The Difference Between a Red Fire Extinguisher & a Silver Fire Extinguisher

By far, the largest number of U.S. residential fires begin in the kitchen. In 2002, 30 percent of all structural fires started in the kitchen, according to the U.S. Fire Administration/National Fire Data Center. Kitchen fires may involve cooking oils, a forgotten item in the oven or a faulty appliance. Each of these kinds of fires, as well as fires in other parts of the home, require a particular kind of fire extinguisher. A silver fire extinguisher's content differs from a red fire extinguisher's content.

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A fire extinguisher's color identifies its materials and usages.

Types of Fires

Before you reach for a fire extinguisher to put out flames, it's important to know the fire's type. Using a silver, Class A fire extinguisher on a grease fire, for example, can make the fire worse. Class A fires involve ordinary combustibles, such as paper, wood, cloth, rubber and most plastics. Class B fires concern combustible liquids or gases, such as solvents, gasoline and engine grease. If an appliance, tool or other electric item catches fire while plugged into an electrical source, the fire falls into the Class C category. Cooking oil fires are Class K and usually occur in a restaurant.

Types of Fire Extinguishers

Most fire extinguishers have a label or tag that shows which kind of fire they can handle. Class A fire extinguishers are silver and contain pressurized water or a wet chemical extinguishing liquid. They can combat fires of ordinary materials such as wood, plastic, cloth and paper. All other classes of fire extinguisher are red. Red fire extinguishers handle a variety of fire types and may be small enough to fit inside a vehicle's glove box or large enough to require a hand truck to move them.

If a burning item is unplugged, you can use Class A or B fire extinguishers.

Class B fire extinguishers are made for grease fires and fires of flammable liquids such as oil, gasoline and oil-based paint. Class B extinguishers can handle small cooking oil fires in a kitchen.

Class C extinguishers can battle electrical fires involving appliances and tools that are plugged into an electrical source.

Class K extinguishers, normally used for restaurants, can be used on larger oil fires in a home.

Multipurpose fire extinguishers are labeled according to the classes of fire they combat, such as "A-B-C."

Location

Coming face-to-face with even a small fire can cause panic, and the fire's smoke can make familiar surroundings unrecognizable. Placing fire extinguishers where they are in plain sight and can be reached quickly without much thought is essential. A kitchen needs a fire extinguisher at all times. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, cooking was the leading cause of residential fires from 2004 to 2009. Each floor of a home also should have extinguishers in plain sight. A garage needs a fire extinguisher near a door, where it is less likely to be unreachable during a fire.

Tips

When you shop for fire extinguishers, read their label and use documentation to ensure you buy the correct size and type of extinguishers for your home.

A red fire extinguisher may have an expiration date. It can be replaced or emptied and refilled by a fire extinguisher service company.