Replacing old smoke detectors is a key part of fire safety, but knowing how to properly dispose of old or expired smoke alarms and fire extinguishers is also important. Some fire detectors and extinguishers can contain hazardous materials that need to be disposed of with care.
How to Dispose of Smoke Detectors
- Identify what type of smoke detector you have —some alarms contain radioactive material, which by law must have a warning label somewhere on the device. Typically, ionization smoke detectors rely on a radioactive material called Americum-241, which is considered safe for human exposure when used properly in detectors, unless it is tampered with. Detectors containing Americium-241 should not be thrown in the trash since breakage or incineration may cause environmental harm and can set off radiation detection alarms.
- Once you’ve identified your alarm type, you can determine whether it can be disposed of in household garbage. If it can, remove your smoke detector from its placement and remove any batteries. The batteries should be disposed of separately if you’re throwing your smoke alarm in the residential trash. Verify with your local municipality regarding disposal ordinances before disposing of an alarm.
- Some manufacturers will accept returned smoke detectors that have reached end-of-life. They may even provide free or affordable take-back programs. Usually only residential, intact alarms without batteries will be accepted.
- Install a new smoke detector to replace the old. Having a functional alarm is important to help protect a household during the event of a fire.
Note that fire alarms should not be recycled. For more information about your specific alarm, refer to your user’s manual.
How to Dispose of a Fire Extinguisher
Although disposing of fire extinguishers in a regular household bin is not advised, many municipalities have fire extinguisher recycling facilities or local hazardous waste programs. These programs can take pressurized metal containers like fire extinguishers and propane tanks and dispose of them safely. To find a fire extinguisher disposal center near you, search on Earth911.com. These facilities can typically also accept other hazardous waste like paint, batteries, cleaning products, and other items.
Since fire extinguishers have specific disposal requirements, your local fire department may also accept old extinguishers, or provide you with the right disposal method for fire safety products.
If you have any concerns or doubts, we recommend contacting your local fire department to verify compliance with any jurisdictional ordinances or requirements before disposing of smoke detectors, heat alarms, carbon monoxide alarms, and fire extinguishers.