Test Smoke Alarms With Real Smoke, Not Just That Convenient Button

Test Smoke Alarms With Real Smoke, Not Just That Convenient Button

Ask someone how to test a smoke alarm, and chances are you’ll be told to press the “test” button on the device. The Boston Globe points out that this is a myth (and a dangerous one at that).

Photo by Vagabond Shutterbug

As the paper notes:

All that tests is whether the alarm sound is working; it has nothing to do with whether the device itself will sense smoke. A better way to do your annual test is to hold a blown-out match or two under the unit. And remember to replace the batteries once or twice a year: Smoke detectors are installed in 58 per cent of homes that have fatal fires, but they are working in only 37 per cent of those fires.

The test button only tests if the battery is working, and failed batteries account for most smoke alarm failures, but using real smoke will test all of these variables.

Make the effort; a false sense of security is no way to protect your home and family.

34 Home Maintenance Myths [The Boston Globe]


  • I just had a company come check on the smoke detectors (sent by rental agency), he had to install one by the master bedroom, move one from the wall to the ceiling, replace batteries, and use the test button.

    I see the logic in testing the actual smoke detection aspect, but it makes me wonder why they don’t do that.

    However I seem to recall an early Simpsons episode where homer tests the smoke detectors and sets fire to the house in the process.

  • We recently had a failed smoke alarm that was testing fine.

    I always thought that the ‘test’ button simply cut off the laser that detects smoke… (then the alarm would sound) Obviously not, but why not?

  • I see the logic in using the burnt out match to test the smoke detection aspect of the smoke alarm and not just the noise component

    However, as a firey myself, I don’t know how well that would go out in the real world

    I don’t think recommending that people “light a match and blow it out allowing the smoke to trigger your smoke alarm” is really a good idea as some people might just set their house on fire in the process (See comment from tim RE: simpsons episode)

    If hardware stores like bunnings etc etc sold cans of pressurised “smoke” just like you can get pressurised air for cleaning your PC keyboard etc, then that might be a safer, better solution.

  • On the weekend I discovered a cup of Lapsang souchong tea could set of my smoke detectors.

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