Why do smoke detectors beep?

Written by kevin walker
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Why do smoke detectors beep?
Keep your smoke detector in good working order. (Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

If your smoke detector is giving you a headache with its incessant beeping, you may be tempted to pull the thing off the wall. A number of things (besides smoke) can cause the beeping, and the surest way to stop it is to fix the problem.


It sounds obvious, but if the smoke detector is beeping, the first possible cause is smoke in the house. What might be less obvious is where the smoke is coming from. Burnt food in the oven or burning oil on the stove are possible causes. Another is a fireplace that needs cleaning or, worse, doesn't have the damper fully open. Closing the damper too quickly can also cause a problem; a wood-burning fire place needs time for the ashes to finish smouldering, and closing the damper immediately after the visible fire is gone will lead to a smoky home and a beeping smoke detector.

Battery Is Dying

Many new smoke detectors come with batteries that last as long as the detector itself, but most detectors will need to have their batteries replaced roughly once a year. If the smoke detector realises that the batteries are going out, it will start beeping periodically to alert the owner to this fact. This is to ensure that the owner doesn't go a single day without the protection offered by the smoke detector.

Dirt and Dust

Smoke detectors need to be cleaned about once a year. The process isn't complicated; most can be cleaned just by pulling them off the wall and running a vacuum cleaner over them, though you should consult the owner's manual first. If too much dirt and dust build up inside the detector, not only will it not function as well, but it also will tend to sound false alarms.

Other Problems

Smoke, batteries and dust cover the obvious problems. If your detector is still making a racket, you will need to look to the less obvious. The following can all set off a smoke detector: fresh paint fumes, hot steam from a bathtub or shower, nearby fluorescent light fixtures and even particularly hot or cold temperatures.

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