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Ionization Smoke Detectors VS Photoelectric Smoke Alarms

By WenSue |

Smoke Detectors are an essential preventive measure that is highly recommended to be installed in each home. These small devices provide early detection of fire before things are too late.

You may encounter the following types of smoke alarms. A Photoelectric Smoke Detector and Ionization Smoke Detector. Both types of alarms are built to trigger when smoke is present. However, they do slightly vary in terms of mechanics, technology and trigger sensors. Below, we tackle how these devices differ from one another.

1. What is a Photoelectric Smoke Detector

photoelectric smoke detectors

Photoelectric Smoke Detectors are one type of smoke alarms that are equipped with an LED light inside its chamber. As smoke particles enter the detector, the laser beam light is distorted and scattered. If the deflected light hits the sensor, it will trigger an alarm

In case that the Photoelectric Smoke Alarm has low batteries, it will provide a chirping sound that will prompt you to change them. The sound to change batteries will be different from a sounding alarm when there is smoke.

2. What is Ionization Smoke Detectors

ionization smoke detector

Another type of smoke alarm is an Ionization Smoke Detector. This alarm uses a special radioactive element called Americium-241. This element causes air molecules to form a small electric current inside the chamber, between its metal plates. When smoke particles enter the detector, this electric current is disrupted because the smoke will bond with the rest of the air particles. This effect of electricity-path break causes the alarm to go off.

There are also cases when smoke alarms would have both the optical feature of the photoelectric sensor and the ionization sensor in one unit.

3. Which Smoke Alarm Type is Best

Between these types of smoke detectors, you must understand that each has its strengths. Photoelectric smoke detectors tend to react faster with combustions that occur on solid objects while Ionization smoke detectors tend to react faster with fires that occur on the gas phase.

Because fire occurrence is not predictable, it is difficult to plan out which smoke alarm would be best installed at home. Thus, it is more recommended to source both types which can double the protection. It could be two separate devices or one device that has both features.

The important factor is that a good combination of these smoke alarms is installed in appropriate areas of the house. Before purchasing, make sure that you consider the types of smoke alarms that already exist in your home. You should be able to easily see them at the back of the unit. Labels should be present to tell whether it is a Photoelectric Smoke Alarm or an Ionization Smoke Alarm.

In case this is difficult to distinguish, consider revisiting the device manual or consulting the manufacturer or dealer with a few more online resources.

Aside from the type of manual, it is also a good chance to do a health check of the device. These safety devices must be well maintained to keep you secure for such conditions.


To consider owning smoke detectors should not come second priority. It may look as if these devices are only beneficial on rare occasions. However, these rare occasions do come at a cost. They have a significant trade-off when neglected. And having these smoke detectors can save us a lot from situations that have a grave impact.

With the types of smoke detectors explained, we hope that this can enlighten you to better understand its mechanics, behavior, and strengths.

To own one may just be the first step. Maintaining one is another topic that has to be in place to be able to establish an effective safety measure.

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