When you need a fire extinguisher, you’ll want to make sure it functions properly. But you may not know that fire extinguishers have an expiration date. Or, maybe you’ve used your extinguisher but haven’t replaced it yet. How do you make sure you’re prepared for a fire and what do you do with that expired or used fire extinguisher?
There are types of fire extinguishers designed for different types of fires. Most consumer fire extinguishers are capable of putting out Class A, B, and C fires (wood, gas, and electrical, respectively). If your extinguisher is for a commercial kitchen or lab, the disposal process is the same, but the options will be more limited because businesses do not have access to all the municipal service available to residential recyclers.
Fire extinguishers must be replaced or recharged after 10 or 12 years, even if they are full.
Reuse Your Fire Extinguisher
Luckily, your fire extinguisher is made of highly recyclable materials, like aluminum for the tank and steel for the valve. But before we get into recycling, let’s review when you need to recharge your extinguisher.
- Loss of pressure: Over time, fire extinguishers lose their pressure. That’s why they have a gauge that shows the ideal pressure. If the pressure is too low, contact your local fire department and ask if it can be recharged. They might be able to recharge it at no cost or refer you to a professional for servicing.
- After each use: If you use your extinguisher just once, you need to have it recharged. Some extinguishers can be manually refilled, but without training this can be dangerous. You should use a trained professional to make sure your extinguisher is safe and gets recharged with the correct extinguishing agent. Your local fire department may be able to refer you to a professional.
If a professional doesn’t recommend recharging your extinguisher, purchase a new one to replace it.
You found out that your extinguisher can’t be recharged — maybe it’s too old or has damaged parts. How do you safely dispose of it? The first thing to know is that full or partially discharged fire extinguisher cannot be recycled — before you take any step other than donating it, empty the cylinder completely to prevent injury to workers who will handle it later.
Whatever you do, do not put your fire extinguisher in your garbage can or curbside recycling bin with other metal items,. The pressurized container is explosive, which means it could cause injury to the drivers when material is compacted in the truck, or damage machinery in the material recovery facility.
Some community fire departments will accept empty and fully charged fire extinguishers. Call the fire station before you visit to confirm they whether they take extinguishers and how they should be prepared.
Your best bet is to visit your local household hazardous waste (HHW) program, as many of these programs will accept pressurized metal containers like aerosol cans and propane tanks. If you are disposing of a commercial fire extinguisher, you’ll likely have to pay for disposal.
If you live in a big city, you may have a permanent facility where you can drop off HHW year-round. In other cases, HHW might be collected a few times per year at cleanup or recycling events. These events are a great opportunity to get rid of other HHW like batteries, paint, and cleaning products (basically anything in your garage).
If your community does not collect HHW, or you can’t wait for an upcoming event, you’ll need to depressurize the extinguisher before it can be recycled as scrap metal. This is yet another job where it’s advisable to visit the local fire department or a fire extinguisher professional. Once the extinguisher is depressurized, you can unscrew the head and take the metal can to a scrap metal facility.
Looking for a facility in your area that will accept your old fire extinguisher? Enter your ZIP Code using the Earth911 Recycling Search to find a nearby recycler.
Editor’s Note: This article, originally published on November 21, 2018, was updated in September 2023.