How to Dispose of Smoke Detectors

Smoke detectors are a significant addition to every home and have saved many lives by detecting smoke from fire outbreaks and sending alerts about the fire.

Sometimes, these smoke detectors stop working and all you need to do is change their battery to get them functioning again. Other times, they refuse to work even after a battery change and leave you with no option than disposing of them, giving rise to a crucial question of how best to do it.

This post will explain all you need to know about smoke detector disposal. You will learn why and how you should dispose of smoke detectors safely.

What You Should Know About Dispose of smoke detectors

Dispose of smoke detectors

Safe disposal of smoke detectors is crucial for a more healthy environment, though they do not threaten the lives of people in society too much.

The first step in the disposal process is to identify the type of smoke detector you have; then, you will know the best way to dispose of it.

There are two significant types of smoke detectors; photoelectric and ionization smoke. The significant difference between the two is the Americium Oxide (also known as Americium 241) in ionization smoke detectors.

While there are not many dangers associated with the disposal of photoelectric smoke detectors, we cannot always say the same about ionization smoke detectors because they contain Americium 241, a radiation source.

However, the presence of Americium 241 in ionization smoke detectors is not harmful when the smoke detector is in use and perfect condition because the smoke detector has a metal chamber that shields it. But, it becomes a threat when the device is no longer intact and the protection of the metal chamber is not available anymore.

How to Identify Your Smoke Detector Before Disposal

The first step in disposing of smoke detectors is to identify what type of smoke detectors you have. Knowing the type of smoke detector is crucial so you can choose a suitable method to dispose of it safely.

Below are the tips that will help you to identify the type of your smoke detector:

Take Your Smoke Detector Off Its Mounting

For effectiveness, smoke detectors are mainly fitted to ceilings and mounted to metal plates. So you must take it off the mount before checking anything on it. 

A ladder would be best to aid your reach for the smoke detector on its mounting. Climb the ladder until you get hold of the device and twist its plastic housing to open it. Depending on its make, you may need to twist the plastic housing clockwise or counterclockwise.

It is advisable to observe the device and the housing well, not force it open. Some models of smoke detectors require you to remove the plastic housing off its mounting by losing it with a screwdriver. 

However, ensure that you first turn off the main power of the mains-powered or remove the battery if it is battery-powered.

Check For A Radiation Symbol

Now that your smoke detector is off the mount, the next step before disposing of it is to check for a radiation symbol to help identify ionization smoke detectors.

Check behind your smoke detector for a sticker with the radiation sign. Suppose there is a sticker or signs of a sticker being there previously. In that case, you can conclude you have an ionization detector and follow further instructions for disposing of ionization smoke detectors. Although the radiation in ionization detectors may not be too harmful, you still need to dispose of it safely.

If there is no sticker at the back of your smoke detector, and there are no traces of a sticker being there previously, there is a better chance that you have a photoelectric smoke detector, but you cannot conclude yet.

Check Your Smoke Detector Manual

Smoke Detector Manual

If you have checked your smoke detector and the sticker bearing the radiation symbol is not present, you cannot conclude the type of smoke detector yet, and you should check out its manual.

Sometimes, that radiation sign missing on the smoke detector may be on the manual (usually on the cover page), and you have a low chance of missing it this time. Also, watch for “photoelectric” or “ionization” in the manual for further confirmation, especially if the radiation symbol is not on the cover page.

Alternatively, find the smoke detector’s product code on the device if you don’t have the manual. Then you can search this product code online to learn more about the smoke detector. You should find information about the smoke detector to help you identify it. If not, call the manufacturer for clarification on the type of detector.

However, if you still do not identify the smoke detector at this point, you should treat it as an ionization detector to be on the safe side.

How To Dispose Of Smoke Detectors

You can dispose of your smoke detector safely after identifying its type. The photoelectric and ionization detector have different methods of safe disposal, and this post addresses both smoke detector types separately. 

Disposing Of Photoelectric Smoke Detectors

Photoelectric smoke detectors are more eco-friendly, and you can safely dispose of them with the following steps:

Remove The Batteries

Before disposing of your smoke detector, you need to remove its batteries because they are corrosive and threaten the environment. You may need to unscrew the battery compartment to gain access to the batteries and remove them before closing the battery compartment back in place.

Some smoke detectors have a 9-volt battery, and you may need to unplug the battery from the end of a cable. Also, some mains-powered smoke detectors use batteries for backup power; therefore, it is advisable to check them thoroughly to ensure they do not have a battery compartment and to remove the battery if they have one.

You should dispose of the batteries you remove correctly to avoid causing environmental hazards, but you can test them on other appliances to know if they still work perfectly. You can reuse them for other household devices or perhaps another smoke detector.

Find An E-waste Recycling Center Near You

When you are finally ready to dispose of your smoke detectors, one of the best options is to consult an E-waste recycling center. 

E-waste recycling centers accept electronic waste and help to break them down and recycle them properly. You can find an Ewaste recycling center close to you or visit the United States EPA website.

Before you visit any e-waste center, call ahead to find out if they offer pickup services, and if they don’t, find out their open hours. Some e-waste centers will charge you a small fee for the disposal of smoke detectors, while others offer free services.

Trash Your Photoelectric Smoke Detectors

There are not so many e-waste recycling centers, so it is understandable if there is none near you. However, you can dispose of a photoelectric smoke detector with your regular household trash since they do not threaten the environment, like ionization smoke detectors.

You can also check out our post on how to dispose of electronics, as trashing your smoke detector may not always be the best.

Dispose Of Ionization Smoke Detectors

Ionization smoke detectors are hazardous to the environment, and the disposal process requires caution. The steps below will help you to dispose of it safely.

Remove Batteries

Like with a photoelectric smoke detector, it is essential to remove the batteries in an ionization detector before disposing of them.

The process is not too different from photoelectric detectors. Unscrew the battery compartment at the back to access the batteries and pull them out. Also, check for backup batteries if you own a mains-powered detector because many smoke detectors have batteries as backup power.

Do not forget to test the batteries and reuse them if they are reusable or dispose of them safely when they are no longer reusable.

Return Ionization Smoke Detector To The Manufacturer

It is essential to be careful in disposing of ionization smoke detectors and one of the most trusted hands to take care of it is the manufacturer.

You can check online or on the detector manual to find the manufacturer’s address so that you can contact them ahead for inquiries and guidelines on how to dispose of the smoke detector.

Package the detector securely and attach a note that states your desire to return it for safe disposal.

Consult Your Community Guidelines

The best way to safely dispose of smoke detectors is to hand them over to the manufacturers, but if the manufacturer is nowhere near, you may have to dispose of them yourself.

However, you will need to do it under your community’s guidelines so you won’t go against the law guiding your community. 

You can contact your local government agency in charge of radioactive materials to find out how to safely dispose of your smoke detector, or check here for more information on your disposal options.


You cannot always dispose of smoke detectors like regular household electronics waste, but this post’s tips will help you dispose of them properly.

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