What to Do If a Smoke Detector Goes Off Intermittently?

Smoke detectors are important to home safety but are effective only when kept in good repair. If the smoke detector goes off for no reason, it is important to determine the cause and get it fixed, rather than risking your safety.

Smoke detector in ashes
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Intermittent Alarm

Your smoke detector could be sounding without reason or schedule for a number of reasons. The most common cause of malfunctioning smoke alarms is dead or dying batteries. On average, smoke detector batteries need to be changed every six months. Remove the smoke detector from the wall and hold the test button for at least five seconds. If the alarm does not sound, immediately replace the batteries. If possible, use the batteries recommended by the manufacturer on the smoke detector itself or on the manufacturer's packaging or website. Some users claim smoke detector models really do work better with certain types of batteries. Once the new batteries are in place, test the smoke detector again; this time, the alarm should sound as usual.

If the batteries are fresh and you are still experiencing intermittent alarms, clean the smoke detector system. It's possible that dirt, dust or other buildups can interfere with the smoke detector's sensors, causing intermittent alarms. Remember to remove the batteries and disconnect any electrical flow into the smoke detector before cleaning to avoid electrocution. Use the soft brush attachment of your vacuum cleaner to vacuum dust and debris from all surfaces of your smoke alarm. If necessary, use a damp cloth to wipe away stains or stubborn dirt.

Other Tips

Never unplug or remove your smoke detector from its proper place without replacing it with a new one. Having no functioning smoke detectors in an area of your home increases the risk that you will not notice an emergency, should one occur.

If you realize that the intermittent alarms are related to a seemingly insignificant event, such as heating up food in the kitchen or showering, increase the ventilation in the area. If your cooking is creating a lot of smoke or steam, turn on a fan or open a window. Similarly, if your shower produces a lot of steam that sets off the alarm, open a window or use the fan in your bathroom to cut down on the steam.

If you continually have problems with your smoke detectors acting up and going off for no reason, consider contacting a professional and having the smoke detectors in your home moved to different areas. For instance, if the smoke detector near your kitchen goes off every time you cook anything, have the detector moved to an area of your home not exposed to the kitchen heat, but where it can still provide adequate warning in case of a real emergency.