An undercharged, expired, or depressurized portable fire extinguisher endangers your personnel’s lives and surrounding property during a fire. These devices need to be maintained properly and proactively replaced when they near the end of their shelf life to ensure functionality.
Here is everything you need to know about fire extinguisher expiration and maintenance. Armed with this knowledge, you can be confident your portable fire extinguishers will serve their intended purpose when you need them most.
When Do Fire Extinguishers Expire?
So, do fire extinguishers expire? Unfortunately, this is not a simple yes or no question. Fire extinguishers do expire and become inoperable over time. However, unlike other products, they don’t have a strict expiration date. There isn’t a predetermined timeline to follow or an exact number of years businesses can have an extinguisher before it’s considered “expired.” While portable fire extinguishers don’t expire in the typical sense, certain models become obsolete as technology advances and regulations change.
There are general rules to guide businesses on how long they should use their devices. However, fire extinguisher life expectancy varies from manufacturer to manufacturer and depends on a few additional factors, including:
- Type of fire extinguisher
- Whether it is rechargeable or disposable
- The extent of maintenance over time
- Manufacture date (when it was built)
- Manufacturer’s recommendation for replacement
Most manufacturers claim a well-maintained fire extinguisher can last up to twenty years with an average lifespan of 10-12 years. Based on National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards, here are the two fire extinguisher life expectancy guidelines every business owner or facility manager needs to know:
- Disposable fire extinguishers - Should be replaced every 12 years
- Rechargeable fire extinguishers - Should be recharged every 6 years
It is crucial to keep in mind that fire extinguishers will continue to function after these periods. However, NFPA 10 and manufacturer’s service guidelines require periodic internal testing and recharging by a qualified fire protection company to ensure functionality and canister integrity.
What Types of Fire Extinguishers are Considered Obsolete?
Certain types of fire extinguishers are now obsolete. If you still own one of these, it could be considered “expired.” Fire extinguishers become outdated as technology advances and regulations change.
NFPA provides guidelines for which types of extinguishers are considered obsolete and should be removed from service. Some of these include:
- Soda Acid
- Chemical Foam
- Vaporizing Liquids (Carbon Tetrachloride)
- Cartridge-operated water
- Cartridge-operated loaded stream
- Copper or brass shell (excluding pump tanks) joined by soft solder or rivets
- Carbon dioxide extinguishers with metal horns
- Solid charge type AFFF (paper cartridge)
- Pressurized water extinguishers manufactured before 1971
- Any extinguisher that needs to be inverted to operate
- Any stored pressure extinguisher manufactured before 1955
- Any extinguisher with 4B, 6B, 8B, 12B, and 16B fire ratings
- Stored-pressure water extinguishers with fiberglass shells (pre-1976)
- Stored-pressure dry chemical extinguisher manufactured before October 1984
In addition to the types of extinguishers listed above, any fire extinguisher that can no longer be serviced following the manufacturer’s maintenance manual, or was made by a company that is no longer in business, is considered obsolete and should be removed from service.
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How to Tell if Your Fire Extinguisher is Expired
Since fire extinguishers don’t have an expiration date, it’s often difficult to determine precisely when to replace your fire extinguisher. To determine when to replace a fire extinguisher, it’s often easier to look for signs of degradation. Here are three warning signs that indicate it’s time to replace your portable fire extinguishers.
1. Rust and corrosion - A humid or corrosive environment leads to rust, which in turn causes key components to break or become inoperable. Inspections and testing are critical at the proper intervals to avoid rust and corrosion. Visual inspections can help determine if there is something wrong or broken with the fire extinguisher. Still, annual inspections by a professional fire extinguisher technician are necessary to assess its functionality.
2. Failed hydrostatic test - Hydrostatic testing measures the integrity of the fire extinguisher’s cylinder, which is under constant pressure. If an extinguisher fails this test, it is unsafe and should be retired from service immediately.
3. Depressurization - Just as the fire extinguisher itself typically doesn’t expire, neither do the contents inside. While extinguishing agents don’t expire, the fire extinguisher can become depressurized over time, causing inoperability.
Once a month, check your fire extinguisher to ensure the pressure gauge is in the proper position. You want the needle to point within the green area. If the pressure gauge is in the "Recharge" or "Over Pressurized Range" position, bring the device to a professional fire protection technician for service immediately.
Stay Protected and Prepared with Complete Fire Extinguisher Services
Even the most well-maintained devices deteriorate and eventually reach the end of their shelf life. While fire extinguishers don’t have set expiration dates, they require replacement or recharging after a certain amount of time.
One of the simplest ways to ensure your fire extinguishers are readily accessible and fully functional for immediate use is to partner with an experienced fire protection company with complete fire extinguisher services. Highly-trained technicians will conduct thorough preventative maintenance procedures, including inspection, replacement, and recharging, to ensure your facilities are adequately equipped and protected in the event of a fire.
With professional care and preventative maintenance, portable fire extinguishers provide reliable, prolonged fire protection, helping businesses safeguard their facilities, building occupants, and expensive assets.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published on April 17, 2017, and has been updated for accuracy and current best practices.