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Some people don’t like to think about things like car insurance and carbon monoxide detectors.
These things are important to have — though we all hope we never need to use them.
Fire extinguishers fit in that category, too. We know how important they are, but it can be difficult to bring yourself to buy something you never want to use.
However, the ability to extinguish a small fire before it grows into something ruinous is reason enough to find a great model.
Picking the right fire extinguisher involves more than just grabbing one off the shelf at the hardware store.
Certain models work well against certain combustibles, but not every fire extinguisher works everywhere.
We at BestReviews can help you understand the key components of picking a portable fire extinguisher. We’ve researched this topic extensively, coming up with five of the best models in our matrix, above.
You can count on our product evaluations to be trustworthy and unbiased, as we never accept free samples from manufacturers.
The information in our shopping guide below will help you make this important choice.
And even though we’re helping you pick a great fire extinguisher, we’re thinking the same thing you are. We hope you’ll never have to use it!
Using a class system, fire extinguishers are rated for the types of fires they can successfully battle. Attempting to use an extinguisher against a type of fire for which it is not rated could cause the fire to spread.
The fire extinguisher will be clearly marked with its class ratings, so it pays to understand the different classes. In addition, the cannister will have a graphic printed on it to indicate the types of fires for which it’s rated.
Class A: Paper, wood, and plastics fires are appropriate for a Class A extinguisher. The Class A graphic includes drawings of a burning trash can and a wood campfire. Most common solids are extinguishable with a Class A unit.
Class B: This type of extinguisher is designed for flammable liquids (including oils and gasoline) or flammable gases (including propane or methane). The Class B graphic includes a gas can.
You can associate Class A extinguishers with the most common types of fires, such as paper and wood.
Class C: Any fire that involves electrical appliances is appropriate for a Class C fire extinguisher. Fires involving motors or transformers would fit in this class. Metal appliances you’d use in the kitchen also fit in Class C. A drawing of an electrical plug and outlet are found on the Class C graphic.
Class D: Use this type of extinguisher on flammable metals, such as aluminum, sodium, or magnesium. The Class D graphic has a drawing of a gear on it. This would be a rare type of fire to have at your home.
Class K: A Class K fire extinguisher is rated for use with cooking oil fires. The drawing on the Class K graphic is of a cooking pan on fire. Class K is aimed more at restaurants and commercial kitchens. Homeowners should note that a Class B extinguisher can handle most residential kitchen fires.
Most fire extinguishers aimed at residential use will carry Class A, B, and/or C ratings. Class D and K fire extinguishers are aimed more at workplace and industrial locations. You could certainly purchase any type of extinguisher, but anything beyond A, B, and/or C is probably overkill for residential use.
Keep in mind that some extinguishers are able to fit into more than one type of class. For example, you’ll find plenty of extinguishers on the market from the likes of Kidde and Amerex that are A/B/C extinguishers.
Make sure you pick the right extinguisher for the situation. If you have a Class A-only fire extinguisher, keeping it in your car isn’t appropriate. Most car fires involve Class B.
The material included inside the fire extinguisher varies from unit to unit. It’s helpful, when trying to select the best fire extinguisher for your needs, to know what’s inside.
Carbon Dioxide: Carbon dioxide discharges at extremely cold temperatures, removing heat from the fire. It smothers the fire, preventing it from receiving additional oxygen. You’ll typically find carbon dioxide in Class B and C fire extinguishers.
Dry Chemical: This is the most common type of fire extinguisher sold for residential use. Effective at knocking down Class A, B, and C fires, it’s a versatile agent.
Dry Powder: You’ll rarely find dry powder in a fire extinguisher sold for residential use. It’s mainly sold for industrial settings as a Class D unit, as it’s not an effective material against other types of fires.
To use an extinguisher, use the PASS technique. First, you Pull the pin. Then Aim the extinguisher at the fire. Next, Squeeze the extinguisher’s trigger. While doing this, you Sweep the nozzle from side to side to put out the flames.
Foam: A foam material in a fire extinguisher removes the heat from the fire. It also prevents oxygen from reaching the fire. A foam extinguisher is most effective as a Class A, B, or C unit. This is another common material in a residential fire extinguisher.
Liquefied Gas: Also called clean agent extinguishers, these units are most often rated as Class B or C extinguishers. Some also have Class A ratings. They don’t leave a residue, which is great for environments with engines or machinery.
