Oxygen Concentrators vs. Oxygen Tanks: A Basic Comparison Guide


If you’ve been searching for a medical oxygen device to treat COPD or another respiratory condition, you’ve likely come across terms like “oxygen tank” or “oxygen concentrator.” These are both popular options for people who need long-term oxygen therapy (LTOT), but there are some fundamental differences between the two like how they produce oxygen, how they’re refilled, in addition to the benefits that they offer oxygen patients.

If you want an oxygen device that both meets your medical needs and allows you the freedom to go about your daily life comfortably, you first need to understand the difference between oxygen tanks and oxygen concentrators. Read on for a simple oxygen device comparison guide and be sure to let us know if you have any questions or concerns.


What is an Oxygen Tank?

An oxygen tank is a cylindrical container that stores compressed oxygen gas. There is a nozzle located at the top of the device that can be adjusted in order to change the flow of oxygen and there is a gauge that will tell you how much oxygen is left in the tank. Oxygen tanks were first used in hospitals around the 1950s and portable versions were introduced around the 1970s.

 Despite being the original medical oxygen device, oxygen tanks have not changed much over the years. Oxygen is a gas and the molecules in gases are much more spread out than with liquids or solids. What this means is that you can’t just keep compressing oxygen without it becoming dangerous. As a result, oxygen tanks are pretty standardized when it comes to their size and the amount of oxygen that they store.


In an attempt to mitigate the issues posed by compressed gas, liquid oxygen tanks were invented. Rather than storing oxygen as a compressed gas, liquid oxygen tanks store oxygen as a compressed liquid. While this allows the user to carry a lot more oxygen, liquid oxygen tanks come with their own set of problems. In order for oxygen to be stored as a liquid, it has to be kept at temperatures of around -297 degrees Fahrenheit (-182 degrees Celsius) which means you need a specially designed tank in order to do this. These tanks tend to be very expensive and complicated.


What is an Oxygen Concentrator?

Although oxygen tanks and liquid oxygen tanks both store oxygen, oxygen concentrators do not follow this trend. Instead, oxygen concentrators are electronic devices that take air from the surrounding environment and remove all gases except for oxygen. It then concentrates this oxygen through a nasal cannula that the oxygen patient will breathe through.

Oxygen concentrators were invented in the 1970s and they were designed to replace oxygen tanks and liquid oxygen tanks. Since oxygen concentrators are electronic, they afford oxygen patients an infinite supply of oxygen as long as they have a source of power such as a wall outlet, car outlet, or a battery. There are many types of concentrators currently available including stationary oxygen concentrators, portable continuous flow oxygen concentrators, and portable pulse dose oxygen concentrators.


How Are Oxygen Concentrators and Oxygen Tanks Similar?

They Provide Medical-Grade Oxygen

Earth’s atmosphere contains about 21 percent oxygen, 78 percent nitrogen, and a mixture of several other gases. This is the perfect amount of oxygen for someone with healthy lungs, but for someone with COPD or other respiratory impairments, it is not enough to maintain the body’s blood oxygen level. Since impaired lungs have trouble processing air and removing the oxygen, you’ll need to increase the amount of oxygen that they receive. The Compression Gas Association (CGA) classifies oxygen into seven different “grades” — each one is given a label “A” through “G” and they’re used across four different industries: welding, research, aviation, and medical.



Medical-grade oxygen is high purity oxygen that is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Since oxygen is considered a “drug,” oxygen manufacturers and retailers need to collect a prescription from their patients before selling an oxygen device to them. If no prescription was collected upon selling an oxygen device, the machine either does not output medical oxygen or it is being sold illegally.


While oxygen tanks and oxygen concentrators both put out medical grade oxygen, it’s important to make sure you’re buying from a reputable oxygen company. There are many devices sold on popular retail sites that claim to be “oxygen generators,” but if you look at the fine print, they usually say that it’s not intended for medical use. This is designed to protect the retailer from lawsuits. Fortunately, here at LPT Medical, we only sell oxygen concentrators that provide the user with medical-grade oxygen.  

There are two different types of oxygen concentrators: continuous flow and pulse dose. Continuous flow devices usually have both a continuous flow and pulse dose setting whereas pulse dose machines just have a pulse flow setting. One of the best-selling continuous flow concentrators is the Respironics SimplyGo and one of the best-selling pulse dose concentrators is the Caire FreeStyle Comfort.


They Have Continuous Flow and Pulse Dose Options

There are two different ways that oxygen can be administered: continuous flow or pulse dose. Think of continuous flow like a constant stream of oxygen, whereas pulse dose oxygen is only administered when the user is inhaling. In other words, continuous flow tends to waste a lot of oxygen because oxygen is still being administered even when the user is exhaling.

Continuous flow oxygen delivery is what all oxygen tanks provide. If you want to switch to pulse dose, you will need to purchase something called an oxygen conserving device (OCD). OCDs attach to the top of your oxygen tank and they carefully track your breathing. When you inhale, the conserver will deliver a puff (bolus) of oxygen, and when you inhale, the oxygen release valve will be shut off. This allows you to go much farther with one tank of oxygen.


