Disposable vs Rechargeable Fire Extinguishers

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Kidde empty disposable fire extinguisherYesterday, we talked about the H3R Performance MX250C rechargeable fire extinguisher, and some basic fire and extinguisher safety tips. Today, we’re wrapping up the last day of Fire Prevention Week with a discussion about disposable and rechargeable fire extinguishers. I have a few strong opinions on this topic, and I won’t be pulling any punches. I’m not a big fan of large metal objects being disposable, so you can probably guess where some of this is headed.

Before we dive into this I’d like to start with one gentle suggestion:

Check All Your Fire Extinguishers (Right Now)

check your fire extinguisher pressures
Check your fire extinguisher pressure right now!
As I prepped for this article, I ran around the house and garage checking the gauges on all our fire extinguishers. Much to my surprise, our large Kidde fire extinguisher had the needle in the red, not the green. If you don’t think this is a big deal, read the story about my friend who went to extinguish a house fire and wound up trying to shoot a fire extinguisher with no more air in it. If you found an extinguisher with the needle in the red, replace or recharge it right away. Hopefully one of you can email me a year from now when you save your house or someone’s life because an extinguisher you brought back up to speed helped save the day.

Disposable Extinguishers Suck
Back to the Kidde extinguisher I found with no charge left. No problem I thought, I’ll just figure out where to recharge this thing. I was pretty shocked to read the instructions on this fire extinguisher I bought at a big box store many moons ago. The instructions are clear: “Discard Extinguisher When Point Shows Red.” Not refill. Not even recycle. Discard. As in take this large chunk of aluminum and throw it in the trash. I consider this environmentally uncool. Kidde appears to sell both disposable and rechargeable extinguishers. Why they feel it necessary to sell an extinguisher that most people will throw in the trash eventually is beyond me. Dear Kidde, (and other manufacturers still selling disposable extinguishers), please consider exclusively selling extinguishers people can refill / recharge!

What it Costs to Refill a Fire Extinguisher
fire extinguisher nozzleA quick google search will likely yield several fire safety companies in your area offering fire extinguisher recharges and refills. A local company I contacted, Red Truck Fire and Safety Company, said recharging an extinguisher at their location is typically around $15, or $2.50/lb if you’re refilling extinguishing agent. They also said they sometimes recycle old disposable units as a courtesy when people are using their refill service on other units. Another company I contacted said they charge closer to $30 per extinguisher, but they come on site. Either way, you’re not looking at a huge expense and your not wasting aluminum or steel in the process.

The Recycle Dilemma
What do you do if you’re stuck with a disposable extinguisher that no longer has pressure? That’s a good question. I’ll tell you what I did, with the caveat that it may not be safe, legal in your area, or even a good idea.

First, I checked out the MSDS on the chemicals in my particular extinguisher. It didn’t sound like something you’d want to snort, but it also was described as non-toxic and relatively inert. Next, I verified the gauge wasn’t lying to me by putting a large trash bag over the nozzle and squeezing the trigger. Sure enough, absolutely nothing came out (which really would have sucked in a fire). I then used my favorite Knipex pliers to carefully unscrew the trigger mechanism from the tank. I slowly pulled out the trigger and attached hose, doing so inside the trash bag to avoid a massive dust cloud. I then sealed the bag around the tank and turned it upside down to dump the fine powder out of the tank. After the aluminum tank was emptied, I tossed it in my recycle bin, although a trip to a recycling center might have been a safer bet. The powder and trigger I double-bagged and threw in the trash. Hopefully this process kept a large chunk of aluminum out of the landfill. However, you can save yourself the hassle of trying to find a good recycling option by simply buying fire extinguishers that can be recharged. Again, do your own homework on this to determine if a similar plan works for you. You might also find it much easier and safer if you can find a local fire supply company handle the recycling for you.

h3r performance fire extinguishers

If you’re ready to get a rechargeable model that you won’t need to throw into the trash or recycle anytime soon, we recommend the H3R Performance Maxout Fire Extinguishers. They are solidly made, have a six year warranty, look good, and start at around $70 each. Of course, they’re also rechargeable!

