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What Is the Red Light on the Smoke Detector? And 3 Other Signals Explained

Oct 28, 2022|

As a homeowner, it’s important to maintain your smoke detectors so they work whenever there’s an emergency. Often, a detector will let you know when it needs maintenance. Understanding your detector’s signals can help ensure the device is working properly.

You need to know what to do when you see your smoke detector flashing red. In this guide, we explain what the red LED light on your smoke detector could mean and go over some other signals your detector could be sending you.

Smoke detector on ceiling.

How smoke detectors work

Smoke detectors use sensors to detect airborne smoke particles. Different types of smoke detectors use different technology to sense particles.

Ionization smoke detectors notice tiny burning particles. This type of detector is really good at sensing fires that flare up rapidly. The downside to an ionization smoke detector is that it can’t detect smoldering fires as effectively. Ionization detectors also tend to have problems with false alarms.

Photoelectric smoke detectors pick up large smoke particles. They’re generally considered safer than ionization smoke detectors because most fires start off smoky (and smoke inhalation is far more likely to cause harm to humans than a fire itself).

Dual-sensor detectors can sense both types of particles. This allows them to identify quick-burning fires that flare up and smokey fires that smolder fast.

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5 possible causes of a red light on your smoke detector

A red light could mean different things depending on your smoke detector. Don’t be alarmed if you see your smoke detector blinking red.

Typically, a blinking red light means there’s a minor issue that you can usually fix fairly simply. In the next few sections, we’ll go over some common issues your red light might be trying to indicate.

Test your smoke detectors at least once a month to ensure they work properly. To do this, press and hold the test button on your detector. You should hear a loud, high-pitched beeping sound. Start troubleshooting your device if the sound is quiet or there’s no sound at all.

Check your device’s manual or call the manufacturer to get clarity if you’re unsure what the red light means on your particular model.

The smoke detector battery is low

If your detectors are battery-operated, changing the detector’s batteries is the first thing to consider doing when your red light flashes. Most detectors will emit a shrill chirp or beep and a flashing light when they need a battery replacement. If the light flashes every minute or so, a low battery is likely the culprit.

Smoke detector batteries generally last around eight to 10 months, but they can sometimes last a little longer. However, it’s a good idea to change your batteries at least once a year, even if you haven’t seen any indicators that they are low.

Keep in mind that your smoke detector will use up new batteries faster as it ages. Some smoke detectors are built with batteries that last up to five years or the life of the actual detector.

A smart smoke detector from a company like Vivint sends phone notifications that alert you when your detector’s battery is low so you don’t have to guess.

The smoke detector is on and functioning

Sometimes the red light on your smoke detector means nothing is wrong.

Many smoke detectors use an LED light to show you that everything’s working properly. If your device’s on/off button has a stale red light, it likely means the system is working properly. Some detectors will even use a light that flashes periodically to tell you they’re working.

Dust and dirt is clogging the smoke detector

Sometimes a red light will flash when debris in the system affects its ability to function. Your smoke detector might give off false alarms or blink red constantly if it is dirty or clogged.

To clean your smoke detector, remove it from your ceiling or wall and take out the battery. Be aware that there might be an electrical charge left over after the battery is removed. Hold the hush button for around 15 seconds to drain any remaining electrical charge.

Dust the outside of the device with a dry microfiber cloth. Use a soft paintbrush or the upholstery tool on your vacuum to clean the inside. Clean the device gently (especially around the circuit board) if you’re using a brush.

Never place your smoke detector or any part of it in water, and don’t use any cleaning chemicals. Liquid can damage your detector’s ability to work effectively.

The smoke detector senses smoke

This one’s pretty easy to decipher. Fire alarms are designed to get your attention by any means necessary.

In an emergency, a flashing red light can be an added visual cue to alert you of a fire. If the red light is blinking and the smoke alarm sounds off, your detector probably senses smoke.

Follow your family’s fire safety plan to get out of the home immediately.

The smoke detector is old and needs replacement

Most smoke detectors are designed to last around 10 years. In most models, an expiration date should be printed on the back of the device. Replace your detector if it has reached its expiration date, but don’t assume your system will work until then. Always conduct regular smoke detector tests to make sure your device is working, even if the printed expiration date hasn’t happened yet.

If you’ve already changed the batteries and cleaned your detector but you’re still getting false alarms, it’s a good sign to replace your detector. Batteries in old detectors also tend to drain out quicker, so you should probably get a new smoke detector if you find yourself replacing batteries several times a year.

With a Vivint smart smoke detector, it’s easy to tell if your detector is working. All it takes is a quick glance at the Vivint app on your smartphone or the Vivint Smart Hub.

Pot of boiling water on the stove.

Other smoke detector signals to understand

In addition to a red blinking light, your smoke detector might try to get your attention in a few other ways. Here are some other signals your detector might use and what they could be trying to tell you.

Flashing green light on smoke detector

Like a flashing red light, a flashing green light can have a few different meanings. Many smoke detectors use a green light in place of a red light. For example, a blinking green light could be trying to tell you that your batteries are low.

Some hard-wired detectors also use a flashing green LED light as part of an alternating current (AC) power upcycle. Whenever your home recovers from a power outage, a green light on the detector will flash periodically to indicate that the device is gathering energy from a power source (your home). The LED indicator will stop flashing and become a steady green once the detector has enough power.

Solid green light on smoke detector

Generally, a solid green light on your smoke detector means that it’s working properly. If the green light goes off, you know that there’s no power going to the system. As mentioned, a solid green light can also mean that your detector has finished its power upcycle.

Chirping noises every 20 or 30 seconds

You’ll usually hear a loud chirping noise every 20 to 30 seconds when a smoke detector’s batteries are getting low. Take heed and replace the batteries in your device.

Other factors like dust can also cause your system to chirp periodically. That’s why it’s important to maintain your smoke detector properly and replace it when necessary.

Get the best in home safety with Vivint

Reliable smoke detectors are one of the most important aspects of home security. If you want to ensure your detectors are in working order, it’s vital to know what they’re trying to tell you.

Smart smoke detectors like the combination smoke and carbon monoxide detector from Vivint are easy to maintain. They’ll send you notifications any time they need maintenance or if there’s an emergency in your home.

They can also be part of a wider smart security system. This lets you do things like program the smart locks in your home to unlock automatically when your smoke alarm is triggered so your family can get out.

See how Vivint can help you improve your own home security. Give us a call at 855.822.1220

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