Safe and proper disposal of an expired fire extinguisher is as crucial as keeping a well-maintained extinguisher and other fire-fighting equipment like a sprinkler system and Shutgun, the emergency fire sprinkler shut-off tool. These are essential fire-fighting tools every property owner should have in their arsenal.
Most fire extinguishers contain pressurized gas, which can be dangerous. Thus they must be removed from the premises once deemed unsafe for use.
Unfortunately, many people acquire new extinguishers and leave the old ones hanging on their walls without thinking of the dangers they’re exposing themselves to. And since not all fire extinguishers are the same, maintenance and disposal procedures might vary.
Here, we discuss everything you need to know about expired fire extinguishers, including the lifespan of a fire extinguisher, how to tell if a fire extinguisher is expired, and how to dispose of a fire extinguisher after it’s expired.
The average lifespan of a fire extinguisher is between 10 and 12 years. That applies to powder, water, or foam fire extinguishers that have been adequately maintained.
After the 10-year mark, have the extinguisher hydrostatically tested more often to confirm the condition of the shell. If the cylinder still holds high pressures without noticeable leakages, you can recharge it and use it a little longer.
Here are additional factors that determine the life expectancy of a fire extinguisher:
- Type of fire extinguisher
- Extent of maintenance
- Manufacture or build date
- Manufacturer’s recommendation
- Whether it’s disposable or rechargeable
A properly maintained fire extinguisher that’s free from corrosion and rust can serve you for up to 15 years or more. Some manufacturers indicate the expiry date on the canister. Check for the expiry date on the canister before disposal.
Many manufacturers claim that a well-maintained fire extinguisher can last up to 20 years. However, it takes a proper understanding of things to look for before you decide to dispose of a fire extinguisher. Here are tell-tale signs of an expired extinguisher to look out for:
- A canister slowly loses pressure even without using it for an extended period.
- The fire extinguisher fails a hydrostatic test—it can’t withstand pressure above 500 psi.
- The extinguisher is older than the recommended lifespan of 10-12 years.
- A clogged or cracked nozzle makes the fire extinguisher a safety hazard and thus it should be disposed of.
- A damaged shell poses a safety hazard.
- The service period is due as per the manufacturer’s recommendation.
- The pressure gauge handle pointing at the white or red zone instead of the green area may mean it’s time to either recharge or dispose of the canister.
- A fire extinguisher with dents and bumps and a missing tamper seal.
- A missing head cap locking pin could cause accidental leakage, posing a danger of explosion. Consider disposing of it if you can’t replace it.
- A missing inspection tag may make it difficult to know the last inspection date of a fire extinguisher. This is, thus, a safety hazard and means it should be disposed of or at least reinspected.
- A wobbly or broken handle beyond repair may also require the disposal of a fire extinguisher. Contact a certified technician for further advice.
It’s also noteworthy that as technology advances, some of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) regulations also change. Therefore, your fire extinguisher might not show any of the above signs yet still require disposal per NFPA requirements.
For instance, according to NFPA, the following fire extinguishers are considered obsolete and no longer fit for use. If you own any of the following, consider disposing of them.
- Solid charge type—Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF) fire extinguisher
- Cartridge-operated water
- Fiberglass shell extinguisher with store pressure water (pre-1976)
- Pressurized water extinguisher (manufactured before 1971)
- Soda acid fire extinguisher
- Any fire extinguisher with the following fire ratings—4B, 6B, 8B, 12B, and 16B
- Any extinguisher that requires inversion to operate
- Stored-pressure dry chemical fire extinguisher (manufactured before October 1984)
- Carbon dioxide canisters with metal horns
Note: Do not hesitate to seek assistance from a certified technician to help you assess an expired fire extinguisher if you’re unsure of anything.
An old fire extinguisher is deemed expired if it shows the signs listed above and after a thorough hydrostatic test by a certified technician or a fire protection company.
However, you can’t throw away or recycle an expired fire extinguisher like other household products due to its chemical components.
Here’s the correct and safe way to dispose of a fire extinguisher after it’s expired:
- Squeeze the handle to ensure there’s no pressure or chemical inside, and take the canister to the local recycling center for collection and proper disposal by fire protection authorities.
- If the canister isn’t empty, call the fire department to inquire about drop-off services for hazardous waste. Pressurized chemicals in a fire extinguisher require professional handling since they can be explosive if not disposed of well.
- Take the expired fire extinguisher to the nearest Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) dump site. Contact your council to inquire about the next collection date and location, as the services are never available all month round.
Note: Apart from the wet chemical fire extinguisher, most canisters, such as powder and CO2, are less dangerous and can be disposed of as any piece of steel by following safety instructions once they are empty. Otherwise, contact the fire safety authorities if unsure of anything.
A fire extinguisher is an essential safety tool everyone should have at home alongside other fire-fighting equipment like water sprinklers and a water sprinkler shut-off tool—the Shutgun, which can save you thousands of dollars in case of accidental sprinkler activation.
Unfortunately, a fire extinguisher can only work for so long. While a well-maintained fire extinguisher will help you manage home fires for no less than ten years, proper disposal when it expires is equally essential, since you don’t want it to be the source of another type of catastrophe or be able to extinguish a fire with it when you need to.
Pay attention to the expiry date indicated on the canister. Consider any damages such as a broken handle or seal, missing pin, or general wear that may render the extinguisher a health hazard and follow the proper fire extinguisher disposal procedure discussed herein.
It’s important to note that you can recycle some canisters after emptying the contents. However, that work should be left to fire protection professionals. You can always inquire about the terms and conditions of recycling an expired extinguisher, as you may get a discount on a new purchase.