It’s a great idea for every home to have smoke detectors that provide sufficient coverage, to ensure that you are alerted when there is a fire. However, it can also be worrying to think that you might set off the smoke detectors by burning something like incense at home. So, here’s what you need to know about this.
It is possible for incense to set off a smoke alarm, however, it is not common. While incense does produce smoke, in most cases, it isn’t enough smoke to trigger a smoke detector.
To understand the times when incense or other sources of smoke will set off a smoke detector, we need to take a quick look at how smoke detectors work. We will also cover how to avoid setting of a smoke alarm with incense, smoking, vaping, cooking, etc. Take a look.
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Also read: How Long Does A Fire Investigation Take?
Table of Contents
How Do Smoke Detectors Work?
There are two different types of smoke detectors: ionization alarms and photoelectric alarms. They work in slightly different ways.
The ionization alarm work by passing a constant stream of ions between two metal plates in the alarm, the ions are generated by a weak radioactive source, and they enable an electric current to flow between the two plates.
When smoke enters the chamber of the alarm, it interrupts the ion flow, and thus, breaks the circuit and an alarm rings.
For the photoelectric versions, a small beam of light is projected on to a sensor. This also completes an electric circuit. When the smoke passes through the smoke detector, it blocks the light and breaks the circuit and once again, the alarm will ring.
This quick video can better explain how the smoke detectors work:
In most houses, there will be a combination of these two types of alarm or alarms which have both types of functionality. This gives you the greatest chance of catching fire before it turns into something more severe.
Will Incense Trigger A Fire Alarm?
Incense is an essential component of many people’s lives and it’s also popular with many adherents of Eastern religions. Others burn it as a kind of air freshener, as the smoke released when incense burns are often pleasantly fragranced.
So, when you burn incense, you have both a source of flame/heat and smoke being generated. But does this matter?
Well, in most circumstances no. The heat is so tiny that if you have a heat detector in the house, it won’t notice it.
The smoke produced from an incense stick, or even 2 or 3 incense sticks, tends to be fairly minimal and thus it shouldn’t become thick or dense enough to set off your smoke alarms.
There is a tiny chance that if you burn the incense directly under the alarm that you might set off the smoke sensor, but the easiest way to avoid this is to burn incense elsewhere in the room.
I’m not sure why anyone might do that anyways…
The only times when incense is likely to trigger a smoke alarm are
- When you are burning a huge amount of incense – if you decide to burn 100 sticks at once, the odds are getting better that you will produce enough smoke to trigger the alarm
- The alarm is a very old model – older smoke detectors were ultra-sensitive, whereas modern ones are meant to be less sensitive so that they produce fewer “false positives”.
So, overall, burning incense is not usually a worry for setting off your smoke detector.
Will Cigarette Smoke Set It Off?
Cigarette smoke won’t normally set off a fire alarm, assuming that you are smoking in a reasonably well-ventilated room and that you aren’t smoking like a chimney.
Obviously, rather like with incense sticks, the volume of smoke produced by a single cigarette is unlikely to be a problem. However, if you’re having a gathering of a dozen chain smokers? All bets are off.
It’s always best to smoke outside and to properly extinguish your cigarette and dispose of it somewhere safe. This will keep fires to a minimum and reduce the damage done to you and others via passive smoking.
What About Vaping?
Yes, potentially. Vaping, Vape smoke, and E-cigarettes can trigger the smoke detector.
In fact, given that many vape devices produce substantially more smoke than a cigarette – they may be more, not less likely, to set off your smoke alarm.
Even though the present no real fire hazards, I recommend using any vape devices away from smoke detectors and alarms.
Candles don’t produce a lot of smoke until they are extinguished.
So, while candles are burning, the odds are minimal that they would trigger your smoke alarm.
However, it’s fair to say that if you were to extinguish a whole bunch of them at once – things might be different. So, if you want to blow out the candles on a birthday cake, it’s best done away from the smoke detector.
And remember, just because candles probably wont trigger you smoke alarm, they can still be a fire hazards.
Candles are the cause of about 1900 structure fires per year, in the US. These candle fires are responsible for approximately 677 injuries and 81 deaths per year.
So don’t leave candles burning unattended or near flammable materials.
Yes, there’s no doubt about this. Most people have encountered this many times.
Burning food releases real smoke and in sufficient quantities to convince your smoke alarms that your house is on fire.
The best way to avoid this is to use a timer when you cook food and to have an exhaust fan running while you cook. You should never leave food unattended while you cook but we know that’s sometimes easier said than done.
Also read: House Fire Temperature: How Hot Does It Get?
Will Any Of These Things Set Off My Sprinkler System?
This is probably a more important question.
The smoke alarm going off is annoying, but throw the windows and doors open, turn the fans on and you should clear of any smoke fairly quickly. But does that smoke mean that your sprinkler system is suddenly likely to leap into action?
No, definitely not. Sprinklers are not triggered by smoke at all. They are triggered by heat. So, unless the smoke in your home is accompanied by a genuine fire of a decent size – the sprinklers will remain dry.
Why Do I Need A Smoke Detector?
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), around 2,000 people die in fires, in their own homes, in the United States, each year.
While it is true that there are fewer fires every year thanks to improvements in construction materials, risk management, and construction practices – they will never be eliminated entirely.
In a fire, you are far more likely to die of smoke inhalation than you are of dying from being burned to death. The reason is that smoke spreads much more quickly than the flames and most household fires occur when the occupants are asleep.
The smoke creeps under the bedroom door and soon, the occupant never wakes up, as the smoke and Carbon Monoxide (CO) displaces all the oxygen in the room.
Even if the house’s occupants do eventually awaken, it’s often far too late for them to easily escape their home and they will find themselves waiting in a smoky room in terror.
Smoke detectors make it much less likely that this will ever happen in your home.
The results are clear; smoke detectors save lives. They ensure that as smoke starts to concentrate in your bedrooms or other rooms, that an alarm is triggered and you can investigate the problem and if it is serious – you can evacuate and call for help before things get out of hand.
Will incense set off a smoke detector? Under normal circumstances, no, incense won’t trigger your smoke detector because it won’t produce enough smoke to do so – though it is possible. Try to keep your incense burning as far away from your smoke alarms as possible, to keep the odds of triggering an alarm as low as possible.
The good news is that vape smoke, cigarette smoke, candle smoke, etc. all have an equally low chance of setting off your alarm (though burning food probably will set off your smoke detectors). Smoke won’t trigger your sprinkler system though unless it’s accompanied by a raging fire.