There Are Portable Options

In the past, being prescribed long-term oxygen therapy meant having to give up your freedom to go out of your house. However, portable oxygen tanks and portable oxygen concentrators have allowed oxygen patients to reclaim the freedom they had before being diagnosed with COPD. Oxygen tanks come in a variety of weights and sizes and they’re typically wheeled around using a rolling cart. Portable oxygen concentrators tend to be much lighter and smaller so you can carry them around on your shoulder or back.

How are Oxygen Concentrators and Oxygen Tanks Different?


Size and Weight

Like we mentioned earlier, oxygen tanks are not going to get any smaller or lighter than they already are. Oxygen molecules can only be compressed to about 3,000 pressure per square inch (psi) before they become too dangerous to handle. A portable “E” tank weighs about 8 pounds and it will provide you with about 5 to 6 hours of oxygen on a flow setting of 2 liters per minute (LPM). On top of this, portable oxygen tanks have an oblong shape that makes them difficult to carry on your shoulder or back.


Portable oxygen concentrators, on the other hand, are electronic devices that operate off powerful and lightweight lithium-ion batteries. As a result, oxygen manufacturers can make them much smaller and more portable. Lithium-ion batteries are the same kind of battery that’s found inside your smartphone, and as you’re likely aware, smartphones have been getting much smaller and lighter over the years. Another benefit of these batteries is that they can be charged many times over without losing their efficiency. 



Unfortunately, while portable oxygen tanks allow you to get out of the house they can be extremely inconvenient in certain situations. For example, oxygen tanks are banned by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) so you won’t be able to go on flights. So your only option when traveling across the country will be to drive or take some other form of transportation. This can also be tricky because you’ll have to find a place to refill your oxygen tanks while you’re traveling.


Another inconvenience of oxygen tanks is that they’re difficult to maneuver. For example, if you need to go up a flight of stairs, you’ll have to either pull your oxygen tank up behind you or pick it up. Another example is if you need to go to a crowded area like public transportation, your oxygen tank will take up a lot of space and people might end up bumping into it if you don’t keep an eye on it.


Portable oxygen concentrators are much more convenient because they can be carried on your shoulder under your arm. This way, when you walk into crowded areas, your oxygen device will always be accounted for and you don’t have to keep looking back to make sure it’s not getting caught on anything. It’s also much easier to walk up a flight of stairs because the weight of the oxygen device is centered over your body.



While portable oxygen concentrators have a higher upfront cost, in the long term, they are much more affordable than portable oxygen tanks. The reason for this is because oxygen tanks need to be refilled either by an oxygen company or by using a homefill station. If you opt to have full oxygen tanks delivered to your home, this will run you several hundred dollars per month which adds up real fast. On the other hand, if you choose to purchase a homefill station that operates similar to an oxygen concentrator, this will run you several thousand dollars. 


Many people think that portable oxygen concentrators will cost them an arm and a leg, but this simply isn’t the case. Portable oxygen concentrators cost between $1,000 to $2,500 on average and they last between 5 and 7 years on average. This is significantly less costly than spending several hundred dollars per month getting oxygen tanks filled and delivered. What’s more, portable oxygen financing is an option that will allow you to pay for your oxygen device slowly over the course of many months or years. This makes the upfront cost much more manageable.


Portable Oxygen Tank Overview



  • Easy to set up and use
  • Continuous flow and pulse dose (with the purchase of a conserver)
  • Virtually silent
  • Very dangerous compared to other oxygen devices
  • Bulky and oblong shape
  • Expensive to refill
  • Inconvenient for travel



Portable Oxygen Concentrator Overview



  • Lightweight and easy to transport
  • Approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for in-flight use
  • Pulse dose and continuous flow options
  • Very safe and reliable
  • Very little maintenance required
  • Cost-effective long-term option
  • Manufacturer warranties
  • Higher upfront cost
  • More options to choose from




Oxygen concentrators and oxygen tanks are two different sides of the same coin. They’re both designed to provide medical-grade oxygen for people with COPD, cystic fibrosis, and other chronic lung diseases, but they each provide different pros and cons. Oxygen tanks are usually sufficient for someone who doesn’t want to leave the house or move around too much, but portable oxygen concentrators are best for those who want to get outside, travel, and visit friends and family. In the long-term, oxygen concentrators are also much cheaper and more reliable than their counterpart.


The first step in choosing an oxygen concentrator is to ensure that it meets your oxygen needs. Once you’ve done that, you can narrow down your options based on your preferences such as weight, size, battery life, and additional features. If you reach out to our respiratory specialists here at LPT Medical, we will walk you through every step of the process so that you end up with a device that helps you achieve your short- and long-term goals. If you’re looking for a portable oxygen concentrator in Denver, please feel free to give us a call or send us an email today to get started.


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