Do Fire Extinguishers Go Bad?

Many homeowners appreciate the importance of having at least one fire extinguisher available for home fires.But almost every single one of them also knows that, most of the time, that extinguisher sits in the corner of a closet for… has it been two, no, three years?

Understandably, after a while one may begin to wonder if that fire extinguisher can really be relied on in a pinch.

Do they expire over time, losing their effectiveness?

And what about extinguishers stored outside or in the outbuildings of a farm or ranch, such as an unheated garage or workshop? Can they freeze?

Obviously these are two separate questions, so let’s take them one at a time. Fire extinguishers do “go bad” over time, but the real question is, what can be done about it?

Typical consumer-type household extinguishers are sealed and non-rechargeable, i.e. disposable. They should be replaced annually. Larger units may need occasional recharging, as they can fail in two distinct ways.

The first is the failure of the seal in the neck of the extinguisher, allowing the internal pressure to drop, thus losing force for the retardant chemicals to be pushed out during use. Solution? Replace the seal.

A second way that rechargeable fire extinguishers fail is simply by sitting in storage for too long. Untouched over time, the powder base compacts in the bottom of the canister into a semi-solid mass that can’t be dispersed by the pressurized propellant. Fortunately there’s an easy remedy for this – just gently agitate or shake the canister a few times per year. A decent commercial extinguisher is a great option for the home because it can be easily refilled by certified local service professionals.