How To Dispose Of Smoke Detectors (Quickly & Easily!)

How to Dispose of Smoke Detectors

Congratulations!  You remembered that it is time to replace those ten-year-old smoke detectors in your home. Brand new smoke detectors now protect you and your family.  The question is now how to dispose of the old smoke detectors?

The answer to the question depends on the type of smoke detector.  Photoelectric smoke detectors generally can be tossed into the trash.  Ionizing types of detectors require appropriate recycling.  Local and state laws may vary, so check with your local waste disposal department.

In some jurisdictions, stricter regulatory environments may require you to take extra steps when disposing of any household appliance.  It is generally safe to assume that the best method for disposing of any household appliance is recycling.

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Ionizing or Non-ionizing Smoke Detectors

Smoke detectors use two different technologies to sense smoke in your home.  Both are sensitive to the particulate matter in smoke to disrupt the sensing unit.  It is the way the smoke detector senses the particles that make the big difference.

Non-Ionizing Smoke Detectors

Non-ionizing smoke detectors use a photoelectric cell to sense smoke.  A light source inside the smoke detector shines continuously.  The photoelectric cell, which turns light into electricity, is tucked inside a small chamber.

When smoke particles enter the smoke detector, the particles reflect the light into the chamber.  The light strikes the photoelectric cell producing a tiny electric current.  This electric current activates the alarm.

The basic components of a photoelectric smoke detector contain no dangerous or radioactive material. In most jurisdictions, photoelectric smoke detectors are safe to go into your household trash.  Check with your local waste disposal authority to confirm that they accept smoke detectors into the landfill.

Ionizing Smoke Detectors

Every ionizing smoke detector contains a tiny piece of radioactive material. There is no need for panic.  You have not been exposing your family to dangerous radioactivity all these years. According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the amount of radiation the common household smoke detector emits is 3,000 times less than normal background radiation.

Each piece of radioactive material resides in a metal case designed to keep the material in place and safe.  However, the presence of even this tiny amount of radioactive material presents disposal problems for ionizing smoke detectors.

The upside is that the smoke detector industry recognizes this problem.  Most manufacturers of ionizing smoke detectors sponsor mail-back recycling programs.  Even the U.S. Postal Service participates in this program.

The Mail-Back Programs

The major manufacturers of ionizing smoke detectors in the U.S. have mail-back recycling programs.  Information about these programs is in the instructions that came with the smoke detector.

However, those instructions are probably long gone after ten years.  A label on the back of the smoke detector should have the manufacturer’s contact information. Contacting the manufacturer directly is the best way to get the most up to date information on their programs.

The U.S. Postal Service Participation

The U.S. Postal Service supports these programs fully and has information about these programs on the USPS website.  You can access the most up to date information on the USPS website by following this link

The USPS maintains a list of smoke detector manufacturers and the contact information for manufacturer’s smoke detector return programs.  This list of these programs is courtesy of the USPS.

Manufacturer/Distributor Phone Number Address for Return Notes
American Sensors/Dicon Global 800-387-4219 Call to receive a number and return information Accepts Dicon Global

American Sensors brands only

Firex 800-445-8299 Firex c/o Disposal

28C Leigh Fisher Blvd.

El Paso, TX 79906

Website address:

www.firexsafety.com

First Alert/BRK 800-323-9005 Ext. 2 Customer Service Dept

3920 Enterprise Court

Aurora, IL 60504

Accepts up to four devices of First Alert/BRK brand at a time. Call ahead for mailing instructions.
G.E. Security/ESL 888-437-3287 12345 Southwest Levetan Dr.

Tualatin, OR 97062

Will accept G.E. Security/ESL brands only
Honeywell 800-328-5111 Returned Goods,

Honeywell, Inc.

Dock 4-MN10-3860

1985 Douglas Drive North

Golden Valley, MN 55422

Accepts Honeywell smoke detectors only www.ecccustomercare.com
Kidde 800-880-6788 Ext. 1 1016 Corporate Park Dr.

Mebane, NC 27302

Will only accept Kidde brand smoke detectors
Sears local number Some Sears locations are

designated collection sites

Call to find out if local Sears will accept smoke detectors
System Sensors 800-736-7672 Ext. 1 Call to receive a reference

number and return information

Will accept “System Sensor” brand only. Asking for payment of $3.00 for each detector to cover recycling costs.
USI Electric/Universal 800-390-4321 Ext. 1 Attention: Disposal Dept.

