Fire Extinguisher in an Aerosol Can - Does it Work?

Keeping a fire extinguisher in the kitchen is a great idea, because most home fires start in the cooking area where heat sources and flammable materials such as grease can ignite and quickly jump out of control. Some conventional fire extinguishers are large and bulky, making them hard to store in a handy place in the kitchen. In contrast, modern aerosol products marketed as "fire suppressants" are compact and effective in putting out small kitchen fires.

To test one manufacturer's fire suppressant, we start three "grease" fires using mineral spirits ignited in a frying pan. Note that our test fire is outside, we are wearing protective clothing, and we do not recommend that you try this for yourself! In the first test, the fire is confined to the frying pan. Most of us have seen cooking oil become too hot and burst into flame. In the second test, the fire spreads from the skillet to the cook top, as it might if grease were spilled onto the burners when you try to move the skillet. For the last test, the fire jumps from frying pan to cook top and then spreads to the wooden wall.

In each test, the fire suppressant extinguishes the flames as we carefully follow directions for using the product! In the steps below, we present those directions along with some general tips on fire safety.

  1. Store the aerosol fire suppressant where it is convenient and out of the reach of children, but not too near areas that pose fire hazards. For example, do not store it in the cupboard above the cook top where you would have to reach toward the grease fire just to retrieve the suppressant. Once the aerosol suppressant has been used to any extent, replace it as you would a disposable conventional fire extinguisher. The aerosol can may feel "full" or close to it, but don't take the chance. Check the expiration dates on a regular basis, perhaps on the same dates that you test your smoke/fire alarms. Understand that an aerosol fire suppressant does not replace the need to have a larger and more powerful conventional fire extinguisher for larger jobs.
  2. Observe the first priority in any fire that involves the actual structure of your home--getting your family safely out of the house and calling 911 must top your list. If you can delegate these concerns to another responsible adult, then focus on the fire. Plan and leave yourself a clear escape route from the kitchen in case your efforts at putting out the fire are not successful.
  3. Use the aerosol suppressant from a distance of three or four feet. Most conventional extinguishers have a range closer to five or six feet.
  4. Aim at the base of the fire and work upwards as the flames go out. This approach is the same for extinguisher or suppressant.
  5. Sweep the suppressant/extinguisher back and forth horizontally across the base of the flame to extinguish it all along the base before moving upward. That stops the fire from reigniting at the grease source.
  6. Move closer only as the flames diminish. Monitor the fire site for a while to ensure that the fire is really extinguished. If the flames reached the structure/walls of your home, fire personnel will want to confirm the fire is not smoldering inside the walls. Report to the fire department when the fire is out. That knowledge enables them to manage their resources better, deploying people and equipment where they are most needed.