How to Reduce Carbon Monoxide and Smoke Detector Nuisance Alarms

Smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) detectors can false alarm for several reasons. False or nuisance alarms are when your smoke detector or CO alarm goes off, but there is no presence of smoke or carbon monoxide in your home. However, if your smoke or carbon monoxide detector sounds indicating an emergency and you are not certain it is a nuisance alarm, evacuate the home and call 9-1-1.

Maintenance and Installation Tips to Reduce False Alarms

False alarms can be frustrating, especially when they occur in the middle of the night or when cooking. You can help reduce nuisance alarms by following a few simple maintenance and installation tips:

  • Test your smoke alarms and CO detectors monthly to ensure they are working properly.
  • If you have a battery powered detector, change the batteries in the unit at least every six months.
  • Clean your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms at least once a month:
  1. Gently vacuum the outside of the alarm using your household vacuum’s soft brush attachment. A can of clean compressed air, found at computer or office supply stores, may also be used. Never use water, cleaners or solvents because they can damage the detector.
  • If your smoke or carbon monoxide alarm becomes contaminated by excessive dirt, dust or grime, and cannot be cleaned, you should replace the detector immediately.
  • You may have placed your smoke and CO alarms in an area prone to false alarms, so relocate the detector if it sounds frequent unwanted alarms. Areas your your detectors should not be installed include:
  1. In extremely dusty, dirty or greasy areas like garages, furnace rooms, crawl spaces and unfinished attics.
  2. In direct sunlight.
  3. Within 10 feet of any cooking appliance or in air streams near kitchens because air currents can draw cooking smoke into the smoke sensor and cause unwanted alarms.
  4. At least 10 feet from extremely humid areas like the shower, sauna, humidifier, vaporizer, dishwasher, laundry room, utility room, or other source of high humidity.
  5. Keep smoke and fire alarms at least 20 feet from sources of combustion particles (Combustion particles form when something burns) like the stove, furnace, water heater, or space heaters if possible, or in poorly ventilated kitchens, garages, and furnace rooms.
  6. In areas where a 20-foot distance is not possible – in modular, mobile, or smaller homes, for example – it is recommended smoke alarms be placed as far from these fuel-burning sources as possible.
  7. For more recommended placement and installation tips of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, visit our Safety Corner.

What Does the Chirp From my Detector Mean?

Smoke and CO detectors can also chirp to indicate different things. Refer to your alarm’s user’s manual for specific alarm beeping pattern information.

  • If your fire or carbon monoxide alarm chirps once per minute this is a low battery warning, and you should replace the battery immediately.
  • If your alarm chirps three times every minute this is the malfunction signal meaning the alarm is not working properly and needs to be replaced. If the alarm is still under warranty, please contact customer support.
  • If the alarm chirps five times every minute this indicates the alarm has reached it’s end of life and needs to be replaced.
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