Smoke Detector Disposal

Proper smoke alarm or smoke detector disposal depends on the type that your business uses. One kind is safe to dispose of in municipal trash, while the other requires hazardous waste management.

Smoke Detectors

Types of Smoke Detectors

There are two main categories of smoke detectors: photoelectric and ionization. Only the ionization kind contains a radioactive material.

Photoelectric Smoke Alarms

This type of smoke alarm does not contain any radioactive isotopes or other hazardous materials. Once the battery is removed (and disposed of properly), these types of smoke alarms are safe to be put in the trash.

These detectors are triggered when light is reflected onto a smoke sensor. Light is aimed into the sensing chamber away from the alarm’s sensor. When smoke enters the sensing chamber, it changes how that light is reflected, the light hits the sensor, and the alarm goes off. Because of the way they work, photoelectric smoke alarms tend to be more responsive to smoldering fires.

Ionization Smoke Alarms

Ionization smoke alarms contain Americium-241, which is one of the radioactive isotopes of the synthetic element, Americium.

When ionization smoke alarms are in their final assembled form, there is minimal radioactive danger. The radioactive material is protected by the chamber within the smoke detector, so the device is safe to handle. However, when ionization smoke alarms are disassembled, Americium becomes a concern.

Ionization smoke alarms work by placing the radioactive Americium-242 between two electrically charged plates. When smoke enters between these plates, it disrupts how the ions are moving in the chamber and activates the alarm.

Other Kinds of Smoke Alarms


This type of smoke detector combines photoelectric and ionization technology. Because it uses the Americium-241 present in ionization smoke alarms, dual smoke alarms cannot be disposed of in municipal trash.

What Type Do You Have?

Any product that contains a radioactive material is required by law to have a label indicating its radioactive content. There should be a radioactive material warning label posted somewhere on the external part of the product; it may even have the radioactive symbol. These labels are most often located on the bottom of the smoke alarm (the part that goes against the wall or ceiling). Ionization types usually have an “I” or they say “Ionization” on the back as well.


If your smoke alarm’s label does not include any of the above features and you do not believe that the label has been tampered with, you can assume that the detector does not contain any radioactive material.

Click here to learn more about Carbon Monoxide safety.

If your company needs assistance with dual or ionization smoke detector disposal, contact Clean Management for regulation-compliant waste management.

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