Best fire extinguishers

Last reviewed: May 2010

Home fires are often unpredictable, and they can be deadly. That's why you need one full-floor, multipurpose fire extinguisher on each level of your home and one in your garage, plus smaller, supplemental units for the kitchen and car.

We tested six full-floor and seven supplemental models. Heavier extinguishers have more flame retardant and delivered it quicker and longer in our tests. Though models that weighed more than 9 pounds can be harder to hold and use, you should still buy the largest one you can comfortably handle. We also tested two aerosol sprays on the market (see Fire sprays).

Of the full-floor models, the 2 Kidde discharged its contents quickly, and it's light, less costly, and easy to use. The 4 First Alert has a longer warranty, though its gauge is close to its ring pin, making the pin slightly harder to remove. 5 Kidde has lower relative effectiveness but might be easier to use. Models 1 through 8 contain chemicals that are effective on types A, B, and C fires (see What the label means). Models 7 Kidde, 9 Kidde, and 13 Kidde are only meant for smaller fires. 9 Kidde was easy to use and, along with 13 Kidde, is best used for flammable liquids, such as oil and gasoline, and electrical fires. They can also handle small grease fires.

No matter which fire extinguisher you buy, make sure its pressure indicator shows "full" and that it was manufactured within the last year. The National Fire Protection Association recommends that dry chemical extinguishers that are intended to be discarded after use should be disposed of 12 years after the date of manufacture. It would be useful if more manufacturers placed an expiration date on their extinguishers.