8 Reasons Smoke Detector Is Not Detecting Smoke (+Fix)

Smoke detectors are meant to save your lives by alerting you with sounds or light indicators whenever smoke is nearby. It can be stressful when your detector is not detecting any smoke and alarming you about it. What could be the reasons behind it? Let’s see. 

The smoke detector could not detect smoke due to battery issues, sensor obstruction, incorrect installation placement, power source issues, or expired detectors. Before they become entirely unresponsive, they try alarming you with false alarms. 

When you ignore these indications or signs, the device stays in that condition, and over time, it stops working correctly. This article shares the possible reasons behind a smoke detector not detecting smoke, signs of the problems, and how to solve them. 

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Introduction to Smoke Detectors

Before we get to the main point, let’s discuss smoke detectors.

A smoke detector is a device or a sensor that can sense and detect smoke as a primary indication of fire. 

Once the device detects smoke, it will signal the building occupants through lights and loud alarms. 

The detectors are lodged in a small, round, disc-shaped plastic enclosure. 

You can install it at the ceiling of the rooms with fire risks, like a garage, kitchen, basement, furnace rooms, etc., and the other rooms. 

I have smoke detectors for all my rooms, including my garage, basement, kitchen, and furnace. 

I also have one in the bedroom to take immediate action at night. 

There are two types of detectors: photoelectric and ionization. 

When the detector detects the smoke after it enters the detector chamber, a photoelectric type will detect the sudden scattering of the light. 

On the contrary, the ionization detector will detect the change in the electrical current flow, triggering the signal signifying the presence of smoke. 

Both of them can detect slow-burning smoldering fires and fast-burning flames. 

NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) suggests people have both detectors, especially in large commercial buildings. 

Smoke detectors are categorized into two more types – hardwired and battery-powered. 

The hardwired detectors are connected directly to the house’s electrical wire system. 

But they also have a battery that takes over if the wiring fails. 

The battery-powered works only with batteries. 

The hardwired detectors are interconnected. When one detector goes off, the others will raise alarms, too. 

Another benefit is even if one doesn’t work, the others will still go off during nearby smoke and alarm you about it. 

Most buildings with multiple detectors prefer hardwired smoke detectors for this feature. 

You need to replace the devices every 10 years and the battery every 1-2 years. 

Significance of Detecting Smoke

Smoke detectors can alarm the sleeping residents of the building about smoke before they become victims, especially of fire. 

By installing smoke detectors in your house, you can reduce the chances of accidents and death by 50%. 

The detector should be installed in every room, including the bedrooms. 

Some detectors can detect specific types of smoke. 

In contrast, others will make noise whenever they detect smoke, even from hot dishes, water, and dust. 

Common Causes of Smoke Detector Failures

Several reasons can make your smoke detector unresponsive. 

I have had smoke detectors for a long time. 

And I check them regularly, once every 15 days. 

I clean and check the detectors by holding some matches a few feet under the detector. 

Once it detects the smoke, it raises an alarm. 

But one day, it did not detect the smoke. 

I tried cleaning and changing the batteries, but that did not work. 

Ultimately, I had to hire an expert and get it fixed. 

Have you ever faced the same issue? Or, you want to educate yourself to stay prepared in case you face it in the future?

No matter the cause, this article will share all the possible reasons I learned while researching and easy ways to solve it.  

Remember that false alarms are most issues’ initial signs of the problem. 

If you ignore them, over time, your detector will have reduced performance and won’t detect smoke like before. 

Now, let’s get to why smoke detectors are not detecting smoke.

1. Battery Issues

The battery-powered smoke detectors operate on batteries. 

When the batteries are low or dead, the smoke detector may fail to detect the smoke nearby or stop working. 

When the battery level is low, the smoke detector will try to signal you through chirping sounds and light indicators. 

It will be a kind of false alarm. 

Along with that, the yellow indicator light may flash every 1 minute during a low battery level. 

If you ignore the symptoms, over time, the smoke detector will not be able to detect the smoke properly. 

Over time, the detector will stop working.  

To prevent this, you need to change the batteries in time. 

Usually, the batteries should be changed every 1-2 years. 

2. Power Source Problems

The power source is one of the most important factors when it comes to detecting smoke. 

The battery-powered detectors run only on batteries. 

They do not require power from the electrical system. 

The hardwired smoke detectors are directly connected to the house’s electrical system. 

But they also have batteries that take over if the cable connected to the electrical system fails.

It makes the hardwired detectors safer during an electrical outage. 

When the battery is dead, the battery-powered devices won’t receive any power and detect smoke unless you replace the batteries. 

The hardwired detectors can work if there is a problem with the power source. 

The problem occurs when both the house’s electricity and the batteries fail simultaneously. 

In this case, the hardwired smoke detector will not be able to detect smoke. 

You need to check the power source and change for tripped batteries to fix it. 

Battery replacement is easy. 

For the other one, check the breaker.

If the breaker has tripped, flip it ON. 

If the switch is stuck at the center, turn it OFF and flip it to ON. 

Also, check for the wire conditions and their connections. 

Faulty wiring can also lead to the same issue. 

