Can a Fire Extinguisher Explode?

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fire extinguishers engulfed in flames

It’s a scenario played out in movies and TV shows time and again: someone tries to put out a small fire with a fire extinguisher, but the extinguisher explodes in their face.

Is this something that could happen? The answer is yes – while it’s rare, fire extinguishers can and do explode.

Let’s take a closer look at what causes these explosions and how to avoid them.

What is a fire extinguisher, and what does it do?

A fire extinguisher is a pressurized container with a special foam or powder type. The purpose of a fire extinguisher is to put out small fires, which can be very effective for fires in the kitchen or other parts of the home.

But like any other piece of equipment, a fire extinguisher has the potential to malfunction and explode.

How do fire extinguishers work?

Fire extinguishers work by disrupting the chemical reaction that fuels a fire. The most common type of fire extinguisher, the ABC extinguisher, contains a dry chemical that creates a barrier between the fuel and the oxygen in the air.

This barrier starves the fire of oxygen, causing it to go out. Fire blankets also function this way.

The dangers of using a fire extinguisher

While fire extinguishers are designed to be safe, there is always the potential for them to malfunction.

One of the most common problems is that the pressure in the extinguisher can build up too much, causing it to explode. This can happen if the extinguisher is exposed to heat or is not used properly.

Another danger is that the chemicals in the extinguisher can become unstable and reactive, leading to an explosion. This is more likely to happen with older fire extinguishers that use a different chemical.

What to do if a fire extinguisher explodes

If you’re using a fire extinguisher and it explodes, the best thing is to get away from it as quickly as possible. The explosion can cause serious injuries, so getting to safety as soon as possible is important.

If you’re near the fire, you should also evacuate the area to avoid being caught in the flames.

How to avoid explosions with your fire extinguisher

You can do a few things to reduce the risk of your fire extinguisher exploding, like:

  • Ensure it’s properly maintained and serviced according to the manufacturer’s instructions. This will help to ensure that the pressure in the extinguisher is at the correct level and that the chemicals are still stable. 
  • If you’re using an ABC extinguisher, shake it before each use. This will help to prevent the dry chemical from becoming compacted and reactive.
  • Don’t leave your fire extinguisher near open flames like a grease fire or other heat sources. This can cause the pressure in the extinguisher to build up, leading to an explosion.
  • Ensure the fire extinguisher doesn’t accidentally strike a sharp object. Punctured fire extinguishers can trigger an explosion.

By following these simple tips, you can help to ensure that your fire extinguisher will be safe to use in the event of a fire. If you experience an explosion, take cover and wait for the fire to burn out before approaching the area. Call 911 immediately if there are any injuries.