Water: This is the traditional method of putting out fires, but you won’t find many fire extinguishers that contain just water. Firefighters are able to use water because they use large volumes of it at high pressure. But water is generally ineffective in a small, portable fire extinguisher. If water is used, it’s often combined with foam in a Class A unit.
Wet Chemical: This type of extinguisher material is rarely found in a residential unit. It’s primarily found in a Class K unit for use in commercial kitchens, although it sometimes also has a Class A rating.
Before attempting to use an extinguisher on a fire, make sure you know a safe route out of the building.
The rules for maintaining a fire extinguisher in your home are different than if you were to have one at a business or school. But that doesn’t mean you should just hang it up in your kitchen and ignore it.
Firefighters recommend that you inspect your portable fire extinguisher at least annually. Examine the extinguisher’s valve, safety pin, and nozzle for cracks and corrosion. A unit with more metal than plastic in the handle area will last longer.
Many portable fire extinguishers have a pressure gauge. Make sure the unit is fully charged, as an extinguisher may lose its pressure charge over time. Some fire extinguishers need to be shaken every few months to maintain pressure, for example.
Read the instructions on your cannister carefully. And don’t assume that your cannister needs the same maintenance work as another one. Each model is a little different.
If you’ve never used a fire extinguisher before, check with your local fire department to see if they offer a test class.
You may be able to try a portable extinguisher they have, just so you know how it works. It helps to have a feel for how the unit discharges, in case you ever need to use one.
At a test class, some fire departments will also recharge your portable fire extinguisher for a fee. Or, they may let you test your own extinguisher at the class and refill it for you afterward.
All of these are great options for ensuring you are as safe as possible in your home.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help learning how to use an extinguisher. Local fire departments may offer short classes for trying out these devices.
Portable fire extinguishers sell at a variety of price points. Your overall costs depend on a few factors.
The size of the cannister plays a key role in the cost of the unit. For at-home use, you’ll see four sizes. Larger sizes cost more because they hold more material.
10-pound: Expect to pay $45 to $100 for this large portable canister.
5-pound: A five-pound canister typically costs between $30 and $75.
2-pound: For a small, two-pound canister, you may pay between $20 and $60.
Stovetop: A tiny stovetop fire extinguisher can cost between $15 and $50.
When purchasing a particular model of fire extinguisher, be sure to register the device. That way, you’ll receive notices of any recalls.
A fire extinguisher that can knock down fires of multiple classes may cost a bit more than a single-class cannister. However, the type of material inside the cannister plays a bigger role in determining the cost.
Fortunately, most portable fire extinguishers aimed at home users include a dry chemical material. This is a versatile option, as it is often rated for classes A, B, and C. Furthermore, dry chemical material costs less than some other materials. So you needn’t pay hundreds of dollars for a decent general-use fire extinguisher.
Keep in mind that if you’re purchasing a fire extinguisher for home use, you’re free to pick any model. But if you want a unit for use at a place where the public will be, such as a business or church, you may have to follow some local laws. If you’re unsure, check with your local fire department to see what rules you must follow before you purchase a unit.
Don’t store your portable extinguisher in a hard-to-reach location. It should be easily accessible and stored near an exit.
Understand that recharging a fire extinguisher can cost between $10 and $25. This is the primary maintenance cost for these devices.
Only use a portable fire extinguisher on a small fire. For larger fires, get out of the area and call for help.
It’s recommended that you inspect your extinguisher annually, looking for cracks or corrosion. This is especially important for a device that may sit idle for several years.
Q. Why do fire extinguishers only work against certain types of fires?
A. The materials inside the cannister determine what type of fire you can extinguish. Water isn’t effective against a grease fire, for example, as it will spread the grease. Fire extinguisher manufacturers generally include only one type of extinguishing material in each cannister.
Q. Which extinguisher size should I select?
A. It’s smart to pick a larger extinguisher for an area where a fire might not be noticed immediately. For example, a fire in a garage or outbuilding might need a larger cannister to extinguish a fire that’s been burning for a few minutes. A mid-sized canister works well in a kitchen or laundry room. A small cannister would probably suffice in a vehicle, because you’d likely notice this fire immediately.
Q. How long should I use the extinguisher before trying to escape the fire?
A. A portable extinguisher works fast. It’s designed to knock down the fire in a hurry. That way, if it doesn’t work, you’ll have time to escape. A large cannister may have enough material to allow for 15 to 25 seconds of fire fighting. A small cannister may work for 8 to 12 seconds. If you cannot put out the fire in that amount of time, move to safety and call the fire department.