The recent recall of 40 million Kidde fire extinguishers affected households across the country. Though Kidde is replacing the faulty fire extinguishers, the recall serves as a reminder that you should learn how to use this life-saving device before an emergency arises.

“Owning the right fire extinguishers is important,” says Don Huber, director of product safety at Consumer Reports. “But it’s also important to clearly know how to use it in an emergency. You don’t want to be reading the owner's manual during a fire.”

Choose the Right Extinguisher

Fire extinguisher know-how comes down to two things: type and technique.

Using a fire extinguisher properly won’t do you much good if you’re using the wrong type. Extinguishers are divided into three types—A, B, and C, each designed to combat a specific type of flame.

An A extinguisher is for combustibles such as paper, cloth and wood. If you frequently fry foods in oil, which can lead to grease fires, buy a B extinguisher for your kitchen.

Type C extinguishers, which are designed for electrical fires, are a good idea in a media space, especially if you have expensive electronics, since you can target any smoldering components without destroying nearby equipment.

More on Fire Extinguishers

You can also find combination models that extinguish more than one type of fire. “Combination fire extinguishers are best for home protection because it’s hard to predict what will be burning,” says Bernie Deitrick, who conducts tests of household products for CR. 

Our fire extinguisher buying guide has comprehensive advice on which types to use in different spaces, and how to store and maintain them.

Learn How to Use it

The technique for extinguishing a blaze, called the PASS method and explained in the video below, is largely the same, regardless of the fire’s origin.

PASS, which stands for pull, aim, squeeze, and sweep, is the four-step method for using most fire extinguishers. In this order:
Pull the pin. Hold the extinguisher away from you, and release the locking mechanism.
Aim low, pointing the extinguisher at the base of the fire.
Squeeze the lever slowly and evenly.
Sweep the nozzle from side to side.
If learning how to use a fire extinguisher seems daunting, don’t assume you can rely on a simple aerosol spray extinguisher. Consumer Reports tested several, and we do not recommend them. Not only did we find them inadequate, but in two cases they made grease fires flare up, rather than putting them out.

Find out if your fire extinguisher is on the recall list: Kidde Recalls 40 Million Fire Extinguishers.

How to Use a Fire Extinguisher

A fire extinguisher might seem like a simple device, but you would be surprised how many people don't know how to use one. On the "Consumer 101" TV show, host Jack Rico explains what you need to know.