The Proper Care and Feeding of the One Thing Every Home Must Have

My heart was pounding, the smoke alarm was screaming and I was in full-on panic mode. Flames were reaching toward the adjacent wood cabinets. It happened so fast! I didn’t have time to run to the pantry to search for baking soda.

I had a rip-roaring fire on my hands and I was in slow motion thinking about how sad it would be to be homeless for Christmas.

I’d turned my back for a few seconds to find a utensil. When I returned, small flames were shooting from the burner. My quick thinking told me to smother a grease fire, so I grabbed a pot lid to do that, but it wasn’t airtight and soon the flames were double the size and spreading.

That’s when I locked eyeballs with the fire extinguisher that had been sitting on the counter for so long it blended into the décor.

I’d never engaged a fire extinguisher before. I read the instructions once but that’s about it. Not knowing what to expect, I grabbed that thing, jerked out the red plastic ring (it came out easily), pointed the nozzle and pulled the trigger. It put out the fire with one mighty blast of fine yellow powder so strong and powerful it nearly knocked me off my feet.

Shocking stats

My experience not only woke me up, but it also sent me into research mode. What I learned is sobering, if not shocking: Each year, fire kills more Americans than all other natural disasters combined. Eighty percent of all fire deaths occur in residences. Where do those residential fires start? In the kitchen!

First call 911

As grateful as I am, I did not do everything by the book. A fire extinguisher is no substitute for the fire department. One-third of all people injured by fire are hurt while trying to control it. Fire safety professionals tell us to call 911 first. Then, use the extinguisher.

Be sure that you can get out fast and that the fire is small and not spreading. Grab that thing, stand back six feet and engage!

If the fire does not go out quickly, close the door to the room, get everyone out of the house and exit the premises promptly. Meet the fire department in front and direct them to the location of the fire.

Memorize: P-A-S-S

Attack the fire using the PASS method:

Pull the pin

By pulling the pin, the operating lever should unlock and allow you to discharge the extinguisher.

Aim low

Point the extinguisher hose or nozzle at the base of the fire.

Squeeze the lever

This should discharge the extinguishing agent. Some extinguishers may have a button or other means of activation. Know your extinguisher!

Sweep from side to side

While you are aiming at the base of the fire, you should sweep back and forth until the fire is extinguished. If the fire re-ignites, repeat the process.

If the fire does not go out quickly, close the door to the room, get everyone out of the house and exit the premises promptly. Meet the fire department in front and direct them to the location of the fire.

Best Inexpensive

Amerex Fire Extinguisher

This chemical extinguisher is perfect for the home and garage. It will work on all kinds of fires—trash, wood, and paper; flammable liquids; and electrical blazes. It weighs 10 lbs. and holds 5 lbs. of powder. That’s not super lightweight but very manageable. And it is rechargeable.




First Alert Tundra

This option is an easier-to-use than the traditional canister extinguisher. Even though smaller and appearing to be more humble than say the Amerex above, this aerosol can option is capable of putting out all major kinds of small fires, including grease and electrical fires. Having one of these in every room of your house would be a very good idea. Not rechargeable.



First Alert Kitchen

This extinguisher is designed especially for the kitchen as it delivers a sodium bicarbonate extinguishing agent—baking soda!—under extreme pressure. Designed to fight flammable liquid and electrical fires. Stores easily in a cabinet or with its attractive mounting bracket. Rechargeable.




Fire extinguishers do not have infinite lifespans. They expire. The typical portable extinguisher that has not been opened remains in good condition between 5 to 15 years. But you don’t have to guess or wonder if it’s fully charged and ready to go.

Keep your eye on expirations dates and or gauge readings. The last thing you want in the face of a fire is an extinguisher that won’t respond!


Close up look at home fire extinguisher safety pressure valve


Look for the pressure gauge on the extinguisher itself. Check to make sure the needle on the gauge is in the green zone. That indicates that it is still good. Once that needle moves into the red zone it should be replaced or recharged. (Small extinguishers for home use are often “single-use” products and cannot be recharged. Read the labels.)

Get it recharged

Traditional extinguishers like Amerex Fire Extinguisher are rechargeable. This process should not take longer than 10 to 20 minutes and can commonly be done at local fire stations or through private service companies.

During recharge, the extinguisher service company will completely refill the extinguisher and check to make sure it is holding the proper pressure.

Keep in mind that it may be more cost-efficient to purchase a new extinguisher if the one you have is for household usage. By the time the recharge has been done, the new one could be the same price if not cheaper.

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7 replies
  1. Ellen C
    Ellen C says:

    Great advice but have you personally contacted your fire department about recharging? I did and they don’t do it and could not recommend a company that would. They recommended buying a new one. This was in San Diego County.

  2. Kristine Tokarczyk
    Kristine Tokarczyk says:

    Thanks for the tips! When going through fire extinguisher training at work, the instructor said you should shake your extinguisher monthly to prevent the powder inside from caking.

    • sadnana
      sadnana says:

      This piece reminded me of just how old our fire extinguishers are. I need to check them all and replace if necessary.

  3. Linda Carlis
    Linda Carlis says:

    Another thing to be aware of is that almost all Kidde fire extinguishers have been recalled. They offered to replace them no matter how old they are, as long as the model is included in the recall. I got a total of 6 replaced, one of which was over 17 years old. Imagine thinking you have a working fire extinguisher and the one time you need it the whole top flies off when you pull the trigger. That’s what this recall was for. Yes, 6, I keep one in the kitchen, one in my bedroom, one by the utility room door, one in the shed and 2 in the boat. You’re never too safe!

    • plantsower
      plantsower says:

      Thank you, Linda. After I read your post I checked my fire extinguisher and it is a Kidde. I called the number and it was one that was recalled. They will send me a new one and take back the old one post paid. Thanks again.

  4. PatriotPeg
    PatriotPeg says:

    Mary, i live in FL. it is extremely humid and as a result, i have mold growing on the outside gaskets of my lanai glass sliders. i tried dawn, while it removed some, not all. i do not know whether or not i can use bleach or a fungacide on these gaskets. they appear to b rubber, but i think they r probably a mixture of plastics, etc. any suggestions? thanx for all ya do.


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