How to Choose and Use a Fire Extinguisher

A trio of red fire extinguishers against a purple wall.

A fire extinguisher is a must-have to kill small fires and prevent larger ones. A fire in your home could accidentally ignite at any time, and it’s important to have an extinguisher handy to try and put it out as quickly as possible. Below are some other tips and tricks on what to look for when purchasing a fire extinguisher and how to use it in an emergency.

Which Kind Should I Get?

The class of your fire extinguisher is assigned based on the type of fire it will put out. Type A is for trash, wood, and paper. Type B is for liquids and grease. Type C is for electrical equipment. Most fire extinguishers are labeled for all three classes. Unless you’re installing a fire extinguisher for a very specific type of fire, it’s typically recommended to get one for all three classes, known as an ABC extinguisher. (When you do acquire a fire extinguisher, check to make sure the gauge is still pointing to the green area, which means it's still fully functional and ready to use.)

What Size Should I Get?

A white fire extinguisher.

There are several sizes of fire extinguishers on the market and each are designed for different types and sizes of fires. It’s important that the extinguisher has enough chemical liquid inside to completely put out the fire. For example, if you use a small extinguisher on a large fire and run out of foam, the fire could continue burning. However, large extinguishers can be quite heavy and are not meant to be carried long distances.

A small extinguisher that weighs 2 ½ pounds won’t last for more than 10 seconds, whereas a large one weighing 10 pounds can spray for up to 30 seconds. You might place a small extinguisher in the kitchen in the event of a little fire while cooking, and a large extinguisher in a work area where a large chemical fire could occur.

Refillable or Disposable?

Someone's finger on the trigger of a fire extinguisher.

Both types of fire extinguishers will work the same when putting out a fire; the main difference is whether it can be reused or not. You can usually tell by checking to see if the trigger is plastic or metal. Metal triggers indicate that the extinguisher is refillable or rechargeable (but cost a bit more than the disposables). If you use a disposable extinguisher, you’ll have to buy a completely new one to replace it after use.

Where Should a Fire Extinguisher Go?

A fire extinguisher in the trunk of a car.

Fire extinguishers can be placed in a kitchen, hallway, work area, and even in a vehicle. Experts suggest having a fire extinguisher on every floor of your home or office for easy access. Fires don’t wait to burn while you grab an extinguisher.

When to Use a Fire Extinguisher

Always be safe and use a fire extinguisher when you can, but if there isn’t one nearby, get away from the fire as quickly as possible. Fire extinguishers can also be used to help clear a way for you to get away from a fire. Try to put out small fires, but if your extinguisher is too small or you’re losing the battle with a fire, run to safety and call 911 immediately.

How to Use a Fire Extinguisher

"PASS" is an acronym widely used to remember how to use a fire extinguisher in case of an emergency:

  • P - Pull the pin, which is near the handle or trigger, out of the extinguisher
  • A - Aim the extinguisher at the base of the fire, not the flames
  • S - Squeeze the handle and spray the fire
  • S - Sweep with the extinguisher until it dries out