All homes should have a fire extinguisher. Smoke detectors can alert you to the presence of fire, but a fire extinguisher can extinguish small flames before they get out of control. However, these lifesaving devices contain hazardous materials under high pressure, so knowing how to dispose of an expired fire extinguisher is critical for your safety.
When a fire extinguisher expires, it transforms from a reliable safety tool to a potential hazard. An expired unit is a serious fire hazard, as it might give you a false sense of security. This guide will explore the steps and considerations for properly disposing of a fire extinguisher that has outlasted its usefulness.
Read on to discover what you should do with an expired fire extinguisher.
How Long Do Fire Extinguishers Last?
Fire extinguishers are an essential element of your fire prevention plan and fire safety in general. But how long do they last? Like perishable food, fire extinguishers have expiration dates, and disregarding them is simply asking for trouble. Typically, a fire extinguisher lasts between 5 and 15 years, assuming it is in good working condition.
If you are unfamiliar with the concept of expiration dates on fire extinguishers, you may be unsure where to find the particular date. Many of these firefighting apparatus don’t have expiration dates. As such, you’ll need to extrapolate from the date of manufacturing printed on the canister, label, or near the plastic ring on the neck. This should help you determine the extinguisher’s age.
If you cannot locate the manufacturing date, your best practice may be to dispose of it and acquire a new unit. It never hurts to play safe if you think your extinguisher may be past its prime. Even if you can’t find either of these dates, there are many ways to determine whether you should replace your old unit with a new one. If your extinguisher has dents or bumps and is missing the tamper seal or pin, replace it immediately.
This guide will discuss when to retire these essential safety devices later. But first, let’s explore the factors affecting the longevity of fire extinguishers.
- Types of fire extinguishers
There are different fire extinguishers, each engineered to fight specific classes of fires. The extinguishing materials and mechanisms inside these devices contribute to their lifespan. For example, a dry chemical fire extinguisher has a life expectancy of 5 to 15 years, whereas a CO2 extinguisher has a limited lifespan of 5 to 10 years.
- Maintenance and inspection
Regular maintenance and inspections are crucial for prolonging a fire extinguisher’s life. Many extinguishers have pressure gauges, which must be examined monthly to check that they are in the operational range. Besides, professional inspections, usually done annually, help address issues that can compromise the fire extinguisher’s functionality.
- Exposure to environmental factors
The environment in which you store your extinguisher can affect its lifespan. Humidity, high temperatures, and exposure to corrosive chemicals can lead to wear and tear. You can avoid this by practicing proper storage and placement in easily accessible areas.
- Expiry dates
Most fire extinguishers have a stamped expiration date, which is determined depending on the manufacturer’s guidelines and takes into account the expected lifespan of the dousing agent inside. Knowing and complying with these dates is important because an expired extinguisher cannot perform as expected in an emergency.
- Technological advances
Advancements in fire safety technology can affect your fire extinguisher’s lifespan. Newer models incorporate improved materials and design, offering extended usability than their predecessors. Being informed about these developments can guide decisions when updating or replacing fire extinguishers.
How to Dispose Of Fire Extinguishers
Disposing of a fire extinguisher needs careful consideration because of the potential risks associated with its contents. Once you’ve determined that you have an expired or damaged fire extinguisher, use the following general guidelines to dispose of it safely.
- Give it a Refill
Check to see if you can refill your extinguisher before throwing it away. All extinguishers made entirely of metal can be refilled or recharged, regardless of what the extinguisher was originally filled with. Your local fire department will provide information on how to refill and recharge in your region.
You can also find fire extinguisher recharging companies online. When recharging, the extinguisher is given a once-over to ensure it is in great condition and complies with current construction and operation requirements.
- Recycle your unit
Most fire extinguisher bodies are made of steel, a recyclable material. If your extinguisher is empty, squeeze the handle to ensure the device holds no pressure, and detach the plastic top and trigger.
Take the extinguisher to any recycling facility, preferably one that processes steel. If the unit is full or partly full, your local fire department can discharge it for you accordingly.
- Throw it away
Consult your local waste management facility to see if it accepts discharged fire extinguishers with household trash. If the extinguisher still indicates pressure on its gauge, take it to a safe place and gently squeeze its trigger. Let it stay for a day or two to completely discharge before wrapping it in a trash bag for disposal with household trash.
Note: Water and carbon dioxide extinguishers typically present no environmental threats during disposal. Some jurisdictions also allow dry chemical and halon extinguisher disposal with household trash.
However, this only applies if the unit is empty. Others consider these types of extinguishers dangerous, whether full or not. If so, take your unit to a local hazardous waste center for safe disposal.
Caution: Be very careful when dealing with and disposing of older fire extinguishers. Collectors often value those models made before 1960, though they can be dangerous. Such extinguishers may have carbon tetrachloride.
Carbon tetrachloride functions very well as a fire extinguisher, though it is a known carcinogen. Long-term exposure is fatal if the chemical is inhaled or absorbed through the skin. Knowing this, you should contact your local fire department for guidance on safely transporting and disposing of them.
Can You Reuse Fire Extinguishers?
