Smoke Detector Maintenance: An Important Reminder
Smoke alarms—more generally referred to as smoke detectors—help keep you and your home safe, offering constant, vigilant monitoring for this critical sign of fire danger. While it’s not always at the forefront of our minds, these potentially life-saving devices need regular attention to keep them fully functional, doing their best to safeguard you and your home. We recommend that you take a moment to learn how to maintain your device and be confident that your home is fully protected all year long.
Why is Smoke Detector Maintenance Necessary?
While different types of smoke detectors use different technologies to keep you and your home safe, they all require routine care to ensure optimal coverage and performance. No matter what type or types of smoke detectors you use in your home, without regular cleaning their sensors can be impeded and the alarm’s effectiveness reduced, rendering the unit less than 100% effective at alerting you if smoke starts collecting in your home. In addition to dust buildup and other airborne particles that can result from the presence of pets, pollen, or cooking vapors, even spiders and their webs can be a potential concern in your smoke detector locations.
- Can help reduce injuries and property damage in the case of a fire in your home
- Can save lives
- Should be tested regularly
- Should be cleaned routinely per manufacturer instructions
- Should be replaced periodically, per manufacturer directions and industry standards
Smoke Detector Maintenance Checklist
Consult The Owner’s Manual
First and foremost, make sure you have a copy of your smoke detectors’ owner’s manual/s. These come with your new detectors, but if you’ve misplaced yours, the information is just a quick internet search away. The manufacturer-provided manual will contain all the information you need, such as how often to clean your device, where the test button is located, and even cleaning tips. The frequency of recommended cleaning and testing varies, but in general, monthly testing and semi-annual cleaning is a safe baseline. Some manufacturers may suggest more or less frequent testing and cleaning. Depending on your home environment, cleaning the unit more often can be a good idea. When in doubt, clean and test more frequently, as opposed to the reverse approach.
Testing and Cleaning
Virtually all home smoke detectors have a test button located somewhere on the side or top of the unit, and by pressing the button, your device will test itself for proper functionality. With most units, you’ll hear a “beep” if things are working right. Again, refer to your owner’s manual for specific details.
To clean your device, your main tool will be a vacuum, using the soft brush attachment to avoid damaging the unit. A can of clean, compressed air such as many of us use for our computer keyboards and other home electronics can also be used. When cleaning the units, gently use the compressed air or vacuum attachment to remove dust from the vents and outside of your detector. In some cases, when visual inspection dictates additional cleaning, the manufacturer may instruct you to very carefully clean inside the small vents, using a cotton swab or even a thinly rolled paper towel to remove any remaining dust buildup. Be careful not to get carried away with your desire to do an extremely thorough job.
Sometimes, with the best of intentions, overzealous cleaning can lead to problems. This procedure must be performed very gently and without touching any of the elements or wiring inside the unit, to avoid potential damage. Moisture or household cleaners should NOT be used, as they can damage your device.
After you’re finished cleaning your smoke detector, the final step is reinstalling the device in its housing, as always per manufacturer printed instructions, followed by testing it to make sure it’s working properly.
Please make note, some smoke alarms also incorporate carbon monoxide (CO) detection in the same unit. In these cases, manufacturer instructions and recommendations may differ from a basic smoke detector.
When In Doubt, Consult a Professional Electrician
If you’re not sure if you are qualified to perform manufacturer-recommended testing or cleaning procedures, our team at Save Home Heat Company advises taking a step back and calling a professional electrician to take care of these important tasks for you. This work can often be done at the same time as routine inspections, or when other electrical maintenance, install or repair work is being done, saving you money as opposed to scheduling a separate service call.
Annual Maintenance and Beyond
For annual and long-term care, once again you’ll want to refer to your manufacturer’s user manual for your specific devices. The rule of thumb for yearly maintenance is to do your normal routine cleaning and also to replace the batteries, as recommended by the manufacturer (some batteries don’t require annual replacement). Lastly, check the manufactured date on your smoke detector. If your smoke detectors are older than 8-10 years, it’s time to replace them. The effectiveness and accuracy of the smoke sensors starts dropping off as the units get older. To more easily keep track, you could write the date your detector was installed with a permanent marker in an unobtrusive location on the unit. As always, when in doubt, replace the unit to be on the safe side.