If you find anything suspicious, call an electrician to get them checked and repaired. 

3. Sensor Blockage

The smoke detector has a sensor to help the device sense smoke nearby and raise the alarm. 

If there is any blockage or obstruction around the sensor, it can fail to detect the nearby smoke and won’t raise any alarm. 

The sensors in the smoke detectors are so sensitive that they can even raise an alarm when they come in contact with the dust particles. 

Dust particles, pollen, ash from fire, and disrupted smoke particles can gather around the sensor and create a blockage. 

Due to this, the detector becomes unresponsive as it cannot detect smoke with this blockage. 

You must regularly clean the detector using a microfiber cloth or compressed air to fix this. 

Check the manual to learn the correct cleaning process. 

4. Expired Smoke Detector

Every smoke detector will have an expiry date. 

Usually, you need to change and upgrade your device every 10 years. 

Over time, the internal components weaken due to regular usage and are no longer sharp enough to detect smoke immediately. 

Their performance is reduced, and they often fail to detect smoke nearby. 

There is no solution except changing the detector and buying a new one. 

Also, ensure to buy an upgraded one. 

The upgraded smoke detector performs better, which is also needed according to the law in some regions. 

5. Interconnected Alarms

The hardwired smoke detectors are interconnected. 

When one goes off, the others will raise the alarm, too. 

Let’s say your kitchen’s smoke detector has some issues you are unaware of, and it is not detecting smoke. But the others are fine. 

In that case, if something burns in the kitchen, the detector may not be able to detect smoke. 

So, the others won’t raise any alarm unless the kitchen’s smoke reaches them. 

Maybe that’s why your smoke detectors are late or not detecting smoke at all. 

You must first fix the defective smoke detector by hiring an electrician. 

6. Incorrect Placement or installation 

The smoke detector placement is a very crucial factor. 

It is recommended to install a smoke detector in all the rooms of your house. And it would be better to have the hardwired type. 

A hardwired smoke detector has interconnected alarms. 

If you have more than one detector, all the others will start making noises whenever one goes off. 

If you cannot afford to install it in every room, place it in the central location of your house so that it can detect the smoke in the first place.

Or, install it in a location where there might be a fire risk, for example, the kitchen. 

If your detector is not close to the risky area, it won’t be able to detect the smoke in the first place. 

So, placement is essential. 

To fix the problem, you can either call an expert to change the location of the smoke detector or install another one at the correct location. 

Another issue is installation. 

If the device is not correctly installed, the smoke detector may not work up to the mark. 

Sometimes, it won’t be able to detect the smoke or raise an alarm for safety. 

If you suspect this, you should hire an expert to check the detector. 

7. Environmental Factors

Excessive humidity and extreme temperatures may not allow your smoke detector to work correctly.

Excessive humidity levels for extended periods affect the ionization process of the smoke detectors. 

It makes the ionization chamber conduct electricity, leading to false alarms. 

Extreme temperatures or temperature fluctuations can reduce the sensitivity of the smoke detectors, causing them to fail in smoke detection. 

Since these are natural factors, you cannot do much about it. 

Install a dehumidifier to reduce the humidity level around the detectors. 

Keep the doors and windows closed from which drafts can enter, reduce the performance of the smoke detectors, and let them stay around an average room temperature. 

Avoid smoking consistently near areas having smoke detectors. 

The smoke and the ash particles can gather around the detector and contaminate it over time. 

8. Outdated Technology

Over time, the technology in the smoke detectors will improve. 

That is why buying a new one every 10 years is recommended. 

A smoke detector with a new model and technology can perform better than your old one. 

You may have an ancient smoke detector version with degraded internal parts. 

That’s why it is not able to detect the smoke properly. 

Even if you try fixing the old one, it can be challenging, and you won’t easily get any replacement parts for such an old model.

The simple solution to this problem is to replace your smoke detector with a new and upgraded version. 

Testing Procedures

Once you have tried the above troubleshooting steps, you should test your detector to ensure its optimal performance. 

Before you perform a test, here are a few things you should know:

  • You have to push the test button on the detector for testing.
  • You need an aerosol spray designed explicitly for smoke detector testing to test the sensor. 
  • You can also check the detector with real smoke. Hold a burning paper or 1-3 matches a few feet under the detector, and wait for the alarm. 

Now, let’s share the steps to perform a test. 

  1. Begin by warning your family members that you will conduct a test so they do not panic when they hear any alarms. The hardwired detectors are interconnected, so inform the security system’s company about it. 
  2. While testing, ask someone for help. You will stand under the detector to check the light status and the alarm’s condition. Ask the helper to stand in the room farthest from the detector when you test it. The helper can also stand outside the house to see if the sound reaches outside. 
  3. Many detectors have lights equipped to indicate that the detector is receiving power. When you push the test button, the alarm will make a noise, and a red light will blink for 10 seconds. The light blinks after a test and normalizes after the test is over. 
  4. Some detectors can turn off on their own. Others need manual turning off by pushing the test button again. 
  5. Some smoke alarms can go to PROGRAMMING MODE if you press the button for over a second. Please wait a minute to let it return to normal, then press the test button again. 
  6. Next, check the detector sensor with an aerosol spray for smoke detectors. With the spray, the alarm will make a noise. Consult an expert or check the manual before you use the spray. 
  7. You can also test the detector using actual smoke. Light up a paper or some matches and hold it a few feet underneath the detector. The smoke should make an alarm in the detector, indicating it is operating well. 

