How to Test a Smoke Detector
“Deaths from fires and burns are the fifth most common cause of unintentional injury deaths in the United States (this is not so, the CDC has very poor records for 2005) and the third leading cause of fatal home injury (Runyan 2004)”.
The widespread use of smoke detectors in home has resulted in significant reductions of injuries and deaths from house fires. You can cut the chance that you or someone that you love will die in a house fire simply by installing these inexpensive devices in your home. However, the only smoke detector that can help you survive is the one that is properly functioning. Like all electronic devices, they can fail. The only way to be sure that your smoke alarm will work when you need it is to test it periodically.
1. Alert all members of your household that you are testing the alarm first, unless you would like to use the opportunity for a fire drill.If your smoke detector is hardwired to a monitored security system, be sure to notify the security system’s company that you are performing a test before you test the alarm. You don’t want the fire department showing up at your door!
- Smoke detectors have a reliable service life of ten years. After ten years, replace the smoke detector with a new one.
- A few times a year, use a vacuum cleaner (hand-held or full-sized with extension tube) to gently remove dust from the slots cut into the unit’s cover.Dust in those slots could slow the entry of smoke and interfere with early detection of a fire.
- Never decorate any part of a smoke alarm (including the outer cover) with paint, stickers, hanging objects, etc. This can impair function.
- If you move into a home with existing smoke detectors of an unknown age, look at the manufacturer’s label on the back of the device. It might display a date of manufacture and you can use that date to calculate the device’s age. If you cannot find a date of manufacture, replace the unit with a new one as soon as possible.
- Most manufacturers recommend testing the detector weekly. The push button test is sufficient for this. Use the aerosol test gas a few times per year to ensure proper airflow into the detector.
- Wear ear protection when you test the smoke alarm. It’s very loud and you will be right next to it when you’re testing it.
- It is dangerous to test a smoke detector using flame. It is safer to use an aerosol test spray. However:
- No smoke detector can sound the alarm instantly. The fire will grow and spread before the alarm sounds. Consequently, when an alarm sounds, you MUST get yourself and everyone else in your home out as quickly as possible. In a house fire, the difference between death and survival is often measured in minutes; sometimes seconds.
- Never try to test a smoke alarm with any aerosol spray other than one specifically manufactured for that purpose. Other types of sprays contain material that will stick to the sensor, and make the device less reliable in the future.
- Do not use candles or incense to test a smoke detector. The smoke produced by candles and incense contain waxy or oily particles that can contaminate the sensor and reduce its sensitivity.
- Laws in your jurisdiction probably specify how one must dispose of outdated and unreliable smoke detectors. Check the rules that apply in your area, and dispose of old and unreliable detectors properly.
- An alarm of any sort is merely a signaling device, it does not make the danger go away. In order to survive, you and your household must take action. Make a fire escape plan, discuss it with everyone in your home (including children) and practice it.
- All the test button does is check the BATTERY and HORN. It does NOT check the smoke sensor.