Why and How to Clean Your Smoke Detectors


A smoke detector is a device that detects the presence of smoke, typically as an indicator of fire.

Smoke Detectors that are properly installed and maintained play a critical role in reducing home fire deaths and injuries.

Smoke detectors (smoke alarms) generally come in two designs based on the type of smoke sensors they use: “photo-electric” sensors or “ionization” sensors. A photo-electric detector uses a tiny light source that shines on a light-sensitive sensor. The alarm is triggered when smoke particles from a fire breaks the beam of light. An ionization detector uses an extremely small quantity of radioactive material to make the air inside the smoke detector conduct electricity. Smoke particles from a fire interfere with the electrical current and therefore triggers the alarm.

Routine Care

Clean and test

Smoke detectors are a very important safety device. Cleaning helps ensure better operations, and testing helps to ensure that the unit is operating properly.

Timing: Every 6 months: March, August (yearly)

Replace batteries

Batteries deteriorate over time and need to be replaced to ensure proper operation of the smoke detector.

Timing: August (yearly)

Replace smoke detectors

The units will accumulate significant levels of dust, dirt, and debris and cannot be safely serviced by you.

Timing: July (every 10 years)

How To

Clean smoke detectors using a vacuum cleaner attachment to remove dust and cobwebs.

If possible, carefully vacuum inside the unit as well. Press the test button on the smoke detector to see if the alarm goes off.

Depending on the manufacture of your unit, the button may only test the warning sound, but may not check the internal smoke detection circuitry. Some units, however, have more sophisticated test systems that simulate the presence of smoke in the chamber. Check the instructions of the detector to see if it has this feature.

Avoid lighting matches or candles under the detector to see is the alarm goes off, as repeated use of smoke to activate the detector can cause them to fail and not be available to operate during a real fire.

Check your manufacturer’s recommendations, but the battery in most smoke detectors should
be replaced once per year, even where the smoke detector is wired in and the battery acts only as a back-up power supply.

Smoke detectors should be replaced every 10 years, according to the International
Association of Fire Chiefs, the National Fire Protection Association, and the US Fire Administrator.


The benefits of this task are high, in that it helps to ensure the safe operation of your smoke detectors for protecting you and your home.


The cost of cleaning and testing is moderate from an investment of time standpoint. It is estimated that this task should only take about 30-60 minutes to complete, depending on the number of smoke detectors in your home. You will need a vacuum cleaner with an upholstery attachment to complete the task.

The cost of replacing batteries cost is low. It is estimated that this task should only take about 30 minutes to complete, and once you have done it once, the task is relatively easy to do. No specialized tools are required, but you will need to have purchased the appropriate size batteries for your units.

The cost of replacing the smoke detector is moderate, depending on how many smoke detectors that you have in your home.


Why and How to Clean Your Smoke Detectors

Hopefully, you are changing the batteries in your smoke detectors at least once a year. But did you know you should also clean your smoke detectors at least every six months? Dust, pollen, smoke can all make the sensor in your smoke detectors dirty and prevent them from operating properly in an emergency. This article explains why and how you should clean the smoke detectors in your home.


There are two basic types of smoke detectors: photoelectric, and ionization.

An ionization type smoke alarm uses a small amount of radioactive material to ionize air in the sensing chamber. A photoelectric type smoke alarm, in comparison, consists of a light emitting diode and a light sensitive sensor in the sensing chamber. Photoelectric smoke detectors are designed for detecting smoke where there is smoke but not necessarily flames. Photoelectric smoke detectors are the most widely used type of detector. Ionization type detectors work best for rapidly spreading fires in combustible materials, where there are lots of flames but little smoke. Ionization type detectors are often used in kitchens since they are less likely to be falsely triggered by cooking fumes.

Regardless of the type of smoke detector you have, it is critical that their sensors be clean so that they can properly respond to changes in the environment in your home. Over time, dust, pollen, pet dander, cooking vapors, smoke, etc. from the air in your home can begin to build upon the sensors in your smoke detectors. This build-up that forms over your sensors acts as an insulator which reduces the performance of these sensors (helpful accessory: dust wipes).

To make sure that your smoke detectors react properly in an emergency, it is critical that they be properly cleaned out.


Once every six months, we recommend that you clean your smoke detectors. Cleaning your smoke detectors involves two activities: 1) vacuuming out the unit; and 2) wiping down the outside vents.

To vacuum out the unit, you should follow your manufacturer’s recommendations for routine cleanings. Typically this will involve removing the face of the unit and then using a soft brush attachment for your vacuum cleaner to gently brush and vacuum the inside of your smoke detector (see types, costs, and reviews of vacuum cleaners).

In addition to vacuuming the inside of your smoke detector, you should also use a clean wipe and mild detergent to remove build-up from the outside of your unit. In particular, you will want to clean the vent openings, to ensure that airflow is not obstructed to the sensor inside the unit.

If you are not sure how to clean your smoke detector, you should at least vacuum the outside of the unit, which will draw air through the vents in the face of the unit.


We hope you never have a smoke detector go off in your home. But this should NOT be because your smoke detector failed to operate because the sensor was dirty. Hopefully, this article has convinced you of the importance of routinely cleaning your smoke detectors, and has helped you understand how to properly clean them.


Originally posted at http://www.petermuehlbronner.home-wizard.com/articleDet/art_smoke_clean

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