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How to Test a Smoke Detector

The only smoke detector that can help you survive is the one that is properly functioning. Like all electronic devices, they can fail. The only way to be sure that your smoke alarm will work when you need it is to test it periodically.

Steps:

  1. Do not use the test button. The test button is not sufficient. It only confirms that the batteries can sound the alarm horn. It does not test the smoke sensor in the unit, which could be faulty even if the horn sounds when you push the button. See Step 4 for alternatives to pressing the test button.
  2. Alert all members of your household that you are testing the alarm first, unless you would like to use the opportunity for a fire drill. If your smoke detector is hardwired to a monitored security system, be sure to notify the security system's company that you are performing a test before you test the alarm. You don't want the fire department showing up at your door!
  3. Have someone go to a part of the house or apartment that is as far from the smoke detector as possible when conducting a function test, to determine whether the alarm can be clearly heard at that distance. Remember, it has to be loud enough to awaken the deepest sleeper in the household.
  4. To test whether the unit will actually work in a fire, you will need a small spray can of smoke detector test aerosol. You might find this in a well-stocked hardware or home improvement store. If not, you can find it by searching the Internet. They cost only a few dollars, and one small can will last for years. Just spray some of the test material into the detector, and wait 5 to 10 seconds for a response. If the alarm sounds, you know the unit will sound in a fire. If not, you have a non- functioning smoke detector, even if it beeps when you push the button. Try changing the batteries, then repeat the test procedure. If that does not get it working, it is useless. Replace it as soon as possible.
  5. To turn off the alarm after testing you can hold a small, hand-held vacuum under the detector, suck out the test material, and the alarm will silence. If you only have a full-sized vacuum (the kind with wheels) use the extension tubes to reach up to the alarm and suck the test material out of your smoke detector. Newer smoke detectors may have a silence button that can silence the alarm until the residue leaves the unit. Alternatively, you can just wait for it to turn off by itself, but that wastes battery power, and the sound is very annoying.
  6. Test every smoke alarm in your home every month. If you are not willing to do that, do it at least a few times a year. Always test alarms after battery changes to ensure that the device is working.

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