/ Health, Home & Energy

How often do you test your smoke alarm?

Smoke alarm

How often do you test your smoke alarm? Do you ever get the vacuum cleaner out to clean it? Testing and cleaning your smoke alarm could just save your life.

Your smoke alarm could save your life, so it’s vital that it can respond quickly to a fire in your home. But there’s not just one type of fire – they have to react to everything from fast-flaming materials like polyurethane to slow-smouldering materials like wood.

That’s why you can feel confident that the alarm you’re buying has been certified as tested to the British Standard in all types of fires. Or can you?

Smoke alarms our fail tests

In our recent test of smoke alarms, two FireAngel alarms failed to go off as required under the British Standards in one of the four test fires.

We advise people not to buy these two models (LSI-601 & SI-601) and have passed our findings on to Trading Standards. We also passed our findings on to Sprue Safety Products Ltd, the manufacturer, which is conducting its own investigations into our findings. Check out the smoke alarms that did best in our tests.

Testing your smoke alarms

Once you have a smoke alarm you can trust, you’ll want to keep it in good nick. Yet, not everyone does.

Around one in ten Which? members never check that their battery-powered smoke alarm is working. So how often should you test your alarm? You might not know it, but you should really be testing them once a week. Only 5% of people told us that they actually do this, with 11% only checking them when they beep.

However, checking they’re working isn’t the only thing you should be doing. You’ll also want to vacuum under the cover of your smoke alarm every six months, using the soft brush on your vacuum cleaner, to avoid dust particles interfering with the alarms performance.

Changing the battery

It’s also a good idea to change the battery every year. And don’t prise out the battery in frustration when the nuisance alarm in your kitchen won’t stop beeping after you’ve burnt a slice of toast. Or at least make sure you replace the battery straight after.

You should certainly make sure you’re not one of the 4% in our survey who don’t have either a smoke alarm or a carbon monoxide detector in their home.

So, how often do you check and clean your smoke alarm? And do you change the battery every year as recommended?

[UPDATE 31/10/2013] – Sprue Safety Products Ltd is the manufacturer of the two FireAngel smoke alarms that failed to go off in the parameters required by the British Standard when exposed to a test fire in our tests. At the time Which? magazine went to press, Sprue confirmed to us in writing its offer that it would provide alternative FireAngel alarms free of charge to Which? members who own the FireAngel SI-601 and LSI-601, despite questioning our methodology and results.

We are very surprised and disappointed to learn that Sprue Safety Products Ltd has now said that it will not honour this commitment because it now asserts the alarms are compliant with the British Standard. However, Which? has tested the Don’t Buy smoke alarms under rigorous British Standard conditions and we remain confident in our results. Accordingly, these alarms remain Don’t Buys.

We are very concerned that Sprue has reneged on its agreement to replace Don’t Buy alarms and we will be asking it to reconsider. We are also looking into how we can help those who have the Don’t Buy alarms and are concerned – if this applies to you, please contact our Customer Services helpdesk on 01992 822800. We will take your contact details and keep you posted about what’s happening.

Meanwhile, please do not take down any existing alarms you have and remember to test and clean them regularly in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.


Thank you for the response Patrick. I agree that, in the case of a critical safety device like a smoke alarm, a Which? Don’t Buy is as good a recommendation as you can get to replace such a unit with a Best Buy model. As Figgerty alludes lower down, however, consumers often have other priorities than their family’s safety. Personally I think tough action and strong language are in order when safety products that consumers trust and rely on [including the same brand as fitted by the fire brigade] are found to be non-compliant. I hope this is now urgently forwarded to Trading Standards and that they will take prompt action as suggested by Wavechange.

The latest fire service strikes reminded me that, as a country, we are drifting into a false sense of security over fire precautions. Fewer death-trap old buildings, better building regulations, stronger controls on gas and electrical installations and contractors, fewer flammable substances in everyday use, central heating, fewer smokers, and more smoke alarms . . . the rational response is to say we can reduce our fire cover. I think the risks of fire in the home are not diminishing at all as several Which? Conversations will testify. Over-heating appliances, dodgy leads and plugs from abroad, over-occupation, and dangerous behaviour mean that we still need a rapid response to home emergencies, and a reliable alarm is a vital starting point. Thank goodness the fire brigades are doing so much to promote and install these devices. I don’t think their stations should be closed or downgraded; their strength should be maintained and even more effort should be put into prevention and protection.

SteveP says:
8 November 2013

The article on smoke alarms didn’t really address an area of concern for me – the garage. I have had problems with the smoke alarm in my garage in the colder months. The cold seems to weaken the battery and also cause false alarms. There was no mention of cold-weather testing of smoke alarms in the article, but there may also be other unheated locations where this could be an issue.

There was a mention (briefly, in a graphic) that “heat alarms” would be suitable for a garage, but no further information was provided and it appears none were tested.

