How to Test Your Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors


Carbon Monoxide Safety

One common question that not enough people know the answer to is “does carbon monoxide rise or fall?” Carbon monoxide is lighter than air, so it rises. If you suspect CO poisoning, you might want to get to lower ground, but it’s probably safest to get outside and call the fire department.

Carbon Monoxide Detectors and Smoke Alarms

Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are two of the most important devices in an all-encompassing home security system. Both devices are life-saving tools, but to get the most out of them, they must be working properly. This is where testing your carbon monoxide and smoke detectors comes in. Testing for smoke and carbon monoxide alarms is relatively simple and staying on top of the devices is not too difficult. With some practice and reminders, your alarms can always operate properly, which could potentially be a literal lifesaver. 

How to Test Smoke Alarms and Carbon Monoxide Detectors

If you are experiencing a first alert with three chirps every minute, you need to test your alarm.  We'll cover two types of testing for smoke alarms: basic testing and crisis testing.

Basic Testing:

This style of testing occurs when an operator clicks on the test button that is present on a smoke detector. Once the button is pressed, a few seconds will pass before the test starts, but you’ll know the test is in process when you begin to hear a loud, piercing siren that comes via the smoke detector. 

Crisis Testing:

A crisis test on an alarm involves using smoke materials to ensure that a system operates correctly rather than checking if the alarm batteries are working. You should not perform a crisis test alone because if something unexpected occurs, you’ll want someone nearby with a fire extinguisher to put out the flames. You can perform a crisis test by lighting a candle, incense stick, or other material for burning. Once this material burns a steady smoke stream, hold it about 12 to 18 inches below the smoke detector unit.

Make sure not to get too close to the alarm because you’ll risk damaging the casing on the smoke detector, the actual unit itself, and the delicate materials inside of the detector. Ensure the alarm goes off in every room if you have an interconnected system and follow up by turning it off.

Additional Crisis Test Tips: 

Aerosol products are great for tests, but make sure to follow the instructions of the aerosol manufacturer. You should aim the spray so that it enters the alarm sensor area. Don’t spray the aerosol toward the holes on the cover of the alarm because this is where the sound is emitted. The alarm senses smoke through the opening around the perimeter.

The way to test this is by holding the aerosol can two feet away from the alarm, ensuring it is parallel to the wall or ceiling. This ensures the test spray is allowed to travel along walls or ceilings so it enters the openings in the perimeter of alarms.

  • Remember, spraying in excess at close range of an alarm might affect its sensitivity permanently.

  • Igniting combustible materials to test alarms is dangerous and could cause an accident or fire.

  • A lower-risk option is to light several matches to ensure the alarm registers smoke particles.

  • UL-rated cans of smoke can also be purchased to test devices.

How to Test Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Testing a carbon monoxide detector is similar to testing a smoke alarm. Before testing, you’ll want to alert your home security company of the test and place your system in test mode, so the device does not cause a false alarm. Unlike the smoke detector, the carbon monoxide device does not have a crisis test to perform (because you’d never want to emit carbon monoxide into a home consciously). How to test a carbon monoxide detector:

  1. Hold the “test” button until you hear two beeps sound off.

  2. Once you hear these beeps, release your finger off the test button.

  3. Repeat this process but hold the test button until you hear four beeps. If you hear four beeps, you know that a signal was sent to your monitoring station.

After 10-15 minutes, the CO alarm will return from test mode to its original setting. If the device doesn’t return to its original setting, you’ll need to perform a power cycle.

Testing Tips for Carbon Monoxide and Smoke Alarms

  • Ensure that all interconnected alarms are all emitting sound together.

  • When testing, include people in other rooms of the house to make sure alarms in every room are working and to make sure that you can hear alarms from every room. If you can’t hear an audible noise, it means you need to replace the batteries.

  • Don’t allow dust or debris to settle into devices, or they’ll work improperly. 

  • If the smoke detector is hardwired to a monitored home security system, alert your company before going through with the alarm test so they know a test is taking place and they don’t send responders to the home. 

  • Even if the unit’s lights are signaling that they have power, you should still test the devices. 

  • Wear ear protection when standing next to alarms when testing. They are very loud. 

  • If you just moved into a new house and the house is equipped with smoke alarms, you can check the dates on the devices by looking at the back of them. They will usually display a date of manufacture, and you can calculate the device’s age. If you can’t find the date on the device, you should replace the unit.

  • Alarms are just sources to alert you of danger. They can’t save you. You still have to create an action plan and respond to an emergency by escaping from your home. 

  • Never decorate any part of your alarms. Doing this will impair function.

You should test smoke and carbon monoxide alarms once a month at minimum, but once a week is recommended. Batteries should be replaced twice a year (we recommend when clocks are changed for daylight savings time).

Most smoke and CO alarms are said to last ten years, but we suggest beginning to look at replacement between five and seven years to see how they are performing. If you purchased an older home and don’t know the age of your smoke and carbon units, replace them entirely.

If you are looking for a professionally monitored home security system with life safety devices like smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, contact us at Brinks Home™ to start building your new system today.


6 Tips to Stop Your Fire Alarm's Unnecessary Alerts

Read more
1 14 my-smoke-detector-goes-off-when-it’s-cold-out Desktop

How to Avoid Your Smoke Detector Going Off When It’s Cold

Read more
2 63 Smoke-Detector-vs.-Fire-Alarm-What's-the-Difference Desktop

Smoke Detector vs. Fire Alarm: What’s the Difference?

Read more
Share via:

We are not able to service your area yet.

Thank you...

Your request has been submitted.

One of our expert security consultants will be in touch. Together, we'll design a smart home security system to fit your lifestyle.


Interested in a Home Security System?

Complete this form and a Brinks Home™ Security Consultant will reach out regarding building your security system.

...or Call 888.627.3631

By clicking the ‘Submit’ above below, I agree that a Brinks Home specialist may contact me via text messages or phone calls to the phone number provided by me using automated technology about Brinks Home offers. This consent is not required to make a purchase. Your information is collected and used in accordance with our privacy policy. Clicking the button below constitutes your electronic signature.