Portable Oxygen Concentrators vs. Home Oxygen Concentrator
Medically Edited and Reviewed by Dr. Erin Zinkhan MD, BSBE
Updated: February 3, 2023
Oxygen concentrators have become the oxygen source of choice, leaving oxygen tanks to older medical supply companies that still have them in inventory. Oxygen concentrators offer greater convenience and flexibility for oxygen patients. They are reliable, and safe and offer greater freedom and independence. Some concentrators are highly mobile, operating from multiple power sources. There are basically two types of concentrators—stationary oxygen concentrators and portable oxygen concentrators. This article will examine and compare these two types of concentrators and present the top 3 ranking concentrators for each type.
What are the big differences between a portable oxygen concentrator and a stationary oxygen concentrator?
There are important differences between portable oxygen concentrators and stationary or home oxygen concentrators. Although they are both designed to provide concentrated oxygen to therapy patients, the differences are significant and affect the purchase decision. The key differences between these two types of concentrators can be compared within four major factors—oxygen output, size and weight, power options, and price.
Size and Weight
Size and weight are significant when you are carrying your oxygen with you wherever you go. Portable oxygen concentrators are much smaller in size, nearly half the size of a home oxygen concentrator. The smaller size makes them easy to negotiate narrow doorways, crowded hallways, busy shopping aisles, and other tight areas. For portability, smaller is better. Traveling with a stationary concentrator is nearly impossible and definitely not advisable.
Regarding weight, portable concentrators average only 1/3 the weight of a stationary concentrator. Portable oxygen concentrators of less than 10 pounds are often carried in a backpack or shoulder bag. Concentrators weighing between 10 and 20 pounds are often pulled in lightweight carts behind the patient. Concentrators above 20 pounds are usually considered to be stationary concentrators. Although nearly all stationary concentrators have wheels attached to move them from room to room easily, they are not used outside of the home or office. For size and weight, portable oxygen concentrators have the decisive advantage over stationary concentrators.
The largest and the smallest oxygen concentrator are made by the same company, AirSep. The AirSep Intensity 10 has a size of 6488 cubic inches and a weight of 58 pounds while the AirSep Focus has a size of 76.8 cubic inches and a weight of 1.75 pounds including the battery. That constitutes a huge difference between the smallest portable concentrator and the largest stationary concentrator.
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There is a trade-off for small size and less weight and that is performance or oxygen output. The smaller portable concentrators produce less oxygen than the larger stationary concentrators. To reduce the weight and size of a portable concentrator, manufacturers design a significantly smaller oxygen generator. This smaller generator currently produces a maximum oxygen output of less than 3 liters per minute. Most home oxygen concentrators provide 5 to 10 liters of oxygen per minute. This equates to two to five times the amount of oxygen per minute more than portable concentrators. Oxygen patients requiring five or more liters per minute require a home oxygen concentrator; a portable oxygen concentrator is insufficient. For oxygen output, the stationary oxygen concentrators have a decisive advantage.
Another consideration for oxygen output is continuous flow oxygen vs. pulse flow oxygen. Portable oxygen concentrators use pulse flow oxygen to reduce the size and weight of the concentrator. Pulse flow oxygen provides a puff of oxygen during the inhale cycle and nothing during exhale to conserve its concentrated oxygen delivery. Continuous oxygen flow runs constantly during both inhaling and exhaling. Most oxygen patients can function fine on pulse flow but there are some who require higher doses of oxygen for survival. Consult a physician to see what would be appropriate for your individual needs.
Oxygen concentrators that can operate on multiple power sources offer greater utility and flexibility. Some concentrators can operate from their own internal power source, requiring recharging after two to nine hours. Some concentrators can also operate from a car, boat or RV battery. Other concentrators can only operate from an AC power source. Nearly all stationary oxygen concentrators operate solely from an AC power source while nearly all portable oxygen concentrators can operate from a DC or AC power source. For power options, portable oxygen concentrators offer the best advantage.
A significant amount of engineering is involved to achieve the smaller size of portable oxygen concentrators. The smaller the size and the lower the weight, the higher the manufacturing costs. For that reason, portable oxygen concentrator prices are 3 to 6 times the price of a stationary oxygen concentrator.
Stationary oxygen concentrators have higher oxygen output and lower prices. Portable oxygen concentrators offer smaller sizes and less weight and greater flexibility with power sources. For oxygen patients requiring 5 or more liters of oxygen per minute, a home oxygen concentrator is the best choice. For patients who live active lives and are often away from an AC power source, a portable oxygen concentrator is the best choice.
Many oxygen patients are likely to choose both a stationary and portable concentrator to economize their investment. Since the lifespan of a portable concentrator ranges between 800 to 1,500 hours, it is a wise decision to use a less expensive concentrator when at home or whenever you are around an AC power source and a portable concentrator when on the go. Most patients tend to log more hours using their concentrators at home than they do away from their homes. It is more economical to conserve the hours on your portable concentrator for when you are away from AC power. Generally, you can purchase up to four stationary concentrators for the price of one good portable concentrator.
Best Oxygen Concentrators for Both Continuous/Pulse Flow Oxygen
Oxygen patients who travel frequently may want to consider one of continuous/pulse capable portable concentrators. These types of portable concentrators can function well for several weeks non-stop while away from your home concentrator. Currently, there are four portables that can provide both continuous flow oxygen and pulse flow oxygen listed below.