7A Gwynns Mill Court

Owings Mills, MD 21117

Return only detectors that say “ionization” on the back. Only USI Electric or Universal brand detectors accepted. Enclose a note that the smoke detector is being returned for recycling.

Courtesy USPS

There are many other manufacturers of ionizing smoke detectors.  If the company that made your smoke detector is not on this list, contact the company directly/

If my Photoelectric Detector is Not Dangerous, Can’t I Toss it in the Trash?

You may well be able to toss your old photoelectric detector in the trash.  However, local jurisdictions are enacting more and more environmental rules and regulations. In many places, even photoelectric smoke detectors have been classified as Hazardous Household Waste and must be recycled accordingly.

As an example, California has an extensive list of items that cannot go in the trash.  Some counties and cities in California add additional restrictions to what can and cannot go into household trash.  Some California cities consider the small electronics inside the photoelectric detector Hazardous Household Waste and ban them from landfill sites.

In any case, recycling is a much better alternative than sending a smoke detector to the landfill.  Check with your local recycling center for more information about recycling old smoke detectors.

What is in My Smoke Detector that is so Dangerous?

Don’t go overboard and start thinking that the ionizing smoke detectors in your home are dangerous. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency both agree that these smoke detectors are safe.

The most common source used in ionizing smoke detectors is Americium.  This radioactive material produces trace amounts of alpha particles that ionize air molecules.  This ionization creates a tiny flow of electricity in the sensor.  When smoke particles enter the sensor, this disrupts the electrical current and the alarm sounds.

The tiny speck of Americium is protected by a metal case that absorbs the alpha particle before leaving the detector.  Alpha particles are the least dangerous form of ionizing radiation. The problems arise when the protective barriers inside the smoke alarm are damaged.

This damage can happen in the trash if the detector is crushed or broken in some way.  For this reason, many states and municipalities have banned ionizing smoke detectors from their landfills.

Are There Other Differences in the Two Types of Smoke Detectors?

It may surprise you to learn that different types of fires produce different kinds of smoke.  It should follow that different types of smoke detectors are better at sensing different types of smoke.  This ability to detect different types of smoke is why the National Fire Protection Association suggests installing both types.

Different Fires, Different Smoke

Many variables affect the smoke that a fire produces.  The material burnt, the heat of the fire, and the fire stage all contribute to the type of smoke. The basic difference is the size of the particles in the smoke.

Ionizing Detectors – Smaller Particles

Ionizing detectors are better at detecting smoke filled with smaller particles.  Fast burning open-flamed fires typically produce smoke with smaller particles. Don’t mount Ionizing detectors in kitchens or near bathrooms.   Light smoke from cooking or the steam from hot showers can generate false alarms with ionizing smoke detectors.

Photoelectric Detectors – Bigger Particles

Smoldering slow-burning fires produce smoke filled with large particles.  These types of fires are common in residential structures. Furniture cushions, bedding, and carpets tend to produce very dense heavy smoke.

Photoelectric detectors are best at sensing this kind of smoke.  This property makes photoelectric detectors best for mounting in kitchens and near bathrooms.  However, in areas that may be prone to fast open-burning fires, such as workshops, photoelectric sensors may not function as well.

The Solution to Different Types of Smoke

The National Fire Protection Association suggests that both types of smoke detectors be in your home.  Mounting detectors of both types in the appropriate locations gives you the maximum fire protection in your home.

Always follow the manufacturer’s direction for locations and mounting instructions.  One smoke detector is rarely enough to provide adequate coverage in your home.  For more information about locating and installing smoke detectors in your home, visit the National Fire Protection Association website.

Dual Sensor Smoke Alarms

Some companies are manufacturing dual-sensor alarms.  These smoke detectors have both types of sensors in one unit and provide the highest levels of protection.  These dual-sensor detectors may suffer false alarms since you cannot locate the detector based on the expected type of smoke.

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Be Smart and Be Safe

You are making wise decisions about your family’s safety by keeping your smoke detectors up to date.  Taking a bit more time and correctly disposing of the old smoke detectors is another good choice.

Dennis Howard

Dennis is a retired firefighter with an extensive background in construction, home improvement, and remodeling. He worked in the trades part-time while serving as an active firefighter. On his retirement, he started a remodeling and home repair business, which he ran for several years.

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