Can you use CO2 for plasma cutting?

Yes, you can use CO2 for plasma cutting. It’s a cost-effective option that offers decent cut quality and speed, but it has its limitations and safety concerns.

What is CO2 and Its Properties

CO2, commonly known as carbon dioxide, is a colorless, odorless gas that naturally occurs in Earth’s atmosphere. It’s a vital component of life processes, particularly in the areas of plant photosynthesis and cellular respiration.

Can you use CO2 for plasma cutting

Chemical Characteristics

Chemically, CO2 consists of one carbon atom covalently bonded to two oxygen atoms. It’s a stable molecule that exists as a gas at room temperature and pressure. It’s acidic when dissolved in water, forming a weak solution known as carbonic acid. Due to its linear structure, it’s a non-polar molecule, which has implications for its solubility and reactivity. For more details, you can check its chemical properties on Wikipedia.

Physical Properties

In its standard state, CO2 is a gas. However, it can exist in different phases under various conditions. When cooled and pressurized, it becomes a solid known as “dry ice.” It sublimates directly from a solid to a gas under atmospheric pressure, skipping the liquid phase. It’s heavier than air, which makes it sink to the ground if released. You can also find more about its physical properties on Wikipedia.

Traditional Gases Used in Plasma Cutting

When it comes to plasma cutting, the type of gas used plays a significant role in the quality of the cut, the speed of the process, and even the safety of the operation. Let’s take a look at some traditional gases commonly employed in plasma cutting operations.


Argon is a noble gas with excellent inert properties, making it ideal for high-precision cuts. Its low reactivity ensures minimal oxidation and clean cuts, especially on non-ferrous metals like aluminum and copper. However, it’s typically mixed with other gases such as hydrogen or nitrogen to boost its cutting capabilities. Here’s the Wikipedia link for Argon if you’re interested in diving deeper into its properties.


Nitrogen is another popular choice for plasma cutting, particularly for stainless steel and aluminum. It offers high cut speeds and reduces the oxidation of the cut surface. However, the downside is that it can be more expensive than other gases, and its use often requires specialized equipment to handle the high pressures. For more about Nitrogen, refer to its Wikipedia page.


Oxygen is commonly used for cutting mild steel and offers the benefit of a cleaner, oxide-free edge. It provides a very hot flame and thus can cut through metals relatively quickly. The catch is that it can lead to more rapid oxidation of the material, which may not be suitable for all applications. You can read more about Oxygen and its properties on its Wikipedia page.


Compressed Air

Compressed air is the most accessible and cost-effective gas for plasma cutting. It’s widely used for cutting both ferrous and non-ferrous materials. Though it doesn’t offer the same level of cut quality as specialized gases, its availability and affordability make it a popular choice for many applications. For additional information, here’s the Wikipedia link for compressed air.

The Role of Gas in Plasma Cutting

Understanding the role of gas in plasma cutting is essential for achieving optimal results. The type of gas used influences not just the quality of the cut, but also the efficiency and safety of the operation. Let’s delve into how gas specifically affects the cutting process and the resultant cut quality.

How Gas Affects the Cutting Process

In a plasma cutting system, the selected gas is ionized to create a plasma arc, which does the actual cutting. The characteristics of the gas—such as thermal conductivity, ionization potential, and reactivity—can significantly affect how easily the plasma arc forms and maintains its shape. For instance, inert gases like argon create a more stable but less energetic arc, while reactive gases like oxygen produce a more aggressive, hotter arc. If you’re interested in the technical aspects, you can check the plasma cutting Wikipedia page for more information.

The Impact on Cut Quality

The choice of gas can also have a direct impact on the quality of the cut. Gases like oxygen and nitrogen are known for delivering cleaner cuts with fewer imperfections, but they may increase the risk of oxidation. On the other hand, using compressed air might be economical but could result in slightly rougher edges. The quality of the cut also depends on other variables like the speed of cutting and the type of material being cut. For a more in-depth look at how different gases affect cut quality, you may refer to the section on gases in the Wikipedia article on plasma cutting.

Advantages of Using CO2 in Plasma Cutting

The use of CO2 in plasma cutting has been gaining attention for various reasons. While not as traditional as other gases like argon or nitrogen, CO2 offers a unique set of advantages that can make it an attractive option for certain applications.

What gases used for Plasma Cutter by tapweld


One of the most significant advantages of using CO2 in plasma cutting is its cost-effectiveness. Compared to other specialized gases, CO2 often costs less and is more readily available. This makes it an attractive option for smaller shops and DIY enthusiasts who might not have the budget for more expensive gases. More information on cost comparisons in cutting technologies can be found on the Wikipedia page for plasma cutting.

Cut Quality

While CO2 may not offer the same level of precision as some other gases, it does provide a competent level of cut quality that is more than adequate for many applications. Its relatively high thermal conductivity helps maintain a stable arc, resulting in clean, smooth edges under the right conditions. If you’re interested in further details, the Wikipedia article on plasma cutting delves into how gas type can affect cut quality.


CO2 also excels in terms of efficiency. Due to its thermal characteristics, it can facilitate faster cutting speeds, especially when compared to using compressed air. This can be a significant benefit in production settings where time is a critical factor. For more technical information on efficiency factors in plasma cutting, you can refer to its Wikipedia page.

