How to Dispose of Old Smoke Detectors

Hunker may earn compensation through affiliate links in this story.
Smoke detectors containing radioactive materials must be handled properly to avoid contamination.
Image Credit: AlexRaths/iStock/GettyImages

Smoke alarms protect your family, but they don't last forever. Part of installing new smoke alarms involves removing and disposing of your old ones. When you need to dispose of old smoke detectors, your first instinct might be to toss them in the trash.

Advertisement

Video of the Day

However, the way you get rid of an old smoke alarm depends largely on the type. Certain smoke alarms may need to be disposed of as hazardous waste.

Remove the Battery

Whether you have a battery-operated or hardwired smoke alarm, it likely has a 9-volt battery in it. A battery-powered smoke alarm relies solely on the battery for its power source, and some may have a 10-year lithium battery installed instead of using a 9-volt battery. A hardwired smoke alarm connects to your home's electrical system, but it often requires a battery to serve as the backup power source in case of a power outage.

Advertisement

Before you dispose of any smoke alarm, remove the batteries. Standard alkaline batteries can usually go in the trash. Lithium batteries can be recycled, but it can be difficult to find a recycling program for them in some areas. Another disposal option is a hazardous waste collection event in your community.

Advertisement

Determine the Smoke Detector Type

Before you dispose of your smoke alarm, you need to know what type it is. Ionization and photoelectric are the two main types of smoke alarms. Photoelectric smoke detectors don't have any hazardous materials in them.

Advertisement

Ionization smoke alarms use a tiny amount of radioactive material to help detect smoke. It's not hazardous to your family as long as the smoke detector remains intact and undamaged. However, you should never take apart an ionization smoke alarm because you can expose the radioactive material. While you can throw away the smoke detector, it's safer to dispose of it as hazardous waste.

Advertisement

If you're not sure what type of smoke alarm you have, turn over the unit. Ionization smoke alarms usually have an "I" printed on the unit. It might also show the word "ionization" on it.

Toss It in the Trash

If your alarm is a photoelectric model, it's considered normal household trash and not hazardous waste. Once you remove the batteries, you can toss the old smoke alarm in your trash. Smoke detectors can also be recycled, so consider looking for a recycling program to reduce your waste. While the EPA says you can throw away an ionization alarm as well, consider other disposal methods.

Advertisement

Send It Back to the Manufacturer

Some smoke alarm manufacturers accept old smoke detectors as part of a disposal or recycling program. This can be an easy way to get rid of an ionization smoke alarm safely. Determine the brand of your smoke alarm by looking for a company name printed somewhere on the unit. Contact the smoke detector manufacturer to inquire about its disposal and recycling program to determine how to return the unit to the company.

Advertisement

Dispose of It as Hazardous Waste

If the manufacturer of your ionization smoke detector doesn't have a disposal program, you'll need to find your own option for disposing of hazardous waste. Some local waste management services have a hazardous waste disposal option. Contact them to see if they accept ionization smoke alarms as part of the program.

Advertisement

Another option is to watch for a community hazardous waste disposal event, which many municipalities host a few times during the year. Review the restrictions for the event to make sure you can drop off the smoke alarm and any other hazardous waste items you have.

Advertisement

references