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What to Know About Recycling Fire Extinguishers

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on January 03, 2023

Fire extinguishers are a fantastic safety innovation. You’ve likely seen them in strategic locations within schools and other public facilities, but they’re also something that every household should have on hand. 

The problem is that both used and unused extinguishers can be puzzling to dispose of. After getting one for your home, you may find yourself wondering how to recycle fire extinguishers. Some can be recycled alongside your weekly trash, while others require more careful measures. Make sure that you know what you’re doing before discarding your extinguisher. 

Can You Recycle Fire Extinguishers?

The question of whether or not a fire extinguisher can be recycled essentially comes down to the kind that you have. Many modern extinguishers can safely be recycled with your normal household waste — once they’re properly emptied. 

Other extinguishers need to be handled with more care, and some can even be refilled. So, before you decide on the best way to deal with your extinguisher, you need to first figure out the type.

What Are the Types of Fire Extinguishers? 

There are a wide variety of extinguishers that are available on the market today. They’re made to manage different types and sizes of fires. This means that they contain different types of materials. 

You may also encounter an older model while cleaning out your garage. Some older types come with unique hazards, so you should take unique precautions when disposing of these.

Some, but not all, extinguishers have letter classifications that are clearly labeled on their bodies. These will help you figure out the type of model that you’re dealing with. 

The main types of extinguishers still in use today include: 

  • Dry chemical or ABC extinguishers. These contain both a gas and a dry chemical that’s usually a baking soda-based compound. These are some of the most common extinguisher types. Type A extinguishers are good for wood, paper, and ordinary flammable materials. Type B models are for liquid materials like grease, gas, and oil. Type C units are for electrical fires. You can find combination extinguishers that work on multiple types. For example, there are AB, BC, and ABC models available on the market. 
  • Class D. These are specifically designed to put out fires that deal with flammable metals. 
  • Class K. This type is mostly used in commercial kitchens to put out grease fires. It contains a chemical called potassium acetate. 
  • Carbon dioxide (CO2) extinguishers. This type contains pressurized CO2 and is useful for electrical and liquid fires. 
  • Pressurized water. These types contain pressurized H2O and are useful for ordinary materials, paper, and wood. 

Two other types of extinguishers were used in the U.S. in previous decades and could still be hiding in corners of your home. Carbon tetrachloride extinguishers are fantastic at putting out all types of fires, but they were banned in the 1960s. This is because the chemical is a carcinogen — meaning that it can cause cancer. It also turns into a lethal gas at high temperatures. 

Halon extinguishers were used until the 1990s to put out electrical fires that involved delicate equipment. Unfortunately, they’re made with hydrofluorocarbons — which are terrible for the environment.

What Are Fire Extinguishers Made Of?

The body of an extinguisher tends to be made out of metal. But different kinds of materials — like plastic — can make up the other parts. Many modern ones have steel bodies, which you can recycle normally. But you may have to remove the plastic handles and other attachments first. 

How to Recycle Fire Extinguishers

Before recycling your extinguisher, check to see if it can be refilled or recharged. You can find companies that perform this service online. They’ll also inspect the extinguisher to make sure that it’s compatible with current safety standards

Otherwise, most standard extinguishers can be safely recycled, particularly if they have a steel body. This includes all water- and CO2-based extinguishers and most dry chemical extinguishers with ABC labels. 

You may need to remove plastic add-ons and additional parts before you put them in your recycle bin. Specific disposal requirements can vary from area to area. Some places even take them when they’re still fully charged. Contact your local waste management facility to find out their unique pickup requirements. 

But you should always try to empty an extinguisher before putting it in the recycling. You can attach a garbage bag to the nozzle and deploy the extinguisher until you no longer hear any gas coming out. 

Make sure to do this outside and with the wind at your back for ABC-type extinguishers. Turn this type upside down before dispensing to get rid of the gas and not the solid chemical.

Take any other type of extinguisher to a local hazardous waste disposal facility. Or put it out when your area has a household hazardous waste collection day. You can also contact the manufacturer for additional disposal information.

Are Fire Extinguishers Bad for the Environment? 

When properly disposed of, modern fire extinguishers don’t harm the environment. Just make sure that you pay attention to proper disposal techniques so that the materials don’t become an environmental hazard. 

Be careful if you’re dealing with an old halon extinguisher. The chemicals in these do harm the environment and need to be handled by a professional disposal facility.

Are Fire Extinguishers Bad for Your Health? 

Modern fire extinguishers — including ABC, CO2, and pressurized water models — are currently considered safe for your health. Just make sure to use them properly and pay attention to any unique warnings for your extinguisher type. 

For example, all types of dry chemical extinguishers can cause mild eye and respiratory irritation. Carbon dioxide extinguishers can be very cold when dispensed and could lead to problems with local cold exposure. You could also asphyxiate — or pass out from a lack of oxygen — if you use one in an enclosed space.

Although most extinguishers are safe for your health, you need to make sure that there aren’t any current product recalls out for your model. For example, in 2017, a large product recall went out for 40 million Kidde brand fire extinguishers found in homes, vehicles, and boats. Many of them became clogged or didn’t work at all in emergencies and are dangerous to have on hand.

Be particularly careful with antique models that could contain carcinogens. 

Many older fire extinguishers are considered antiques and are collected in certain circles. You may be able to sell an older model that you come across. But you shouldn’t try to empty it yourself and should never throw it away in the regular trash. If you want to get rid of one of these models, you’ll need to contact your local recycling facility to find out the safest way to dispose of it in your area.

In general, you should always call your local waste facility if you have any questions about the best way to dispose of your fire extinguisher.

Show Sources

SOURCES: 
Brookhaven New York: “SAFETY BULLETIN: How to Dispose of Old Fire Extinguishers.”
Cumberland County: “How to Dispose of Old Fire Extinguishers.” 
Darien-Woodridge Fire Protection District: “Proper Disposal of Fire Extinguishers.” 
Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency: “How Do I Get Rid of Fire Extinguishers?”  
Riverside County Department of Waste Resources: “Fire Extinguisher.” 
Township of Middleton: “How to Dispose of Old Fire Extinguishers.”
Santa Barbara County Resource Recovery and Waste Management Division: “Hazardous Waste Warning.”

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