A fire extinguisher is an invaluable tool in the fight against any home blaze, and knowing how to properly use one can be the difference between life and death. While it’s certainly not a substitute for evacuation and calling the fire brigade in serious cases, if you can get to a small fire before it spreads, a well-stocked fire extinguisher can save your property—and possibly your lives.
But with so many different fire extinguisher options available, it can be challenging to decide which one is right for you. We spoke to emergency preparedness specialist Melanie Papworth (also known as The Spruce’s emergency prep expert), who shared her tips on choosing the best fire extinguisher and how to use it.
There are several categories of fires, and each requires a different type of fire extinguisher to put them out. If you live in a house with wood burning fireplaces or gas stoves, you’ll want a class A fire extinguisher to battle them. Class A fires produce carbon monoxide, which can cause asphyxiation if you’re too close to them. Class A extinguishers contain water, which suffocates the fire by cutting off its oxygen supply.
Class B fires are fueled by flammable liquids, such as petroleum, oil, and gasoline. Class B fire extinguishers contain chemicals like a sodium bicarbonate and potassium chloride base. You’ll also find foam-water fire extinguishers in this category, which contain a specialized chemical that breaks the surface tension of liquids and interferes with the interaction between flames and fuel.
Finally, class C and class K fires are fueled by metals, electrical wiring, or cooking oils and greases. These can cause a dangerous shock or electric spark, which could be fatal if you touch them. These types of fires can be fought with a graphite or dry chemical fire extinguisher, both of which have a class C rating.
When using a fire extinguisher, remember the acronym PASS to ensure you use it correctly: P – Pull the pin (the operating lever that unlocks the handle). A – Aim low and point the nozzle toward the base of the fire. S – Squeeze the handle to discharge the agent. Sweep from side to side while you’re aiming at the fire, and keep squeezing until the fire appears to be out. If it re-ignites, repeat the process.
Once you’ve chosen the right fire extinguisher for your home, mount it in a readily accessible location, such as in the kitchen or laundry room (Papworth says dryers are the most common source of electrical fires). If you have a garage, mounting a portable ABC model, such as this five-pound unit from Amerex, is also an option. Just be sure to avoid storing it near heat sources or in freezing temperatures, as this can affect its performance. You can purchase an extinguisher from Amazon or at most hardware and big box stores. It’s also worth investing in a portable model to keep in your car or RV.