Monthly Maintenance Reminder: Smoke Detectors

Monthly Maintenance Reminder: Smoke Detectors

Home Security
By Dikran Seferian January 27, 2022

Many cases of accidents related to house fires can be traced back to electrical fires, unattended cooking, and ignited upholstery. The common cause of a sizable portion of these incidents is a malfunctioning smoke detector — or the absence of one. The National Fire Protection Agency reports that three out of five deaths related to fire happen in living spaces with no smoke detectors or ones that don’t function properly. The agency also found out that half of the smoke detectors that did not go off during a fire incident had disconnected or missing batteries. House fires can occur at any given time. Checking up on your smoke alarm on a regular basis, and carrying out necessary maintenance procedures, ensures the safety of your home.

Why You Should Get Your Smoke Detectors Checked and Cleaned

To understand the importance of smoke detector maintenance, it is worth having an idea of how these crucial devices function. Smoke alarms normally come in two different types — photoelectric and ionization. While the latter ionizes the air in its sensing chamber by using a small amount of radioactive material, a photoelectric device contains a LED and a light-sensitive sensor in the chamber.

Smoke detectors of the ionization type are best suited for flames that spread quickly with minimal smoke. This type is commonly found in kitchens as there is little chance of it falsely going off due to cooking fumes. Photoelectric smoke alarms, on the other hand, are meant to detect smoke but not necessarily fire. These are more widely used among the two types.

Whether you have the ionization type or the photoelectric, keeping the sensors clean allows your device to properly react to any sign of a possible fire. As time passes, airborne particles such as pollen, dust, and pet dander can accumulate on the smoke detector’s sensor. This build-up blocks the sensor, reducing its effectiveness. Cleaning your smoke alarms every now and then — and changing their batteries just in case — will ensure that they respond properly in emergency situations.

How Often Should You Maintain Smoke Detectors

Smoke Alarm Maintenance Measures Worth Taking

Smoke Alarm Maintenance Measures Worth Taking

Guaranteeing the fire safety of your home doesn’t end with simply installing smoke detectors and forgetting about them. Regular maintenance of these devices goes a long way in making sure that they function properly when they need to. Common maintenance procedures that you can carry out yourself include cleaning the sensors, changing the batteries, and testing the device. 

How Often Should You Clean Smoke Detectors

Dust and other indoor particles can hinder the performance of your smoke detectors, which is why it’s critical to keep them clean. Consider performing a deep clean on a quarterly basis — monthly if you live in a dusty area. A more frequent cleaning (i.e. weekly) can involve lightly dusting the exterior of the device with a dry rag.

How Often Should You Change the Batteries of Non-Hardwired Smoke Alarms

When to Change the Batteries of Your Smoke Alarms?

When to Change the Batteries of Your Smoke Alarms?

Smoke detectors can be either hard-wired or battery operated. If your device is the latter, It’s important to change the batteries before they are dead. Given that a fire can happen at any time, it’s crucial that your smoke alarm is functional round the clock. To make sure of this, consider changing its batteries at least once or twice a year. One way to remember this task is by scheduling it on a well-known date such as the winter or summer solstice — or both if you decide on twice a year.

Tip: If you think the batteries still have some juice left in them, consider using them for non-essential appliances such as a remote control. When the batteries do eventually run out, the TV can wait, the smoke alarm can’t.

When Should You Test Your Smoke Detectors

Besides cleaning the smoke detector and changing its batteries, it’s also important to make sure that the device is properly functioning. This is done by running a test as soon as the appliance is installed and ready to go. It’s a good idea to do this with the entire household present in order for everyone to be familiar with the sound of the alarm. The preliminary testing is also a good opportunity to discuss evacuation plans with your family as part of a fire drill. Afterward, consider testing your smoke alarms on a monthly basis at the very least. Although certain smart detectors are designed to be self-testing, it’s still a good idea to manually test them once a month.

Smoke Alarm Maintenance Procedures You Need to Know

The fire safety of your home depends on several factors. Aside from taking other precautionary measures such as not leaving the stovetop unattended during meal preparation, one crucial factor is the proper maintenance of the smoke detectors. 

Cleaning Your Smoke Detectors

Cleaning a smoke detector typically involves vacuuming the device and wiping down the exterior vents. To vacuum your smoke alarm, consider checking the manufacturer’s instructions in regards to routine maintenance. This usually involves a rather straightforward process. You may basically have to open the face of the appliance and gently vacuum the interior of the unit using the soft brush attachment of the vacuum cleaner.

After vacuuming the inside of the device, you’ll need to use a clean piece of cloth and a mild detergent to get rid of any accumulation of dust particles on the unit’s exterior. You’ll specifically want to clear the vent openings so that the airflow to the sensor is not hindered by dirt.

If you’re not really sure how to clean your smoke alarm, or how to access the inside of the device, the very least you can do is vacuum it from the outside. This will essentially draw air through the vents of the unit, cleaning it as much as possible.

Testing Your Smoke Detectors

How to Test Your Home’s Smoke Alarms

How to Test Your Home’s Smoke Alarms

When testing a smoke alarm for the first time, you’ll want to make sure everyone you live with is at home. This way, they’d recognize the sound should the alarm ever go off. To avoid startling anyone, you’ll also want to make sure to let your family — especially children and the elderly — know that you’re about to test the smoke detector.

A good idea is to have someone stand at the furthest spot in the house away from the detector. This is crucial to make sure that the alarm is audible from every part of your living space. Should the sound be weak or muffled from a certain spot, consider installing an additional unit around that area.

Smoke detectors will normally feature a test button. Testing the unit involves simply pressing and holding this button for a few seconds until a high-pitched siren emanates from the device. A muffled or non-existent sound may indicate the need for battery replacement. If you haven’t changed the batteries for more than six months, consider doing it now regardless of whether the alarm is working or not; this applies to both battery-operated and hard-wired units. In the meantime, take the opportunity to check for any dust buildups that may prevent the alarm from working properly even with new batteries.

Note: Never test your smoke detector with actual flames, smoke, or exhaust. Doing so is seriously dangerous and may do more harm than good. You may, however, use a UL-certified liquid smoke detector tester (also called “canned smoke”).

When to Replace Your Smoke Detectors?

When to Replace Your Smoke Detectors?

Bear in mind that smoke detectors normally have a life span of ten years. Consider replacing your unit after nine or ten years of use even if you’ve regularly carried out maintenance, and even if the device is still working. You don’t want to wait until it stops functioning to install a new one — just as you wouldn’t wait for its batteries to die in order to change them.

The price of installing a new smoke detector can range from $70 to $150, with the majority of homeowners paying an average of $112 for a hard-wired unit. As for the overall cost of maintenance, expect it to be relatively low considering that you’d only be replacing batteries once or twice a year. The other maintenance procedures do not incur any costs worth accounting for.


Written by
Dikran Seferian

Written by Dikran Seferian