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What Should I Consider When Buying a Fire Extinguisher?

Michael Pollick
By
Updated May 17, 2024
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When buying a fire extinguisher for your home or apartment, it is important to understand the alphabetized coding system which describes the four main types of fires. These codes correspond with the type of fire extinguisher you'll need to fight them. Using the wrong type of fire extinguisher can make a dangerous situation even more dangerous.

When it comes to fire types, most people can expect to encounter a Class A fire involving common dry combustibles such as paper and wood. A fire extinguisher containing water and pressurized gas should be adequate for small Class A fires, but nothing else. Before buying any fire extinguisher, look for the letter designation (A,B,C,D or a combination) or a picture depicting the precise type(s) of fire it is designed to fight. A water-based fire extinguisher is only rated A for common combustible materials. Never use it on grease or electrical fires.

A Class B fire type involves liquid flammables such as oil or grease or gasoline. A fire extinguisher for a Class B fire may contain a supply of carbon dioxide which smothers the flame without spreading it. This type of fire extinguisher may also work on electrical fires, but it won't smother Class A fires effectively. A Class B fire extinguisher can emit dry ice during use, so avoid skin contact.

Class C fires are electrical in nature. A Class C fire extinguisher either uses a dry chemical powder or another form of carbon dioxide which does not conduct electricity. Class D fires are generally caused by reactive metals such as magnesium or sodium, so most home fire extinguishers are not rated to handle them.

The best solution for a homeowner is to buy a multi-rated fire extinguisher which uses a dry chemical base. The easiest way to discover which fire extinguisher models are multi-rated is to look for a A-B-C designation, or at least an AB or BC rating. Modern extinguishers may use a picture graphic instead of letters, but they are designated by the same types of fires. Choose the one fire extinguisher that addresses all of the possible types of fires you could reasonably expect in your own home. Kitchen fires may involve oils and grease, so a Class B element is necessary. Paper products in a bathroom may ignite, so Class A protection is also good. Those with computers or other electronics may need Class C protection as well.

Other fire extinguisher considerations include ease of use and storability. A fire extinguisher should have clear instructions on its proper use and easy access to the trigger and safety pin. Special holding brackets may be included to secure the fire extinguisher to a wall or inside a cabinet. You'll want easy access to the extinguisher during an emergency, but you may not want to move it constantly to get at other items. Find an inconspicuous area out of the main line of traffic and mount a holding bracket there.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to WiseGeek, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By anon266269 — On May 04, 2012

It would be a good idea to at least get a small one for your vehicle, but remember that the No. 1 priority is always to get out and away.

By lonelygod — On May 21, 2011

Do you think that buying a portable fire extinguisher for your vehicles is a good idea?

We already have a fire extinguisher for our home, but are considering picking up a few for when we travel by car or boat.

In the case of fire extinguishers for outside the home, which rating would be best for one being used to make your transportation safer?

I remember when I was younger our neighbors car catching on fire due to some engine problems. It was quite hard for them to put out and caused a lot of damage to the vehicle. We were also worried about the gasoline in the car going off. I would like to have something on hand in case something like that ever happened to me.

By MrSmirnov — On May 20, 2011

A fire extinguisher for your house is a necessary purchase. I feel that if you really want to make sure your family and valuables are safe you should invest in a quality fire extinguisher.

For those who are uncertain of which one to buy, you can call your local fire department and ask them if they have any tips for you.

I have found that most local fire departments have safety based educational meetings where you can ask all the questions you have and better understand how to prepare for a fire. These are usually held every few weeks depending on your station and are free of charge to attend.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to WiseGeek, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range...
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