How to Dispose of Smoke Detectors

  • Smoke detectors come in two categories: photoelectric and ionization type. How they should be disposed of depends on their type. 
  • You can safely put old photoelectric detectors in the trash (removing the battery first). However, pay more attention to the ionization type as it contains a small amount of radioactive Americium 241.
  • To make household hazardous waste safely disposed of, consider recycling service (go to the Curie Environmental Services page), call and contact the manufacturer, or search for your local county disposal programs.

Types of smoke detectors

There is a couple of regulations regarding dealing with household hazardous waste. 

But first, let’s see properly what smoke detectors are.

Every smoke detector falls into one of two categories (and three types): 

  • photoelectric,
  • ionization, and
  • a combination of the two—commonly called a “dual” detector;

These two systems in smoke alarms sense the presence of smoke differently.

Ionization detector

Ionization detectors contain a small amount of Americium 241, a radioactive isotope. 

When we are using an ionization detector, it’s perfectly safe because a metal chamber inside the device shields the radioactive material.

The problem starts when it gets dismantled, and the radioactive material gets exposed. 

Important: For your safety, never try to take apart an old ionization detector!

These detectors are great for detecting fast-burning fires. They are susceptible to small particles of smoke, for example:

  • in a paper, and 
  • wood. 

They’re also affordable.

Photoelectric smoke detectors

These sensors will easily detect larger particles of smoke from:

  • slow-burning, 
  • ‘smoldering’ fires. 

They produce few false alarms and are reliable. However, they are a bit more expensive than ionization smoke detectors.

You can safely dispose of old photoelectric detectors in the trash. 

These detectors do not contain radioactive materials like Americium 241. However, before putting it in the trash, remember to remove the battery first.

What type of detector do I have?

To learn how to dispose of your smoke detector, learn first which one you have. 

For starters, determine whether or not your detector is an ionization type.

The photoelectric type is easy to deal with as it contains no radioactive material. You can put it in the residential trash on your street.

With ionization type, the case is a little different. 

To find out which type you have, look on the detector back.

The one that contains ionization smoke materials will have the letter “I” or say “ionization.”

Detectors smoke disposal

For more information about your specific alarm, search for it in your user’s manual.

If you’re still unsure how to safely and, according to the law, get rid of your detectors smoke, search the number to call and contact your local fire department. 

Verify with your local county law regarding disposal instructions before disposing of an alarm.

Some local hazardous waste collection centers will accept ionization smoke detectors. Find the address of your closest center online.

You can also try to send your old detector back to the original manufacturer. To do it:

  • locate the brand name and address on the back of the device, or 
  • find the information in the user’s manual; 

Contact information for some of the major smoke detector manufacturers is available online.

Remove the battery and send the whole unit back intact, indicating that the device is intended for disposal.

Important: Never disassemble your smoke detector at home. 

Curie Environmental Services is the first and only company in the United States to offer a mail-back recycling program service for ionization smoke detectors. 

If you’re interested in a recycling program, contact Curie for mailing instructions and pricing information.

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Frequently Asked Questions

The best method is to mount smoke alarms high on walls or ceilings, as smoke always rises. If you mount them on walls, do it not more than 12 inches away from the ceiling. Remember to install smoke alarms at least 10 feet (3 m) from a cooking appliance to minimize false alarms when cooking.
That's the worst way to get rid of items. But, unfortunately, sometimes we come across people burning household garbage in burn barrels, stoves, and fire pits. It's worth knowing that it creates pollution that's not only dangerous to human health but also contaminates the air, water, and soil.
Smoke alarms will go bad after a while as the sensors eventually degrade in quality. The National Fire Protection Association recommends replacing smoke alarms every ten years. Nest says that we should replace most CO detectors every 5-7 years.
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