So, these are some methods to test your smoke detector after you have fixed the problem. 

You should test your smoke detector at least once a month. 

Some experts recommend testing them once a week. 

The more frequently you check, the better you can understand the detector’s condition. 

You can catch problems beforehand and treat them initially. 

This way, you can receive a good functioning detector when needed. 

Maintenance and Cleaning

Generally, a smoke detector can last for up to 10 days. 

But it highly depends on how you are treating it. 

With negligence, your smoke detector can last up to 4-5 years or less. 

But with proper cleaning and maintenance, you can increase its lifespan by 1-2 years. 

Let’s have a look at some cleaning and maintenance tips for your smoke detector:

  • You must replace your smoke detector every 10 years. Over time, the sensors can wear out and become contaminated by dust, ash, smoke, and other fine particles. You can increase the lifespan by cleaning, but only for a short time. Ultimately, you have to change it. 
  • Over time, dust, smoke, and ash particles can build up around the detector. Clean the detector using a microfiber cloth, soft brush, compressed air, or a light vacuum cleaner. Consider cleaning every month. 
  • Insert new batteries every year 1-2 times. Replacing the batteries in time can ensure your detector is ready to work when needed. 
  • Place your detector at the central location of your house to properly detect smoke. For better performance, install a smoke detector in every room of your house. 
  • If you want multiple smoke detectors, use hardwired detectors. They are interconnected and can raise alarms together. 

Professional Inspection

If you have exhausted the above troubleshooting steps, you need professional help. 

Some issues like replacing the smoke detector, faulty wiring, or fixing an improperly installed smoke detector will require professional assistance. 

Here, you shouldn’t try any troubleshooting steps. 

You can either contact the support team of the smoke detector brand or find a local expert in your locality to get it fixed. 

Since smoke detectors can help save our lives, take immediate steps to fix it. 

I have never dealt with smoke detectors before. 

So, I immediately hire an electrician whenever I face any complicated issues. 

Safety Precautions

While some problems need an expert’s attention, you can fix some issues yourself, for example, battery replacement, cleaning the detector, clearing the sensor obstruction, power source issues, etc. 

While trying to fix these problems, you must follow a few safety precautions:

  • Please turn off the detector and its power at the circuit breaker. 
  • Before you start troubleshooting, gather all the necessary tools, such as replacement batteries, a brush or cloth for cleaning, aerosol spray for testing, screwdrivers, and a wooden ladder. 
  • While working, ensure proper ventilation around the smoke detector area. 
  • Before you open the detector for inspection, ensure that no smoke or fire is present around you. 
  • You can reset your smoke detector and then check whether it is working. Press and hold the test button for 15 to 30 seconds. It will reset the device, drain the charge left inside, and restart it. 
  • Regularly maintain, clean, and test your detector to catch the problem in the first place and solve it initially. 
  • Replace the batteries every year and the device every 10 years. 

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Final thoughts

A smoke detector raises an alarm when smoke is nearby, a primary indication of fire. It can detect smoke with the help of a sensor inside and then raises an alarm. If the detector is not detecting any smoke, it has some problems. Some common reasons might be battery, sensor obstruction, power source, or environmental issues. 

While these can be solved, issues like improper installation, incorrect location, outdated technology, or old devices will need an expert. No matter the reason, you must solve the problem immediately. Smoke detectors save our lives by warning us about smoke caused primarily by fire so we can move out to a safe location. 

So, get it solved immediately. After fixing the issue, consider testing the smoke detector once. Maintain your smoke detector and clean it regularly. Consider testing every month. Change the batteries 1-2 times a year, and replace the detector every 10 years.

What causes a false alarm?

Wrong placement, insects, dust buildup, high humidity, or strong chemicals nearby are some common reasons. Some also apply to the detector not detecting, but when you ignore these false alarms and do not care for the detector, it will stop detecting smoke over time.

Why is my smoke detector blinking lights?

Some reasons are usual, whereas some signify serious issues. For example, a red light blinking every 5 minutes is fine, but an alarming noise along with the blinking indicates there is smoke nearby. So, you need to find the right cause and then take action.

Reference: Smoke Detector Wikipedia

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Jeniffer Smith

Hi, I am Jeniffer Smith, a housemaker and blogger, and I grew up in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts. I have been researching and fixing appliances and other things around the home and kitchen from a young age to help my single mother. Every time something went wrong, I couldn't rest until I fixed it. And ever since, I have enjoyed fixing things around my home, and I am always ready to help my friends and family with advice and hands-on help. Since we were always looking for affordable ways of fixing things, we rarely hired experts and tried to fix most things ourselves. That interest brought me to write for this blog, as I realized my knowledge could help many people trying to fix things around their homes on their own without spending hundreds of dollars.

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