Between 2014 and 2018, US fire departments responded to more than 350,000 house fires. That accounts for more than 25% of all fires in the country. Unsurprisingly, cooking and smoking are the most common reasons for residential fires; smoking fires cause more deaths. Given that many fires start in the kitchen with grilling or frying gone wrong, a working fire extinguisher can mean the difference between containment and calling 911.
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 more about how to properly maintain a fire extinguisher in your home and when to buy a new one.
Knowing how to use a fire extinguisher (point, aim, squeeze and sweep) is only half the battle. Maintenance habits are also a vital 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for your extinguisher in an emergency only to find that the pin is missing, the handle is unstable or the canister is outdated.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 legally required in businesses and many multi-family properties, but it's just smart. Even single-family homes benefit from following the right protocols.
How long can a fire extinguisher last?
The average lifespan of a fire extinguisher is 10-12 years. This assumes that the extinguisher hasn't been broken, corroded or otherwise damaged while you've had it.
If you store the fire extinguisher in extreme temperatures (below -40 degrees or above 120 degrees Fahrenheit) or key components get broken -- the unit may not last a full decade.
How should you maintain a fire extinguisher?
In order to maximize the lifespan of your extinguisher, you should do a periodic inspection. Check your unit 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 tamper seal and locking pin are intact
- Look inside the nozzle to spot any 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 operable (green) range
- Feel the handle to ensure it's not wobbly or broken
- Push the pressure pin in; it should pop back up to signal proper pressurization
In addition to keeping your fire extinguisher within the proper temperature range, here are some other tips for proper maintenance:
- Clean the outside of the fire extinguisher when you inspect it; extinguishers should remain free of dirt, oil and grease
- Don't allow the unit to get dented, especially around the nozzle and handle
- Keep a written record of when you check the fire extinguisher and record the pressure
- Always keep the fire extinguisher in the same, easy-to-reach place away from chemicals and heat
When should you throw out a fire extinguisher?
In some cases, you should throw your fire extinguisher away before it reaches the end of the recommended lifespan. You don't want to keep a unit on hand that can't perform when you need it!
In these circumstances, you should replace your fire extinguisher right away instead of waiting until the 12-year mark:
- If there is a product recall for your fire extinguisher, follow the manufacturer's instructions for getting a refund/replacement right away
- A broken pin is a sign that you need an immediate replacement
- When the handle on the fire extinguisher becomes unstable (such as wiggling from side to side) you may need a total replacement
- Slow pressure loss over time is also a sign that there may be something wrong, such as a leak, that necessitates replacing your unit
- Visible corrosion is a very bad sign and should be taken seriously
- A cracked hose will make it hard or impossible for your extinguisher to fire properly, so you should get a new one
It's important to keep in mind that fire extinguishers can't be fixed part by part. Something like a safety inspection tag can be replaced -- but other broken parts warrant buying a new extinguisher in most cases.
What types of fires can extinguishers handle?
You also need to make sure the fire extinguisher you have can handle the type of fire you're most likely to experience. Fires are divided into "classes." These groupings are based on what causes the fire.
Class A fires: These are fires caused by common materials like wood and paper.
Class B fires: This type of fire is associated with combustible 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 likely to happen 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 may occur in a common kitchen.
Your fire extinguisher will be labeled with the type of fires it is designed to put out. While many fire extinguishers are labeled for "ABC" fires, you may want to make sure a "K" class fire is covered by your unit if you like cooking with fat.
What are the types of fire extinguishers?
Did you know not all fire extinguishers are filled with the same chemical? While water extinguishers exist, they actually spread the flames in most types of fires. Instead, extinguishers most often use chemicals designed to snuff out fire more effectively.
Dry chemical: This common type of extinguisher is best against A, B, and C class fires. You can buy either "multi-purpose dry chemical" or "sodium bicarbonate" extinguishers. The latter is better on B and C class fires.
Carbon dioxide: Liquid carbon dioxide can also be used to put out a fire. These are more environmentally friendly, but primarily effective against only A and B class fires.
The final word
Some fire extinguishers can be recharged if the pressure gets low, assuming there is no other damage to the unit. Likewise, if you use the extinguisher, you may be able to recharge it rather than replacing it.
Even in pristine condition, a fire extinguisher should be replaced every 12 years and may need to be recharged after 6.
Anyone who lights candles, cooks often or just has matches in the house can benefit from a nearby fire extinguisher. But they are absolute must-haves in certain situations.
Fire extinguishers aren't just for home use, either. Read more about using them as part of aand to keep your safe or safer.