Challenges and Limitations of Using CO2

While CO2 offers several benefits for plasma cutting, it’s crucial to be aware of its challenges and limitations as well. Informed decision-making requires a balanced view, considering not only the advantages but also the potential downsides of using CO2 in plasma cutting systems.

Safety Concerns

CO2 is a heavier-than-air gas, which means that in the event of a leak, it could displace oxygen in the environment, leading to potential asphyxiation hazards. It’s vital to maintain proper ventilation and use safety gear like gas monitors when using CO2 in a closed setting. Additional safety tips and guidelines for dealing with CO2 can be found on its Wikipedia page.

Plasma Cutter

Equipment Compatibility

Not all plasma cutting systems are designed to work with CO2, and using it in a system not equipped to handle it could lead to complications. CO2’s properties, like its higher thermal conductivity compared to other gases, might require adjustments to your equipment settings or even hardware modifications. For an in-depth discussion about the equipment used in plasma cutting, the Wikipedia page on plasma cutting could be a useful resource.

Comparison between CO2 and Traditional Gases

Making a choice between CO2 and traditional gases for plasma cutting involves considering various factors. These include the quality of cuts you require, your budget constraints, and the safety measures you can implement. Let’s compare CO2 to traditional gases like argon, nitrogen, and oxygen on these fronts.

Cut Quality

When it comes to cut quality, traditional gases often have the upper hand. For example, argon and nitrogen offer high-precision cuts, especially on non-ferrous materials. Oxygen excels in cutting mild steel. CO2, while adequate, may not achieve the same level of finesse but can be more than sufficient for general-purpose cuts. To know more about how cut quality can vary with different gases, the Wikipedia article on plasma cutting is a good resource.


CO2 usually comes out as the more cost-effective option compared to specialized gases like argon or nitrogen. It’s generally cheaper and more readily available. Compressed air is the only traditional gas that may compete with CO2 on cost, but it generally delivers lower cut quality. For a broader understanding of the economics of plasma cutting, you can refer to the Wikipedia page on plasma cutting.


In terms of safety, each gas presents its own set of concerns. CO2 poses a potential asphyxiation risk if leaked in a confined space. On the other hand, reactive gases like oxygen can pose a fire risk, and inert gases like argon can also displace oxygen if leaked. A more detailed discussion on safety practices in plasma cutting can be found on its Wikipedia page.

Case Studies: Real-world Applications of CO2 in Plasma Cutting

When it comes to understanding the effectiveness and limitations of using CO2 in plasma cutting, real-world applications provide invaluable insights. Below, we explore how industries are using CO2 and what experimental findings reveal about its performance.

Main Gases used in plasma cutting And Plasma Welding

Industrial Applications

CO2 has found a niche in sectors like automotive manufacturing and metal fabrication. In these settings, the cost-effectiveness of CO2 makes it a viable option for large-scale, repetitive cutting tasks. Some companies have reported reduced operational costs by switching to CO2 from more expensive gases. However, they do note the need for enhanced safety measures due to the potential asphyxiation risks associated with CO2. For more information on industrial applications of plasma cutting, the Wikipedia page on plasma cutting is a helpful resource.

Experimental Findings

Several academic studies and experiments have been conducted to compare the performance of CO2 against traditional gases in plasma cutting. Many of these studies affirm that while CO2 may not match the precision levels of gases like argon or nitrogen, it performs admirably in terms of speed and cost-effectiveness. Some experiments have even mixed CO2 with other gases to achieve a balance between cost and performance. If you’re interested in diving deeper into the scientific aspects, you can look at academic journals or the Wikipedia article on plasma cutting for more in-depth information.

How much cheaper is CO2 compared to other gases like argon?

CO2 can cost around $20 per cylinder, whereas argon may cost upwards of $40 per cylinder, effectively making CO2 nearly 50% cheaper.

Is CO2 faster than other gases in terms of cutting speed?

CO2 allows for cutting speeds of approximately 25 inches per minute on 1/2-inch steel, compared to about 20 inches per minute when using argon.

What safety measures should be in place when using CO2?

It's essential to have proper ventilation and gas monitors, as CO2 is a heavier-than-air gas that could lead to asphyxiation in confined spaces.

Is CO2 compatible with all plasma cutting machines?

No, not all machines are designed to work with CO2. Always check the specifications of your equipment to ensure compatibility.

What's the quality of cuts like when using CO2?

CO2 can produce cuts with a surface roughness of around Ra 25 μm on mild steel, which may not match the Ra 12 μm often achieved with argon but is suitable for many applications.

What is the lifespan of CO2 cylinders compared to traditional gases?

CO2 cylinders generally have a lifespan of about 5 years, while cylinders for gases like argon may last up to 10 years.

How much time can I save by using CO2 for plasma cutting?

In a production setting, using CO2 could shave off approximately 15% of the time it would take when using a slower gas like compressed air.

What are the disadvantages of using CO2 for plasma cutting?

The major drawbacks include safety concerns due to potential asphyxiation risks and equipment compatibility issues. Also, the cut quality might not be as high as when using traditional gases.

Scroll to Top