Between 2014 and 2018, U.S. fire departments responded to more than 350,000 home fires. That accounts for more than 25% of all fires in the country. It is not surprising that cooking and smoking are the most common reasons for fires in the home; smoking fires cause more deaths. Since many fires start in the kitchen where grilling or frying has gone wrong, a working fire extinguisher can mean the difference between containment and calling 91
But how long will your fire extinguisher last? And can it “go bad” early if you don’t store it correctly? Read on to learn how to properly maintain a fire extinguisher in your home and when to buy a new one.
Knowing how to use a fire extinguisher (aim, aim, pinch, and swipe) is only half the battle. Maintenance habits are also an essential part of fire safety. You don’t want to reach for your extinguisher in an emergency, only to find that the pin is missing, the handle is unstable, or the canister is outdated.
Maintaining a fire extinguisher is not only a legal requirement in businesses and many multi-family homes, but it is just smart. Even single-family homes benefit from following the correct protocols.
How long does a fire extinguisher last?
The average life of a fire extinguisher is 10-12 years. This assumes that the extinguisher was not broken, corroded, or otherwise damaged while you had it.
If you store the fire extinguisher in extreme temperatures (below -40 degrees or above 120 degrees Fahrenheit) or if major components break down, the unit may not last a full decade.
How do you maintain a fire extinguisher?
To maximize the life of your extinguisher, you should perform a periodic inspection. Check your device at least once a year to make sure you don’t see any red flags.
Here are some things to look for:
- Make sure the seal and locking pin are intact
- Look inside the mouthpiece for rust or obstructions
- Check for leaks in and around the nozzle and top of the extinguisher
- Examine the pressure gauge to make sure it is still in the operational (green) range
- Feel the handle to make sure it doesn’t wobble or break
- Press in the thrust pin; it should pop up again to indicate that it has been pressurized correctly
In addition to keeping your fire extinguisher within the correct temperature range, here are some other tips for proper maintenance:
- Clean the outside of the fire extinguisher when you inspect it; extinguishing agents must remain free of dirt, oil and grease
- Do not dent the device, especially around the mouthpiece and handle
- Keep a written record of when you check the fire extinguisher and note the pressure
- Always store the fire extinguisher in the same, easily accessible place, away from chemicals and heat
When should you dispose of a fire extinguisher?
In some cases, you will have to throw away your fire extinguisher before it reaches the end of its recommended life. You don’t want to have a device on hand that can’t perform when you need it!
In these circumstances, you should replace your fire extinguisher right away instead of waiting for the 12-year mark:
- If there is a product recall for your fire extinguisher, follow the manufacturer’s instructions to get a refund / replacement right away
- A broken pin is a sign that you need to be replaced immediately
- When the fire extinguisher handle becomes unstable (such as wiggling back and forth), you may need a total replacement
- Slow loss of pressure over time is also a sign that something might be wrong, such as a leak, that requires your unit to be replaced
- Visible corrosion is a very bad sign and should be taken seriously
- A cracked hose makes it difficult or impossible for your extinguisher to fire properly so you will need to get a new one
Please note that fire extinguishers cannot be repaired part by part. Something like a safety inspection label can be replaced, but other broken parts will require a new fire extinguisher to be purchased in most cases.
What types of fires can extinguishers handle?
You also need to make sure that the fire extinguisher you have can handle the type of fire you are likely to experience. Fires are divided into “classes”. These groupings are based on the cause of the fire.
Class A fires: These are fires caused by common materials such as wood and paper.
Class B fires: This type of fire is associated with flammable liquids, including kerosene and oil.
Class C fires: These are electrical fires and can be caused by faulty appliances or tools.
Class D fires: This type of fire is related to metal and is most common in a lab dealing with things like magnesium and titanium.
Class K fires: These fires are related to vegetable oil and animal fats, so they can occur in a common kitchen.
Your fire extinguisher will be labeled with the type of fires it is intended to put out. While many fire extinguishers are labeled for “ABC” fires, you may want to ensure that a “K” class fire is covered by your unit if you enjoy cooking with fat.
What are the types of fire extinguishers?
Did you know that not all fire extinguishers are filled with the same chemical? Although water extinguishers do exist, they spread the flames in most types of fires. Instead, extinguishers usually use chemicals designed to extinguish fires more effectively.
Dry chemical: This common type of extinguisher is best against class A, B, and C fires. You can purchase ‘multipurpose dry chemicals’ or ‘sodium bicarbonate’ fire extinguishers. The latter is better for class B and C fires.
Carbon Dioxide: Liquid carbon dioxide can also be used to extinguish a fire. These are more environmentally friendly, but especially effective against A and B class fires only.
The last word
Some fire extinguishers can be charged when the pressure gets low, assuming there is no other damage to the unit. Likewise, if you are using the extinguisher, you may be able to charge it instead of replacing it.
Even in pristine condition, a fire extinguisher should be replaced every 12 years and may need to be after 6.
Anyone who lights candles, cooks often, or just has matches around the house can benefit from having a fire extinguisher nearby. But in certain situations they are absolute must-haves.
Fire extinguishers aren’t just for home use. Read more about using it as part of aand for you safe or safer.