Everyone knows that fire extinguishers are a vital part of keeping their homes and offices safe in the event of a fire. But not everybody understands the mechanics of fire extinguishers, how long they last, and how they should be maintained in order to be in working order when they are used on a fire. Do they ever expire?
Yes, most fire extinguishers will last for 5 to 15 years and they usually indicate the lifespan of the extinguisher. Though they may last for years, they need to be inspected and serviced/recharged regularly (usually annually) to function properly.
Let’s take a look at why it is so important to understand the use and lifespan of your fire extinguisher.
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Do Fire Extinguishers Expire?
Fire extinguishers do expire and that’s because, over time, they lose the ability to discharge effectively and may also leak some of the materials inside.
The expiration date of a fire extinguisher is based on its manufacturing date and in most places, this will let you know when the extinguisher needs to be refilled or refurbished; that is its “extended extinguisher service date” as well as the actual expiration of the cylinder.
In general terms, you should expect to refill a refillable extinguisher either 6 years from the date it was manufactured or 5 years after it is commissioned. The exception to this is CO2 extinguishers, which require refurbishing rather than refilling and should be refurbished 10 years after manufacturing.
In some areas, the fire code laws may require businesses to have their extinguishers serviced annually to ensure they function properly. Check your local regulations.
For most fire extinguishers, assuming that this kind of servicing is done, this can dramatically extend the useful lifespan of a fire extinguisher.
How To Find The Fire Extinguisher Expiration Date?
The vast majority of modern fire extinguishers have their expiration date stamped on the cylinder body, though some may have it also printed on a label or on the extinguisher.
You may find that this date stamp has been obscured because it’s covered by the plastic ring that’s been placed around the neck of your fire extinguisher (it might also be hidden under the plastic bot on the cylinder too).
Sometimes, it may have been painted over and if that’s the case, you can rub the paint off with an emery cloth without damaging the date stamp or the extinguisher.
How Long Do Fire Extinguishers Last?
Fire extinguishers need to be refilled or refurbished, as previously, discussed at least every 10 years (for carbon dioxide) and at least every 6 years for all other types of fire extinguishers.
If this is done, then the extinguisher will last until there are obvious signs of corrosion or wear and tear on the body of the extinguisher.
A disposable fire extinguisher, one that cannot be refilled or recharged, however, will last for 10-12 years (maximum) from the date of manufacture and then, it must be disposed of.
In addition, if you notice any of the following then a fire extinguisher must either be serviced or disposed of immediately:
- The hose or nozzle of the hose has been damaged, ripped, cracked or is currently blocked with debris or other matter
- The locking pin on the fire extinguisher’s handle has been removed, is missing or is no longer sealed
- The handle of the fire extinguisher has become wobbly, broken or loose
- The inspection sticker (sometimes also called a “hang tag”) with the record of maintenance and check ups is not present and cannot be recovered
How Long Does A Fire Extinguisher Last Once Activated?
While a fire extinguisher officially lasts from between 5 and 15 years following manufacture or activation, without an expiration date clearly written on the extinguisher, it can be very hard to know how old the extinguisher actually is.
The best practice is to create your own date label for an extinguisher when you purchase it, but if that wasn’t done, then you can have your extinguisher’s monitored for the correct pressure on a monthly basis.
If they don’t have enough pressure inside them, then it’s probably time to replace them or have them recharged, this time with dated fire extinguishers that don’t leave you wondering if they’re up to the task.
When To Replace A Fire Extinguisher?
A fire extinguisher should be replaced if it has reached the end of its useful lifecycle according to the manufacture or if there are obvious defects that cannot be repaired by a professional.
A fire extinguisher is only of value when it’s in full working order and can be used with confidence to tackle a fire, if you don’t have confidence in it, then you should replace it immediately and buy one that you do have confidence in.
Can I Test My Own Fire Extinguisher?
Yes, but you should never try and attempt to test a fire extinguisher by discharging the contents of the fire extinguisher.
This will significantly impact the internal pressure and the quality of the contents, and you must take it immediately for refilling or repair if you accidentally discharge the contents.
If the fire extinguisher is disposable, you should throw it out if the contents are discharged.
To test a fire extinguisher, you will either have a pressure gauge present and if that gauge is in the green, it’s fine, or you will have a pressure pin on the fire extinguisher. If so, push the pin in and if it pops back up, the extinguisher is fine.