A fire extinguisher can be used more than once but should be recharged first. This applies even if you’ve only used it briefly to smother a small fire. Once the pin has been pulled and the trigger depressed, the canister can depressurize, rendering the extinguisher inoperable in the event of a future emergency. Experts recommend recharging, repinning, and reusing a fire extinguisher only once, then disposing of it in line with local regulations.
Home-use extinguishers should be inspected and recharged every six to twelve years, regardless of whether they have been used or not. This should be done at a certified fire equipment dealer or a firehouse.
Confirm the expiration date on your unit, which is often stamped on the body. If it has reached the end of its useful days, the unit is no longer usable and should be discarded to avoid giving a false sense of security. When you have a fire outbreak, you don’t want to rely on an expired unit that can be ineffective in extinguishing flames.
- Facts about fire extinguishers
There are numerous things to understand regarding the use of a fire extinguisher. A fire extinguisher will discharge its contents from 5 to 20 feet. They typically contain 10 to 20 pounds of the extinguishing agent, such as a dry chemical. That amount is enough to put out a small fire, which can be used up between 10 and 25 seconds. The spray will stop after releasing the trigger. One-time-use fire extinguishers are lightweight and are commonly used for emergencies that occur quickly, like around the kitchen stove.
- What Voids a Fire Extinguisher
The following aspects can limit the lifespan of a fire extinguisher:
- Incorrect storage
There are correct and incorrect ways to store your fire extinguisher. Contrary to popular belief, fire extinguishers must always be installed upright. What if you store your pressurized or nonpressurized extinguisher on its side? This might comprise the canister’s discharge system, rendering it inoperable when needed.
- Extreme temperatures
Fire extinguishers are not immune to extreme temperatures. While these lifesaving devices don’t typically explode when they overheat (due to the safety release valve that lets them discharge their contents), they can be damaged and cease functioning properly. Temperatures exceeding 120 degrees are known to compromise the elastomeric seals, reducing the extinguisher’s lifespan.
Fire extinguisher valves and hoses will crack in freezing temperatures (below -40 degrees), and some extinguishers may even freeze. Humid environments should also be avoided, as they can cause rust and corrosion.
- Damaged canister
Is your fire extinguisher punctured? Has it been crushed? Has the canister been tampered with, possibly through vandalism? Each can impair the extinguisher’s integrity, making it defective and needing replacement.
However, you’ll need to hire a certified technician to assess the fire extinguisher before replacing it. After all, it might just need to be recharged. The fire extinguisher should be completely replaced if the body has sustained significant damage.
When To Replace Your Home Fire Extinguisher
Sometimes, you should discard your fire extinguisher before it ends its valuable days. You don’t want a device on hand that can’t function when you need it most. Check below to discover the factors that influence the replacement of a fire extinguisher:
- Expiration date
Some fire extinguishers come with a stamped expiration date, which is determined by the manufacturer based on the anticipated lifespan of the extinguishing agent inside. It pays to be aware of and adhere to the expiration date, considering that an expired extinguisher cannot perform effectively during a fire emergency.
- Signs of damage
Conduct regular visual inspections of your unit to check for signs of damage, leakage, or corrosion. Check that the pressure gauge is within the operational range. Other signs that your fire extinguisher needs replacement include:
- The handle is wobbly or broken.
- The locking pin is missing or unsealed.
- The hang tag or inspection sticker is missing.
- The hose is cracked or blocked with debris.
- The fire extinguisher was mistakenly discharged.
If you come across any issues during inspections, replace your unit.
- Changes in weight
Some fire extinguishers come with a weight indicator. So, if there’s a significant weight change, there’s a leak or loss of pressure. If so, replace your unit to ensure it works as expected when needed.
- Technological advances
Keep abreast of technological advancements in fire safety. Newer fire extinguishers have advanced features and materials, delivering better performance and longevity. Consider upgrading your extinguisher if it’s outdated compared to the newest innovations.
- How Often Should Fire Extinguishers Be Professionally Serviced and Inspected?
Homeowners and business owners must have all fire extinguishers professionally inspected annually. However, they are also responsible for performing a monthly visual check of each fire extinguisher.
The maintenance and replacement of a fire extinguisher is based on the type of extinguisher. Wet chemical extinguishers must be tested every five years or so. Dry chemical models should be hydrostatically tested after 12 years, with general maintenance every six years.
- What to Anticipate During an Inspection
Annual maintenance requirements from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) require an inspection of the physical condition of a fire extinguisher along with the seals or tamper indicators. The logic of a physical inspection is to identify physical damage, corrosion, or nozzle blockage.
The fire extinguisher technician will also check that the operating instructions are legible and facing forward. They will also detach the tamper seal. If your unit is non-rechargeable, the tamper indicator won’t be removed. A newly listed tamper seal should be installed after the maintenance.
Home Maintenance Practices for Fire Extinguishers
Most fires start small enough to be quickly smothered with a fire extinguisher. This makes fire extinguishers your first line of defense against fire hazards, and proper maintenance is essential for your property’s safety. But what should you do to ensure your unit functions when needed?
