We all know that fire extinguishers are vital safety devices for homes, businesses, schools, and anywhere else there is a fire risk – but what happens when we need to get rid of one? Disposing of fire extinguishers is not as simple as just chuck them in the waste or recycling, and they’ll rarely be picked up by curbside recycling teams.
If you have a fire extinguisher that doesn’t work or that you don’t need, you have three options:
Option 1: Refill the fire extinguisher
The first thing you need to establish is whether it really is the end of the life of the extinguisher. It is far better for the environment if they are serviced and refilled, and most fire extinguishers can be kept for years without having to be replaced as long as they are kept in good condition.
Just because a fire extinguisher is old, or has lost pressure because you have used it, does not mean it has reached the end of its life. Check that your extinguisher can be refilled, and if it can, take it to a professional to refill. If you don’t need the extinguisher after that, find someone to sell or give it away to.
Refilling and reusing a fire extinguisher is not normally possible if the main body is cracked, dented, or corroded. These will be condemned and will need to be recycled or disposed of.
Option 2: Recycle the fire extinguisher
Fire extinguishers are made out of steel and can be recycled. However, you’ll need to contact a specialist company to do this, due to the hazardous materials contained inside. Do not attempt to recycle or upcycle it yourself without a professional first checking it and making it safe. Because extinguishers are highly pressurized, piercing or attempting to cut them can be very dangerous.
Option 3: Dispose of your fire extinguisher
First of all, it is important that you do not just include your fire extinguisher with household garbage. If thrown into the back of a garbage truck, it could cause an explosion on the crusher truck as it is a pressurized container. It might also cause an explosion at the trash recycling depot.
The contents of the extinguisher are also regarded as a hazardous material and require special processing. You’ll need to get help to dispose of it; if possible, choose a company that is going to recycle rather than just get rid of it.
Who Should You Contact For Help With Your Fire Extinguisher?
Depending on the services in your area, you may need to contact one of the following three organizations to get your extinguisher serviced, recycled, or disposed of:
Some local authorities have suitable recycling facilities that can handle fire extinguishers and will take them from you, separately from other garbage. Other authorities will not be able to take them because they do not have the correct hazardous materials certification. Check to see if your locality has a Household Hazardous Waste Program (HHW) and what it accepts.
Fire departments are often the best place to go for advice on the disposal of fire extinguishers. They will almost certainly have a contact who can take them. It is also not unknown for some fire departments to take them themselves.
The fire department may also be able, and willing, to unscrew the head of the extinguisher and remove the hazardous contents safely, allowing you to take the remaining metal cylinder to a scrap metal merchants. Contact your local fire department to see if they can help or put you in touch with anyone (but not on the emergency number!)
Professional Disposal Companies
There are a few professional disposal companies who will come to your house or business and collect old fire extinguishers. Check Google for local options.
Are the contents of old fire extinguishers safe?
Whilst domestic fire extinguisher powder is not normally toxic, it can cause irritation to the skin and should not be inhaled. It is important to use gloves and a mask if you have to handle any contents. Additionally, older fire extinguishers may contain toxic materials. Check with an expert if you are unsure.
The Most Important Step: Replacing Your Fire Extinguisher
It is important for every home and business to have adequate fire protection. If your extinguisher has been condemned, we strongly recommend you replace it with one in good working order.