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Smoke alarms: How to clean them, when to maintain them, where to install them


Smoke alarms: a How-to Guide

A fire fighter once told me, “The best way to survive a fire is to prevent it. If you can’t prevent it, you want to use early detection as your shield.”  Early detection means having smoke alarms properly installed throughout your home and maintaining them regularly. These small devices will save your life, but only if you keep them functioning properly.  Smoke alarms should be cleaned and maintained on a regular basis. The change to daylight standard time is one good time for this simple but important task.

How to clean your smoke detectors

First, remove the smoke alarm unit from the ceiling or wall. (Be sure to use a sturdy ladder, don’t climb higher than the ladder cautions, and if someone else cannot be home while you do this put your phone at the base of the ladder before you climb. Climb down and off the ladder before proceeding with the following steps.)

Dust the outside of the smoke detector with a dry microfiber cloth. Remove the battery and plan to dispose of it safely. Use a paint brush or your vacuum’s upholstery tool to clean the interior and the air vents of the unit. Be gentle in order to avoid causing damage to the circuit board. Compressed air works well too but be careful around electric components.

Connect a new battery securely, close the lid carefully, and test the unit. If all is well, replace the unit on the wall or ceiling, taking precaution for your safety. Repeat this process for every smoke detector in your home. Read the following pointers before starting this task:

  • Make sure to never submerge any part of the smoke detector in water
  • Don’t use any type of liquid cleaning chemicals
  • Wipe the entire outside with a microfiber cloth
  • Be sure the air vents are well cleaned for good air flow

Some other things to consider about taking care of your smoke alarms are…

When to replace smoke detector batteries

Most people don’t realize that the batteries should be replaced TWICE a year.   An easy way to keep on track with this is to time it with daylight savings time and daylight standard time. When you set your clocks back or forward, replace the smoke alarm batteries on the same day. So when we “fall back” to daylight standard time on the first Sunday of November (11/5/2017), change all smoke alarm batteries and clean and test each unit.

Testing your smoke alarm unit

Test the smoke detector once the new batteries are installed. Simply push the red button down until it starts to beep. It will continue to beep a few times and then reset itself. Once reset it’s ready to be returned to its mounting frame.

If testing a hard wired system that’s connected directed to the fire department or a security company, make sure to let them know you’re cleaning and testing the system. They will take you off line to prevent a false alarm. Call them back when you’re finished to be put to active status.

Chirping smoke alarm

If it chirps, follow these steps:

  • Remove the smoke alarm unit from the ceiling.
  • Remove the battery.
  • Hold the test button down for a few seconds to drain the smoke alarm of any power left in the system.
  • Hold the test button down for another 15 seconds which will reset the unit and clear out the reason for it chirping.
  • Clean it out with canned compressed air or your vacuum cleaner.

Location and lifespan of smoke detectors

Every bedroom should have a smoke alarm unit as well as the hallways outside of the bedrooms.  Common areas like living rooms and dens should all have smoke alarms.  Each stairway should also have one. And don’t forget the basement and the garage.  Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for installation. All smoke alarm units should be replaced every ten years.

Some smoke detectors use lithium batteries which can last up to 10 years, but 9V and other battery types are still common. Be sure you know what your smoke alarms need and stock up next time you shop so you’ll be prepared to follow these steps when you change your clocks back to daylight standard time. Remember what the fireman said about early detection…


For more information from DIY green cleaning expert Leslie Reichert, visit

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