How To Clean Up Fire Extinguisher Powder

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There’s no denying that fire extinguishers have many benefits. In the event of a fire, this piece of equipment can help to save lives, however, depending on the type that you use, the residue left behind can be very messy.

In some cases, it can have more consequences and create more damage than the fire itself.

Although the exterior of fire extinguishers may look similar, there are multiple types available which use different agents to extinguish a fire.

The six main types of fire extinguishers include water, CO2, foam, water mist, wet chemical, and of course powder and there are certain types of fires that each one should be used to tackle.

The cleaning method will differ depending on the type of extinguisher that is used. A powder extinguisher creates a barrier between the fuel and the oxygen source.

By starving the fire of oxygen, the powder extinguishes the fire and also prevents it from reigniting.

Below, we have provided you with a step by step guide for cleaning up fire extinguisher powder. Due to the corrosive nature of the powder residue that is left behind, you must act quickly and clean it up as soon as possible. 

How To Clean Up Fire Extinguisher Powder

Step 1

Make sure that you are wearing the necessary protective gear because the chemicals inside the powder can irritate your eyes, throat, and lungs. This includes a dust mask, goggles, and gloves. 

Step 2

Use a sweeping brush or a vacuum to clean the majority of the powder and get rid of any loose debris. Then discard the contents of your vacuum cleaner or the residue that you have collected in your dustpan into a plastic bag. Ensure that it is sealed properly and then put it in your waste bin. 

Step 3

Avoid using water to clean up the powder because it can turn the powder into a paste and once it develops a paste-like consistency, the residue becomes much more difficult to clean.

Instead, if there is any powder left on your furniture, use a damp cloth to wipe it away.

If there is a lot of residue sitting on the material of your furniture, there is a risk of it becoming damaged. If possible, you should also remove any curtains and clothes from the rooms that were affected by the fire.

This will not only get rid of any remnants of powder but will also leave them looking much fresher. If the fire occurred in the kitchen, wash any cookware and dishes that were affected. 

Step 4

Make sure that the affected rooms are sufficiently ventilated, as this will allow any fumes from the fire and the powder residue to escape. If for any reason, you do not have your goggles on and some chemicals go into your eyes, you must wash them straight away to prevent any damage or irritation.

Additional cleaning tips

Depending on the severity of the residue build-up, you may benefit from the help of a professional, rather than trying to do it all yourself.

For example, there are heightened risks if the residue has entered the ventilation system, the plumbing system, or your water source so you need to make sure that the issue is dealt with accordingly.

Once you have finished cleaning the affected area, do not place the powder residue that you have collected back into the extinguisher, instead, you should dispose of it following the steps mentioned above. 

According to the results of a study conducted in 2013, surfaces respond differently to certain cleaning procedures.

For example, vacuuming aluminum and wiping it over with a water swab is thought to be the most effective method, whilst wood was receptive to a vacuum and soot eraser.

Cleaning wet chemical extinguisher residue

Cleaning wet chemical extinguisher residue

Whilst the focus of this guide is to inform you on the best ways of cleaning powder residue, it is helpful to have an understanding of how to clean the residue left behind by other types.

Wet chemical fire extinguishers are used for tackling fires in kitchens. An extinguisher of this variety contains a liquid agent which reduces the flame. Removing wet chemical residue isn’t going to be an overly challenging task. 

Step 1

First, you will need to make sure that you are wearing the necessary equipment to protect you from the chemicals. Also, you must turn off the power outlets that are connected to cooking appliances.

Step 2

Use old towels or paper towels to absorb the liquid or foam. Dispose of these once you have finished using them. 

Step 3

Next, you will need to wash the surface/area using plenty of water. You may require more towels or a rag to give it a really good clean. 

Step 4

Clean any other furnishings that were contaminated by the residue. Make sure that the area and kitchen equipment is completely dry before turning the power back on. 

Go here for a complete guide to cleaning fire extinguisher residue

Cleaning dry chemical fire extinguisher residue 

Agents used by a dry chemical fire extinguisher include sodium bicarbonate, potassium bicarbonate, and monoammonium phosphate.

These agents can leave a corrosive powder residue behind which can be harmful to metal surfaces and electronics. Dry chemical extinguishers are perhaps the most versatile. They can be used to tackle class A, B, and C fires.

Step 1

To begin, you will need to use a sweeping brush or vacuum to clean up as much of the residue as possible. 

Step 2

Empty the contents of your vacuum bag or dustpan into a bag. Seal it and dispose of it in your general waste bin. 

Step 3

If there is any residue that you can’t seem to pick up by sweeping or vacuuming, you can use a solution made up of isopropyl alcohol and 50% warm water. Spray it onto the surface and allow it to sit for a few minutes.

Then use a damp cloth to wipe it away. If you are dealing with sodium bicarbonate or potassium bicarbonate, use a combination of hot water and a dash of vinegar and follow the same procedure. To clean monoammonium phosphate use baking soda and hot water.

Step 4

Wipe away any remaining residue using a cloth and soapy water. Using a lot of water is not recommended because it can be more harmful to the surface that it is being applied to. 

Step 5

To dry out the wet surface quicker, using a fan is recommended. Also, make sure that you clean any clothing and cookware that is in the affected area. 

Clean agent fire extinguishers

A clean agent fire extinguisher performs in the same way as a standard fire extinguisher, however, they are suitable to use around electrical equipment as they do not contain corrosive chemicals.

They use clean agents which are electrically non-conductive and do not create a residue, instead, they dissipate into the atmosphere.

Cleaning up after using a fire extinguisher is much easier, though it may still be worth wiping the area to get rid of any lingering odors. 

What are the dangers associated with the residue of a fire extinguisher?

The majority of fire extinguishers use agents and chemicals that are deemed to be non-toxic. Despite this, they can still affect you, those surrounding you, and your environment. 

If the residue of an extinguisher should come into contact with your skin it can leave you dealing with an uncomfortable skin irritation. 

Inhaling the residue of a fire extinguisher may irritate your throat or nasal passage. In most cases, this irritation tends to be mild but this discomfort will likely be heightened for those who suffer from respiratory issues. Failing to wear the necessary protective equipment may also mean that you are left feeling dizzy or suffering from a headache.

It is also important to consider the impact that the residue from the extinguisher can have on the environment. You must make sure that the residue doesn’t enter your drainage system, so do not pour the powder or chemicals down the drain.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, cleaning up after using a powder fire extinguisher isn’t an overly challenging process and can be done with ease depending on the severity of the build-up. If the powder should happen to find its way into any nooks and crannies it is likely to take you longer to clean up.

There is also a risk of it damaging the area and your belongings if it is not dealt with immediately. You must make sure that you have all of the protective gear on hand that you will need to wear as this will reduce the irritable effect that the powder can have on your skin and respiratory system.

Remember to wash any other items in the same area that the residue may be clinging too as this will also help to eliminate any odors. 

We have also provided you with a guide concerning the steps involved in cleaning up the mess that the other types of extinguishers leave behind. Enlist the help of a professional if the cleaning cannot be done alone.

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About David

With over 12 years experience in the fire protection industry, David is our resident Safety & Security expert. He's also a plumber with years of experience in HVAC systems, welding extraordinaire and spends his weekends thinking up gardening projects.

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