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What Happens When Fire Extinguishers Go Bad

Did you know that fire extinguishers can go bad?

We wonder if this one is expired?

On today’s Moment of Science, you’ll hear an exclusive sound recording of what happens when a household fire extinguisher goes bad.


A listener’s toaster had burst into flames. She grabbed the extinguisher that had perched on the wall of the kitchen for many years–almost a member of the family–and here’s what happened. Roll the tape! [SFX: NO SOUND] That’s right, folks, when called to duty, the extinguisher did absolutely nothing, zip, zilch! What made this fire extinguisher go bad?

Whoops, Too Old

We closely examined the fire extinguisher in question. Our analysis revealed that the extinguisher had a tag hanging around its neck, with an expiration date of five years ago! That’s right, this once-trusted fire extinguisher had…expired! Next, we consulted an expert on this breed of fire extinguishers, to determine what might have prevented this sorry turn of events.

The expert said, “most fire extinguishers rely on pressurized gas to propel chemicals to put out a fire. Over time, some gas leaks out. That’s why fire extinguishers have expiration dates. To work properly, they need to be recharged to make sure the gas is at the right pressure.”

Check The Date!

If this tragedy makes you wonder about your trusty fire extinguisher, check the expiration date to see if it needs to be recharged. Some extinguishers are not rechargeable, and if yours isn’t discard it and buy a new one.

And while you’re at it, check if it says “ABC” on the side. “ABC” fire extinguishers can be used on most types of fires, including electrical and grease fires.

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