House fires are not uncommon and can have life-threatening consequences. Quick action taken with a fire extinguisher will help protect the lives of you and your family, in addition to reducing the risk of sustaining significant damage to your dwelling. Having a fire extinguisher in the home is also required by law in many states.
It is important to note that fire extinguishers may not put out a fire completely. An extinguisher can put out small fires, or contain them before the firefighters arrive, while those in the home move to a safe area. Many people can put out small fires quite safely, however, serious injury or death can occur by attempting to put out a fire that is beyond the capabilities of a fire extinguisher. You should only tackle a fire if it’s in its very early stages.
With a reliable extinguisher in the home, you can address this emergency if it arises—on the other hand, this tool offers peace of mind, even if you never have to use it. There are many extinguishers on the market, each intended for specific types of fires. So, which is the best fire extinguisher for your home? This guide will outline classes of fires and corresponding extinguishers, shopping considerations for extinguishers, and recommendations for top-performing models, to help you to incorporate one into your home’s fire safety plan.
- BEST OVERALL: Amerex B500, 5lb ABC Dry Chemical Extinguisher
- RUNNER UP: Kidde 21005779 Pro 210 Fire Extinguisher, ABC
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Kidde FA110 Multi Purpose Fire Extinguisher
- BEST CAPACITY: Labelmaster 10lb ABC Dry Chemical Fire Extinguisher
- BEST FOR THE CAR: Amerex B417T – 2.5 Pound Dry Chemical Fire Extinguisher
- BEST FOR THE KITCHEN: First Alert Kitchen Fire Extinguisher
- BEST FOR ELECTRICAL FIRES: Kidde 466180 Pro 5 Carbon Dioxide Fire Extinguisher
Classes of Fire Extinguishers
There are four classes of fires that occur within the home, which are categorized based on the source of the fire. All fires require fuel to combust, and oxygen is necessary for most combustion reactions to occur. By smothering the flames, most extinguishers work to cut the fuel off from the oxygen around it, either to put out or contain the fire.
Household fire extinguishers consist of a pressure tank, containing a propellant gas, and a separate chamber for a suppressing agent. They come in four classes, corresponding with the classes of fires. Extinguishers can contain water, powder, foam, or non-flammable gas to smother the flames, depending on the source of the fire.
It is highly important to choose the right type of fire extinguisher for your home. Using the wrong type of suppressing agent can be ineffectual at containing the fire, or may worsen it. Read on to learn about the different classes of fires in the home and the extinguishers that help to put them out.
Class A fire extinguishers correspond with Class A fires, which contain ordinary combustible materials. A candle knocked over a piece of furniture or a partially lit cigarette burning in a trash can, are all examples of Class A fires. These fires often include materials such as:
Non-chemical Class A extinguishers use water to extinguish fires. Other extinguishers in this category contain a monoammonium phosphate foam or powder on the base of the fire to suffocate it. These extinguishers do not instantly cool a fire, they simply remove oxygen. For this reason, if the burning material is jostled or stirred, as can be the case if the fire appears to have been extinguished, there’s potential for a second flare up.
Class B extinguishers contain fires consisting of flammable chemicals and liquids, including cooking grease and oils, though only if these kitchen fires are small scale. They’re most common in garages and workshops, as well as boilers and furnace rooms. Class B fires often include combustibles such as:
- Petroleum greases
- Gasoline/Propane/Natural gas/Kerosene
Since these fires are often liquid in nature, attempting to smother them is not feasible—they’ll simply spread before the chemical can block out the oxygen. Instead, Type B fire extinguishers use a sodium bicarbonate foam or powder, which induces a chemical reaction that extinguishes the fire.
Class C extinguishers are intended for putting out fires that occur when an electrical device or wiring ignites. It’s important to understand that if a device is energized (still plugged-in or powered by a battery), it requires a different approach to extinguish it safely. Class C fires involve devices including:
- Data equipment
- Other appliances
Spraying water on a Class C fire can lead to disastrous results, as there is the potential for electrocution. For this reason, Class C extinguishers typically use non-flammable carbon dioxide gas to smother and cool an electrical fire, providing enough time for someone to deactivate the power source, if the fire is in its early stages.
Class D extinguishers deal with an uncommon type of fire in the home, though these fires do occur. Class D fires involve combustible metals, which are highly reactive with water. Attempting to put a metal-induced fire out with a water source can cause violent explosions and lead to the fire spreading to other non-metal combustible materials nearby. Fires in this class most often involve a fuel source such as:
To fight a Class D fire, the extinguisher requires a chemical that removes oxygen from the equation but will not react with metal. Class D extinguishers use powder forms of graphite, sodium chloride, or copper. These materials smother the burning material, preventing oxygen from getting to the fuel source.
Multi-class extinguishers are formulated to extinguish or contain fires in two or more classes. ABC fire extinguishers are commonly placed in the home and in vehicles, to address the corresponding three classes of fire. BC fire extinguishers are appropriate for kitchens, workshops, garages, and boiler rooms since these areas often have the potential for both chemical or liquid fires, as well as electrical.
What to Consider When Buying a Fire Extinguisher
While it might seem like the best approach is to keep a complete set of fire extinguishers, it’s not practical—and the cost adds up. When adding a fire extinguisher to your fire safety plan, there are some important factors to keep in mind. Take note of these shopping considerations to help you find the fire extinguisher that is most appropriate for your needs.
