We all know that we should be changing our smoke detector batteries every year but you may not know that you should clean your smoke detectors every 6 months. Dust, dirt and pollens can collect on the outside screen and prevent the detector from working properly.
There are two basic types of detectors: photoelectric and ionization.
Photoelectric smoke detectors are designed for detecting smoke where there is smoke but not necessarily flames. Photoelectric detectors are the most widely used type of detector. A photoelectric type smoke alarm consists of a light emitting diode and a light sensitive sensor in the sensing chamber. An ionization type smoke alarm uses a small amount of radioactive material to ionize air in the sensing chamber. Ionization type detectors work best for rapidly firing fires in combustible materials, where there are lots of flames but little smoke. Ionization type detectors are often used in kitchens, since they are less likely to be falsely triggered by cooking fumes.
How do you clean a smoke detector?
If your answer is just grab a can of compressed air and blow it out then I am sorry but WRONG!
Over time your detector will accumulate dust dirt and other particles on the screen located on the outside of your detector. This is the same screen that must allow smoke to enter the chamber so the detector can "detect". If you use compressed air to blow it out then you are actually blowing a fair amount of the particles deeper into the chamber which will only make the detector worse.
You can use the brush attachment on your vacuum cleaner to gently brush the smoke detector and with the vacuum on it will remove the particles away from the chamber. You should also remove the outside cover so you can gain access to the inside chamber and vacuum it also. After you have vacuumed away all of the dirt you should wipe down the outside of the unit with a damp cloth to remove any stubborn dirt build up.
CAUTION: Clean your smoke alarm after it has been removed from the security system and make sure the system is in "TEST" when you perform this maintenance. You can cause a false alarm during this process.
Test Your Smoke Detector
After you have completed the cleaning process you should reinstall the smoke detector back into the base. Since the system is in test it is a great time to test the smoke detector. If your smoke detector is an integrated part of your alarm system then you do not need to arm the system. This is a 24 hour device and should work all of the time. Most smoke detectors have a button, recessed or protruding that you can push to test. This makes sure that the unit is detected by the alarm panel. It does not test the ability of the detector to accept smoke and put the system into alarm. I am not suggesting that you set something on fire to test your alarm. There are aerosol spray cans that are specifically designed for testing detectors.
You can do your own cleaning and testing of your detectors or your local alarm company will typically have a "Spring Cleaning" special that will include testing your entire system and also cleaning both smoke and motion detectors.