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]