author:

Co-founder/CEO of Rehabmart, Pediatric Occupational Therapist, husband, and father. Passionate about connecting special needs kids with superb nutrition, sensory integration, and complementary health strategies. Excited about Rehabmart's mission to become the premier online educational platform which empowers caregivers by spotlighting innovative devices and interventions to achieve optimal patient response and recovery.

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