What do you recommend for use in an unheated garage? Many thanks.

mike chesters says:
20 November 2013

I bought the “easy to silence” Fireangel alarm a month ago and fitted it in my mother-in-law’s bungalow. She recently overheated a pudding in the microwave which produced dense black smoke, which was not detected with the alarm. Today I spoke to a representative of Sprue who said he would be quite interested in getting this alarm back. He has arranged to send my mother-in-law an alternative model. His explanation of how the ionisation alarm works was alarmingly inaccurate and he finished by assuring me that the black smoke was not produced by a fire but by overheated food and that the alarm would respond to smoke caused by a fire. I am not convinced.
The Sprue representative did not mention that any problems had been identified with the “easy-to-silence” alarm.

As anyone who has made toast knows, an ionisation smoke alarm can be set off without visible smoke. Assuming that your mother-in-law’s alarm operates when the test button is pressed, I suggest that you first contact Trading Standards and show them the alarm and a copy of the recent Which? report.

Returning the alarm to the company might help to secure action, but it will mean that you no longer have evidence of a problem.

Robert Duncan says:
4 December 2013

My smoke alarms were fitted free by the local fire brigade. They positioned them in the appropriate position and gave advise re general fire precautions. I am a pensioner but I do not know if this status allows one to access this service nationally.

Last night (well early this morning really) a house on my street had a fire. I wont post the news link as it has my street address in it. But below is a re-cap:

“House fire in house on 1st floor – 4 breathing apparatus, 2 hose reels and 2 positive pressure ventilation fans used – 6 surrounding properties affected by smoke logging. 2 adults and 5 children from next door taken to hospital with smoke inhalation. 1 adult from house behind checked by paramedics for smoke inhalation but did not attend hospital. 3 appliances from Hunslet and Leeds attended.”

And now, in the light of day the fire people are going house to house fitting free smoke alarms (3 per house) as it turns out only two of us had fire alarms installed.

I’ve lived here since 2008 and never even thought abut having one until which? ran this story.

So thank you Which?.

Sorry to hear about the fire. Glad no-one was seriously hurt. And very happy you have smoke alarms fitted to keep you and Bella safe.

Lee, I’m pleased you survived unsmoked. Did those houses without a smoke alarm have a satellite dish and the latest electronic gadgets?

Yep, 1 of the houses has Sky & Virgin too. No idea why you would need both tbh.

A very good question Figgerty. In 2012 we were looking for a new home and viewed lots of properties. It was amazing how many people had all the latest kit for their amusement [and generating heat as a by-product!] but only a small minority had protected themselves from smoke, fire and carbon monoxide poisoning [or even had their boiler serviced within the last five years]. Although not strictly relevant, it would not be a bad idea to include a performance check on smoke alarms and service histories in the Energy Performance Certificate. The declared absence of such essentials would at least alert the prospective buyer as they might otherwise be taken for granted.

It beggars belief that there are still so many households without a smoke alarm. A few months ago Lee told us of the FREE fire safety check by the Fire Brigade. I quickly booked an appointment and have tried to spread the word to friends and family since then. After a quick check they fit for FREE smoke alarms as and where required. My new alarms are situated a couple of feet from the old ones. The firemen explain the positioning and give advise about evacuation. Very reassuring indeed. This service is for anybody and is not just for the elderly, as I previously thought. The alarms have a ten year battery and have a button to test that they are functioning. The FB recommend testing once a week. Go ahead and book your FREE safety check next week. You may be saving a life and will be keeping the firemen occupied between shouts.

Just wondered if landlords have to fit smoke alarms in their properties before they rent them.

They certainly do for houses in multiple occupation [HMO’s] but I am not sure about other tenancies. Even if they do fit them they might not test them between lets to check they are still functioning properly – it is not unknown for people disturbed by the signal from a smoke alarm to remove the battery or to fail to replace the battery when spent. All new poperties have to have the alarms hard-wired in on a separate circuit and with back-up battery power. It is measures such as this under the building regulations that are significantly reducing the number of house fires and consequent deaths enabling the fire & rescue services to pay more attention to preventive work. Unfortunately, many fire authorities are using the statistics to justify reductions in fire cover with fewer personnel, appliances and fire stations. The reduction in road deaths is having similar repercussions.

I wonder if people who change rental property frequently, like students, were more at risk because they may not invest in a smoke alarm but if they are covered by HMO regulations they are probably OK, provided someone tests the alarms. Parents with sons or daughters in rental accommodation should check the situation.

When staying with family over Christmas I heard of a carbon monoxide (CO) alarm alerting people to a faulty boiler, which reminded me that my CO alarm is due to be replaced sometime this year.

Is Which? planning to test CO alarms in the near future?

A good central heating servicing company would take care of this for us automatically but it is now a chargeable extra and the engineer might not even mention it if there is something else he is required to flog.

Last year I offered to let in a central engineer for a friend who could not take time off work at short notice to have his boiler repaired. The engineer did not test either of the carbon monoxide alarms or comment on the fact that one was a couple of years beyond its expiry date.

This is a real eye opener into why we should all check our fire alarms! Spot on!