Here is how to do a basic check on your extinguishers:
What Is 6-Year Fire Extinguisher Maintenance?
Any fire extinguisher which must be subjected to a 12-year hydrostatic test (this is most fire extinguishers not including carbon dioxide extinguishers) must be inspected and tested at the 6-year point by a professional.
Although some areas may require it to be inspected and/or serviced much more often.
How To Dispose Of Fire Extinguishers
If you have fire extinguishers that you need to dispose of then you should follow best practice rules for this.
Firstly, if your fire extinguisher is small (like that typically kept in a car’s glove compartment) and is less than 18 inches tall, then you should fully discharge the extinguisher and then drop it in the trash. You should seal it inside a pair of heavy-duty bags and seal them tight. Discharge the extinguisher into the bags and then throw the extinguisher and the bags into your trash.
For larger extinguishers, if your fire extinguisher remains fully or partially charged you will need to ask your local fire department if they accept a drop-off of such an extinguisher and if they do not, then you need to take it to a hazardous waste disposal facility, instead.
If it’s fully discharged and empty, then squeeze the lever and just check there’s nothing left inside. Then remove the fire extinguisher head so that it’s clear by looking at the extinguisher that it is no longer functioning and call a local recycling facility to arrange drop off so that they can recycle the steel.
Don’t throw large extinguishers in the trash as this can be very dangerous.
What To Do With Old Fire Extinguishers?
While most old fire extinguishers should be disposed of using the methods above, you might want to consider selling your extinguishers if they are antique. See the section below to find out what they might be worth and what you need to know about this.
Are Old Fire Extinguishers Worth Money?
Most fire extinguishers aren’t worth very much when they’ve finished their useful life cycle, this shouldn’t really come as much of a surprise as they’re not very expensive, to begin with.
However, if you’ve got any antique fire extinguishers laying around then you might want to take care of them as these can be worth some money.
Firstly, it’s important to note that an antique fire extinguisher is one with a copper and/or brass exterior and casing which makes it easy to polish and make very shiny and noticeable.
The First Fire Extinguisher
The first-ever fire extinguisher was made by Captain George William Manby and it was a copper (and sometimes brass) cylinder that contained potassium carbonate.
This style of fire extinguishers continued to be manufactured up until 1969 when soda and acid extinguishers were no longer deemed fit for use.
There is another interesting line of classic fire extinguishers, those made by the Pyrene Manufacturing Company, which also has some historical interest due to the contents forming deadly gas byproducts! These are, of course, no longer manufactured but are of interest to collectors.
Valuing An Old Fire Extinguisher
You will need to talk to the auctioneer about exactly how much any antique fire extinguisher might be worth. Oddly, they appear to be quite a popular choice at sales but there are still a lot of such extinguishers around and they may not meet the estimated value at all sales.
If you do want to sell your antique extinguisher, before you get into cleaning it up for sale, it’s important to have it examined by an expert to ensure that it’s safe to sell or to have around.
Antique Soda-Acid Extinguishers
These are the most typical copper/brass extinguishers of early periods and they are very attractive to buyers as they polish up very nicely.
An unrestored soda-acid extinguisher will typically get an estimate of $100-$200 but may sell for only half of this amount when it goes under the hammer.
You are likely to get a much better price if you’ve restored the extinguisher and made it eye-catching again, though be prepared to put a lot of work in polishing that copper/brass exterior.
A More Valuable Antique Extinguisher
One of the most desirable forms of antique fire extinguishers is the mobile fire extinguisher, which by today’s standards doesn’t come across as particularly “mobile”.
Yes, it’s a large fire extinguisher that is attached to a set of wheels. Back before pumps and fire hydrants were a common thing, it could take a fire department several hours to arrive at a fire and then even longer to put it out.
This “mobile” fire extinguisher made it easier to start tackling blazes within a community and as such, for many years they were highly prized.
Now, they’re only museum pieces but they can fetch a pretty penny. A good-conditioned 1930s mobile fire extinguisher might fetch up to $2,000!
You may also find a “fire grenade” which is a glass ball containing a liquid that was meant to be thrown directly into a fire, where it would shatter, release the liquid and help extinguish the blaze.
These things are not very big (and nor were they very useful) and they were cheaper than fire extinguishers to make.
However, because of their fragility, they haven’t survived to the modern day in large numbers and a set of these grenades in good condition can raise up to $300 at auction!
They have a modern-day version here: