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How to Dispose Smoke Detectors Properly

By WenSue |

Smoke detectors do not last forever, a time comes when old smoke detectors have to be disposed, but many of us don’t know how to properly dispose the smoke detectors. There are two types of smoke detectors. While the photoelectric detectors can be disposed of directly in the trash, ionization-based smoke detectors require that they should be returned to their manufacturers.

For both types always ensure you remove the battery first, before disposing them. It is also advisable to avoid dismantling them. There are also companies that are responsible for the disposal of particular types of detectors.

Part 1. Overview of Smoke Detectors

There are different types of smoke detectors; their characterization depends on how they work.  The types Include; Photoelectric Smoke Detectors, Ionization Smoke Detectors, Dual Sensor Smoke Detectors and Combination Smoke/CO Detectors.

1. Ionization-based smoke alarm detectors

This type of smoke detector is very common because they are not expensive. They have an ionization chamber and an ionizing radiation source which they use to detect smoke.  They have a small man-made radioactive material in the ionization chamber called Americium-241.

When smoke particles enter the ionization chamber, the follow of particles from the radioactive material is disrupted. This, in turn, triggers the alarm. The amount of radioactive material incorporated in the ionization chamber is small and emits very tiny and minimal radiations that have been proven to be harmless to human beings.

They can detect the smallest amount of smoke emitted by flames of fire. The Alpha particles emitted during radiations are enclosed in ceramic whose inner layer encompasses of foil this is to ensure the radiations do not travel outside the smoke detector.  This is the very reason why it is not advisable to dismantle this type of smoke detector during disposal.

They can be disposed of with other household garbage after removing the lithium battery. Some manufactures allow their users to ship back their old detectors for better disposal of the radioactive component.

2. Photoelectric Smoke Detectors

They are different from the ionization smoke detectors in their composition and how they work. They rely on electricity to produce beams of light. Inside the detector is a light-sensing chamber. The beams of light are shot across to the other end other of the chamber.

There are different compartments in this chamber and one of them houses a photosensor. When smoke particles enter the chamber they deflect the beams of light to the compartment with the photosensor which in turn triggers the alarm.

These types of detectors are efficient in detecting smoldering smoky fires. They do not have any radioactive elements; therefore, they can easily be disposed of with household waste after you remove their battery.

3. Dual Sensor Smoke Detectors

This type of detector is a combination of both the ionization based and the photoelectric smoke detectors. The technology of the two is incorporated into one device. This comes in handy to save on the need and cost associated with installing two different detectors.

It can detect both smoky smoldering and fast flaming fires. This aspect provides peace of mind because it can detect fire in its early stages and false alarms are not easily triggered. They have a backup battery in case of power outages. They can also accommodate interconnectivity in large spaces.

4. Combination Smoke/Co Detectors

 Depending on the type of detector combination incorporated in the detector they are capable of detecting both carbon monoxide and smoke. Some contain radioactive materials while others do not.

They are also designed with an inbuilt back battery which should be removed before disposal. For those detectors that have radioactive materials; they can be shipped back to their manufactures for proper disposal.

Part 2. How to Properly Dispose of Smoke Detectors

The two commonly used smoke detectors in households are the photoelectric and ionization-based smoke detectors. The later has a radioactive material while the other does not. It is required by the law that manufacturers should state the presence or absence of the radioactive material to ensure proper disposal.

Users are advised to check the labeling behind the detectors just to make sure which type of smoke detector they intend to dispose of. In case the label is missing and the user suspects it has been destroyed the detector should be treated as one that contains radioactive material.

Some countries have laws that prohibit the disposal of smoke detectors with radioactive materials alongside municipal waste. They therefore, dictate such detectors be returned to their manufacturers. In the event of returning the detectors always include a note stating they are supposed to be disposed of.

Check the manufacturers and distributors who are willing to take back their smoke detectors with radioactive materials.