Q. My neighbors’ smoke alarm went off at 3 a.m. Fortunately, it was a false alarm, but they didn’t know how to turn it off. What do I do if my smoke alarm does the same?

A. In 2014, 33 percent of false alarms that fire departments responded to were caused by malfunctioning smoke alarms, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Those noisy mistakes can be caused by dust, humidity, electrical malfunctions, and even spiders crawling inside, says Bernie Deitrick, a senior engineer in our testing department. 

To know how to resolve a false alarm quickly, you need to understand your home’s smoke alarms and how they operate. There are three types of smoke alarm power sources: Replaceable batteries, long-life lithium batteries, and 120-volt hardwiring (with batteries as backup power sources). Always assume a sounding smoke alarm means there’s a fire and get to safety if need be. But once you’re sure it’s a false alarm, your approach should vary based on the type of power your smoke alarm uses. Your first step is to find the device that’s going off and reset it by pressing and holding the reset button. If that doesn’t work, take the smoke alarm down. If you can, remove the batteries. If your smoke alarm has a lithium battery you can’t take out, muffle it in a blanket, under a sofa cushion, or in your freezer until it stops.

As for hardwired smoke alarms, "they’re interconnected through the electrical wires, so if one smoke alarm sounds, they’ll all sound and it can be difficult to figure out what’s going on," Deitrick says. First, try the reset button on each smoke alarm. If that doesn’t work, flipping the circuit breaker off and back on might stop the noise. If all of that fails, your ultimate solution may be to disconnect the smoke alarms and remove their batteries one by one. A small connector at the back of each alarm can be unclipped to let you safely remove it from the network.

Then it may be time for new smoke alarms. Our top recommended model is the First Alert 3120B, an interconnectable hardwired smoke alarm with dual sensors and battery backup.

For more, check our CO & smoke alarm ratings (available to subscribers) and CO & smoke alarm buying guide. Plus you can send your questions to ConsumerReports.org/askourexperts.

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the September 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.