Photo of author

About Marc Lyman

Marc grew up under a brave single mom who "encouraged" home improvement on the family home. Early toddler gifts included a tool set, and even a cordless Bosch drill when cordless drills first came out. In grade school (give or take a few years), Marc's mom said, "We need to cut down some trees. . . . here's a chainsaw." A father figure also involved Marc in many home improvement projects, including a summer of home remodeling in Palo Alto, CA. Toss in some Obsessive Compulsive personality traits researching everything home improvement related. The end result: a genetically pre-disposed, socially sculpted home improvement machine! For his complete profile, please visit our About page. Really, it's worth it.

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13 thoughts on “Disposable vs Rechargeable Fire Extinguishers”

  1. The local rental code in our area requires rechargeable units to be inspected by a certified Fire Extinguisher company annually. We have 25 units and they charge $60 Each to check the gauge and punch the inspection charge. If it is disposable, then the landlord can check it annually at the cost of $0 per unit. You do the math. They hve to be replaced every 6 years, That is still a BIG savings !

    • All fire extinguishers require inspection, not just rechargeable ones. Either 1. They are not being enforced properly or 2. The code is poorly written.

  2. Hi,
    If you are saying that the disposable fire extinguishes with the gauges are unreliable, why are they being sold ??? I have both types throughout the house. I have some disposable that have held the charge for years according to the gauges, is it charged ??? Then I have one that an arrow now indicates RECHARGE and yet I was told it is not rechargeable. This is a very confusing. Are there any solid legal answers to this dilemma or just individual preferences ???

    • The problem is not that they are disposable. The problem is that what the manufacturers were making them of vary cheap quality. Kidde has given the disposable extinguishers a bad name. It finally bit them in the butt, when they had to do a massive recall.

  3. Well… We just had another spot fire flameup to 6×4 flames in less than 10 seconds in the Valley Fire here in Northern Ca.. Im GLAD and so are my neighbors that I had a FULL FIRE EXTINGUISHER ON MY PORCH. It too the CalFire roaming crew 20 minutes to get here. Local dept. Fire truck less than a mile away, says ” oh, thats not our area.” SO WE A4E ALL BUYING EXTINGUISHERS to fight flaring up Hotspots.

  4. HELLO…. I agree as well but there are instances that companies prefer the disposable. As a company that offers the recharge it benefits us to sell the rechargeable ones but we offer the disposable. One example where a customer prefers these disposable fire extinguishers is an apartment complex where tenants appear to be stealing the extinguishers. Another example is a company whose policy demands that anyone coming to their site would need a 2 million dollar insurance policy. Our insurance company doesn’t even write a 2 million dollar policy and when we checked into getting an umbrella to cover the other million they wanted to charge us another 1000.00 a year. Needless to say… it wouldnt have benefitted our small company to pay for this unnecessary coverage so the company had to switch to disposable as no one else would carry that coverage either.

    • Hi Robin, thanks for the comment. As to the complex where the extinguishers are getting stolen, I would argue that more robust security measures / deterrents might be a better solution, at least in terms of the environment. I would guess 90+% of disposable models ultimately wind up in the trash, which is a pretty shameless waste from my perspective. As to the insurance mention, I’m confused. Are you saying the insurance company will only provide the coverage you need if disposable fire extinguishers are used? Sorry, but I’m not following.

      • Sorry about the confusion ad to the insurance company but that’s not my decision. The company that needs the fire extinguishers have chosen to purchase the disposable because we can’t provide the insurance coverage they need to come on to their sites in order to service their existing extinguishers. As for the apartment complex, trust me I agree with you but ultimately it is their decision. The best solutionwould be for Insurance companies and inspectors to disallow the disposable if they are so unreliable.

    • Robin,
      Doesn’t the company with the disposables need annual inspections? Which would require you to come onsite or have them haul them to you? I’m debating this topic for our company and trying to decide if the disposable is better because they don’t need to be emptied and refilled every 6 years and hydrostatically tested every 12.
      I can hardly see putting the dry chemical into landfill as being environmentally conscious. Better to take it to a service center that will reuse or properly dispose of the chemical charge and recycle the cylinder (even if they charge the equivalent of a refill for that service).


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