Before we explore that query, here is a critical reminder: if a fire ignites, call the fire department immediately; after that, decide if you can handle the flames; if the flames are as tall as you, evacuate and wait for the fire brigade to arrive.
Here are some key home maintenance practices for fire extinguishers:
- Read the Manual
Always read and understand the manufacturer’s guidelines offered in the user manual. This information is vital for appropriate use, maintenance, and recommendations for your extinguisher model.
- Regular Inspection
Make it a habit to conduct visual inspections monthly. Look for signs of damage, leakage, or corrosion. Make sure the pressure falls within the operational range. Any irregularities discovered during inspections should prompt further action.
- Have Extinguishers Serviced Annually
Hire a reputable fire extinguisher maintenance company to perform the inspection and service. The inspector should check that the unit is in excellent condition and will recharge, repair, or replace any extinguisher as needed. The inspector will also leave a tag on each fire extinguisher indicating when it was inspected and that it has been serviced accordingly.
- Expiry date Awareness
Know your extinguisher’s expiry date. Some fire extinguishers feature a stamped date, indicating when to replace or recharge them. Be sure to replace your extinguisher before or on the expiration date to ensure it has a functional dousing agent.
- Pressure Check
For fire extinguishers with pressure gauges, examine the gauge regularly to confirm the pressure is in the recommended range. If the gauge needs replacement or recharging, take immediate action.
Make sure your fire extinguishers are mounted in accessible areas. Refrain from placing these lifesaving devices behind obstacles or in places where they’ll easily be overlooked. Everyone in your household or workplace must know their location. Don’t place extinguishers on high shelves where they’ll be challenging to access in an emergency.
- Shake it Around
When fire extinguishers sit for an extended period, the chemicals inside often settle to the bottom of the canister. The worst thing to occur in a fire is discovering that your extinguisher is not functioning. So, shake around the dry chemicals in your fire extinguisher monthly to keep the contents from settling and hardening at the bottom of the canister.
- Clean Exterior
Always clean your extinguisher’s exterior to remove dust, dirt, or anything that may obstruct critical information or damage the casing.
The Importance of Regular Maintenance
Owning a fire extinguisher is not enough; regular maintenance is vital for ensuring it functions appropriately. One of the major selling points of regular maintenance is it ensures your device is ready for use, as it involves pressure checks and refills.
What’s more? Fire extinguishers can be clogged, or their components might degrade over time. Regular maintenance allows for inspections and repairs to keep them in optimal working order. Lastly, maintenance offers you a chance to teach yourself and your family how to use the fire extinguisher safely.
Using a Fire Extinguisher
Using a fire extinguisher is relatively easy if you master the acronym PASS, which means pull, aim, squeeze, and sweep. Here’s how to use a fire extinguisher:
Pull the pin, usually attached to a tamper seal, to prevent accidentally squeezing the lever. When pulling the pin at the top of the extinguisher, be careful not to squeeze the lever or tamper with the canister’s seal, as decompression will start.
Aim the nozzle at the base of the fire. It’s advisable to target the source of the fire instead of the flames themselves. Stand safely from the fire, depending on your extinguisher model. Extinguishers range from 5 to 20 feet, so examine your unit for specifics.
Squeeze the lever to discharge the dousing agent. Maintain a firm grip on the fire extinguisher while executing this. The pressure from squeezing the lever activates the dousing agent and propels it towards the base of the fire.
Sweep the hose from side to side, covering the base of the fire but keeping a safe distance from the flames. A sweeping motion is crucial as it extinguishes the fire by evenly applying the dousing agent.
- Safety First: Before reaching for your fire extinguisher, ensure you’re in a safe space with a clear escape route. If the fire is uncontrollable, evacuate and seek professional assistance from the fire brigade.
- Know Your Limits: Fire extinguishers are meant to put out small fires. If the fire spreads rapidly, don’t fight it; instead, call 911.
- Choose the Appropriate Extinguisher: Different types of fire extinguishers are designed to combat a specific class of fire. Ensure you have the right unit for the class of fire you’re facing.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1. Can I throw an expired fire extinguisher in the trash?
It’s not recommended to dispose of your extinguisher in typical household waste. Fire extinguishers contain pressurized materials and chemicals that can endanger the environment. To guarantee safety, it would be better to follow the correct disposal procedures.
Q2. Why is it important to discard an expired fire extinguisher?
Fire extinguishers have a short lifespan, and their dousing agents can deteriorate over time, rendering them ineffective. Discarding expired fire extinguishers ensures you have a reliable firefighting apparatus in an emergency.
Q3. Can I recycle my expired fire extinguisher
Some components of a fire extinguisher are recyclable, though it depends on the materials used. Consult with local recycling centers to see whether they accept specific fire extinguisher parts.
Knowing how to dispose of an expired fire extinguisher is crucial for preventing environmental harm. Here’s what you should do: first, reach out to your local waste management facility to inquire about the safe disposal methods in your region. They will guide you on safely discarding the extinguisher according to local regulations.
If your unit is still operational and within its lifespan, donate it to a fire department that accepts used fire extinguishers. They might refurbish or reuse it, preventing it from going to waste.