Type & Location of Fire
The location and types of fire are very important considerations when choosing your fire extinguisher. An ABC extinguisher will effectively extinguish or contain fires in most places inside of the home. These extinguishers can handle most combustible materials, with the exception of flammable metals, and provide members of the household with enough time to get to safety. In short, ABC fire extinguishers can tackle some of the most common fires in the home.
BC extinguishers can tackle most kitchen fires, but there are still elements worth thinking about. For one, most folks don’t want a fire extinguisher on display in their kitchen, so you need to find a place to mount an extinguisher that is close by and easily accessible while out of sight. Also, kitchen fires are usually on stoves or countertops, and a large fire extinguisher can be difficult to lift that high for some people. For both of these reasons, a small fire extinguisher that you can install in a kitchen cabinet and is easy to use on a stove is the best way to go.
The National Fire Protection Association suggests that families locate fire extinguishers where they are easy to grab within seconds. Fires can double in size every 30 seconds, so it’s important to get to them quickly. Central locations like hallways and main living spaces are ideal locations. You should also keep at least one fire extinguisher on every floor. On your main floor, the most important location is the kitchen, one of the most common places for fires to begin.
Pro Tip: Don’t install or keep your fire extinguisher above or next to your stove. As this is the most likely place for a fire to begin, a blaze will make it difficult for you to reach your extinguisher. Instead, place your extinguisher at least a few feet away, so you can step back, compose yourself, and grab your extinguisher.
Maintenance & Refills
Fire extinguishers do require maintenance and refills. Professional fire extinguisher inspectors check commercial extinguishers annually and improve the available models approximately every 6 years. The inspectors check the pressure gauges and “thump” the bottom of dry chemical extinguishers to loosen up the settled powder. Fire extinguisher inspectors also have the bottle pressure tested to ensure there are no leaks.
These are good policies to follow with your extinguisher. Note that the extinguishers mentioned above are generally commercial grade, which makes them easy to service and refill. Homeowner-style extinguishers are neither and generally of lesser quality. It’s most cost-effective to simply replace them.
Size & Weight
Fire extinguishers come in a variety of weights, such as 2.5, 4, 5, 10, and 20 pounds. These values represent how much suppressing agent the bottles hold. The additional weight of the bottle, stem, head, and hose are not factored into the weight.
For most household purposes, 5-pound fire extinguishers are sufficient. In a garage setting, it is better to use a 10-pound extinguisher since you’ll likely have more storage space, and there are more combustibles in a garage (think chemicals, rags, and scrap wood). On the other hand, 2.5-pound extinguishers are perfect for vehicles.
When it comes to the physical bottles, they all have a similar shape and size relative to volume. While it may seem that bigger is better, large extinguishers can be challenging to store and handle. Finding an extinguisher that fits where you need it is key.
Our Top Picks
With those shopping considerations in mind, you’ll likely have a better sense of what to look for to find the best fire extinguisher for your home. You’ll find an extinguisher on the list for the most important locations, and in sizes that you can handle easily to get you and your family to safety.
Tips for Using a Fire Extinguisher
While fire extinguishers put out fires, anyone in the fire safety industry would tell you that if your home is on fire, you should use your extinguisher to clear a path to safety for you and your family. Regardless of their size, fires are dangerous, and it’s best to get outside and allow professionals to handle the situation.
When using a fire extinguisher, you should follow the P.A.S.S. system:
- P – Pull the pin
- A – Aim the nozzle at the base of the fire
- S – Squeeze the handle (or trigger in some cases)
- S – Sweep back and forth with the nozzle, extinguishing the fire before escaping to safety.
You should only use a fire extinguisher once before discarding it or taking it for service. Dry chemical will cling to the grease on the valve seal, and allow the nitrogen that charges the bottle to escape. Carbon dioxide detectors don’t use gauges, so you can’t be sure how well they’re charged or how full they are.
- Use your fire extinguisher to get you and your family to safety
- Use the P.A.S.S. system to extinguish a fire
- Only use an extinguisher once before replacing or servicing
FAQ About Fire Extinguishers
Below, you’ll find the most frequently asked questions and answer regarding fire extinguishers. If you have more questions, many local fire departments offer fire safety training. They’re a great resource for learning about how to keep your family safe and implement a fire safety plan. They’ll be more than happy to help and answer your questions.
Q. What is inside a fire extinguisher?
You’ll find water, dry chemical powder, wet chemical foam, or carbon dioxide inside a fire extinguisher. It depends on the type of extinguisher.
Q. How do you use an extinguisher?
Use the P.A.S.S. system: Pull, Aim, Squeeze, Sweep. This is the best method for extinguishing a fire.
Q. How long does a fire extinguisher last?
Fire extinguishers have a usable lifespan of 5-15 years, but it’s better to take them for servicing earlier than this.
Q. How do you dispose of a fire extinguisher?
You should take your extinguisher to a hazardous waste disposal center. Call your county office to find out the location nearest to you.
Virginia Hoff is a former police officer with over 20 years experience, and currently acts as the Senior Security Writer for Be-Safe.org.
Her expertise include Home Security and Family Protection.