You probably own a fire extinguisher that may not work in the event of a fire. And even if it does, you may not know how to use it the right way. This is especially true since Kidde, the world’s largest manufacturer of fire-safety products, recalled more than 40 million of its extinguishers in November after hundreds of reports of malfunctioning and one associated death.

To make sure that your fire extinguisher is safe and operates properly…

Check whether you own a recalled model at, and find out how to get a free replacement (click on “Product Safety Recall Notice”). The recall covers 134 models made between 1973 and ­August 2017, all of which have lightweight plastic operating levers and can clog, fail to discharge and/or break during use.

Make sure you have the right size and type of fire extinguisher for areas of your home such as your kitchen and garage. Replace your extinguisher unless it has a metal operating lever and is rated “ABC,” which means that it uses the dry chemical ­monoammonium phosphate to put out fires from three common household sources—paper/wood/plastics…flammable liquids such as grease or gasoline…and electrical equipment.

If you have a kitchen smaller than 70 square feet or a one-car garage, buy an all-purpose extinguisher with the rating on the label of 1A-10B-C, which should provide a range of six to eight feet—a safe distance from which to put out a small fire. Cost: About $20. Larger areas require greater range and more extinguishing capability, a rating of at least 3A-40B-C. Cost: About $50.

Get rechargeable extinguishers serviced once every year to make sure they are fully charged and operating properly. To find a licensed expert, search in your area under “fire extinguisher sales and services.” Cost: $15 to $25. Don’t rely on the indicator needle on the canister pointing to the green zone. The needles can get stuck over time and may give an inaccurate reading. For smaller, cheaper fire extinguishers, it’s actually more cost-effective to just buy a new one every two years.

To use your fire extinguisher properly…

Pull out the safety pin before you squeeze the operating lever. During fires, many people are unable to remove the safety pin from a fire extinguisher—that’s because they are in a panic and squeezing the operating lever at the same time they’re trying to pull out the pin. The pressure on the discharge lever prevents the pin from being removed.

Aim the extinguisher nozzle at the base of the fire—this allows the dry chemical to smother it. Use a sweeping motion until the fire is fully out.

Related Articles