Fire extinguishers have the ability to work for many years, but this does not mean that they can last forever. But how can you tell when one is too old and needs to be replaced? We discuss the answer below.
Fire Extinguisher Expiration Dates
Fire extinguishers most likely do not have an expiration date stamped on them or on the label. However, this does not mean that they will last indefinitely. There are some things that can cause a fire extinguisher to become less or even non-functional over time. Neither the cylinder nor the contents have official expiration dates in most cases.
The fact is, fire extinguishers often do not last beyond 15 years, regardless of which type they are, or what fire agent they contain. This is mostly due to the lost charge that happens over time. Compressed gas in the extinguisher can leak and deplete over time. Seals can become weak, allowing the pressurized gases to seep out. Other pressurized agents will become more solid over time, as is the case with ammonium phosphate. If this happens, the fire extinguisher becomes essentially useless.
Solution: Check for Maintenance Dates
A record of maintenance may be on the fire extinguisher tag. If the last date of upkeep was 10 years ago (or more), then the fire extinguisher may be in-effective and needs to be replaced. If you keep it, it might not be up to the task of putting out a fire if one occurs.
Disposable vs Rechargeable Fire Extinguisher Longevity
Disposable fire extinguishers last anywhere between 5 and 15 years but are recommended to be replaced by year 12, if possible. Rechargeable fire extinguishers should be recharged by year 10 by a specialized fire equipment company.
Signs A Fire Extinguisher Needs To Be Replaced
Fire extinguishers need to be replaced right away if you notice certain things happen to them. These include the following:
- A cracked or broken nozzle
- Debris build-up within the nozzle
- The locking pin has been tampered with or missing.
- The handle is loose or unstable.
- The maintenance hangtag is scratched (unreadable) or is missing.
- The last tuneup or recharge was 10 years ago on the maintenance chart.
The user’s manual will give you guidance on how to regularly test the fire extinguisher for optimal functioning. A green gauge indicator will tell you that the extinguisher is fully charged and ready to be used.
Keep Your Fire Extinguishers Well Maintained
Maintaining a fire extinguisher is not hard. Keeping it in a secure location without being bumped or hit can keep it in working order. Do not bang or break part of the handle area or drop the fire extinguisher. Also, do not throw or toss the fire extinguisher at anyone. This may be tempting when in a fast-paced work environment or in an emergency situation.
Storing Your Fire Extinguisher(s)
Storing your fire extinguishers properly is key to keeping them working and giving you access to them during emergencies. Here are the best places to keep a fire extinguisher:
- Kitchen or pantry
- Laundry Room
- Nearby a heater, fireplace, or stove
- Any industrial facility
It is important not to place a fire extinguisher too close to heat sources, but close enough to access them if a fire breaks out. It is necessary to keep at least one fire extinguisher on each floor in the home or workplace. The kitchen is where the majority of house fires start, so make sure to have at least one fire extinguisher there.
The laundry room is another place house fires often start because of the drying machine. The dryer can create high temperatures which can ignite the lint trap that is built up in the machine. It is recommended to empty the lint as frequently as possible to minimize this risk.
Offices and industrial facilities have large quantities of wiring, appliances, and machines which can spark electrical fires. So, having several fire extinguishers on each floor is necessary to help keep the workplace fire-free.
An important way to keeping your fire extinguishers long-lasting is to store them in the right environments. This means away from UV radiation, wind, dust, sun exposure, or rainwater. Fire extinguishers are made mostly of metal, so face the possibility of rust and corrosion. Dusty or dirty locations can affect the extinguisher’s ability to work properly as well.
Is My Old Fire Extinguisher Still Good?
Fire extinguishers have an average life expectancy of approximately 5-12 years. The manufacture date will tell you the age of the fire extinguisher and you can find it on the fire extinguisher’s UL nameplate. Even if a fire extinguisher is less than 10 years old, it still requires some maintenance and may have small amounts of sustained damage. This can include a decreased pressure due to the slow seeping out of gases over time.
How to Extend the Lifespan of a Fire Extinguisher
There are ways to extend the lifespan of a fire extinguisher beyond the 12-year lifespan. This can be achieved by buying only very high-quality fire extinguishers with reputations for reliability and sturdiness. Keeping fire extinguishers well-maintained is also another way to achieve this.
Maintaining Fire Extinguishers
As stated before, keeping a fire extinguisher operating means doing regular inspections and maintenance.
Performing Inspections Monthly
Monthly inspections are key to staying on top of the status of your fire extinguishers in your home, office, or other work facilities. This process includes checking all parts of the extinguisher, such as:
- The shell
- The lock and key
- Wall mounting bracket
- The top pressure gauge
Any small crack or loose-fitting part should be checked and repaired by yourself or a professional. If the fire extinguisher has too much disrepair, consider disposing of it and buying a new one.
The easiest part of the extinguisher to check is the top pressure guage. If it is in the green, the extinguisher is ready to use. If the needle is in the red or white area, it is recommended to have the fire extinguisher serviced. Older fire extinguishers may not have a pressure guage at all. If this is the case, have it serviced or consider replacing it with a newer model.
Doing A Hydrostatic Test
A hydrostatic test can tell you if the fire extinguisher has any pressure or other overall structural issues. This process includes filling the fire extinguisher with 120-150 PSI higher than the fire extinguisher’s capacity. This puts stress on the vessel which can reveal any malformities.
Having A Professional Inspection
A professional inspection once per year can guide you in deciding if the fire extinguisher should be replaced or not. You can find a fire extinguisher pro online and they will charge between $15-$30, depending on your area
Refill Or Replace?
Many people do not know that you can actually refill, or re-charge fire extinguishers after they have been used. However, not all fire extinguishers can be refilled. Re-chargeable fire extinguishers can be recharged by a local professional when they are low or empty.
Fire Extinguisher Size Matters
Large fire extinguishers are great for refilling because this costs less than buying a new one. Recharging costs anywhere between ~$10 and ~$55 depending on the size and weight of the extinguisher. A brand new 20 lb. ABC dry chemical fire extinguisher can cost ~$130 vs half that (or less) to refill it.
Have a trained fire professional inspect the fire extinguisher if it shows signs of damage. If an old fire extinguisher passes inspection, it can be safely refilled saving you money over purchasing a new one.
Proper Fire Extinguisher Disposal
If you decide to buy a new fire extinguisher, make sure to dispose of or recycle the old one(s) in the correct way. This means taking it to your local fire department or hazardous waste collection depot. Fire extinguishers should not be dropped into standard garbage or recycling bins. Take caution with how you dispose of used fire extinguishers. Even spent ones still have hazardous chemicals under pressure that could cause them to explode if tampered with by another person under some circumstances. There may even be local ordinances that require old or used fire extinguishers to be disposed of in a certain way.
Nick Klamecki is a certified Fire and Workplace Safety expert with 15 years experience in product research and testing. He has a degree in Economics from U.C. Davis, is an active outdoorsman and spent years ensuring the safety of special needs children. Nick researches and tests workplace, industrial and safety products and provides advice on their safe use.