Modern Australian

How a Smoke Detector Works

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Protecting your home against fire is something that should never be taken lightly. Do you know when you had your smoke detector installed? Have you had it repaired recently?

Do you even have smoke alarms? If you don’t have the answers to those questions, you likely need to have a smoke detector installed in your home to ensure that your friends and family are safe. Here’s what you need to know about these intelligent and life-saving devices.

What a Smoke Detector Does

Smoke detectors are used solely to detect fires. They do this by identifying small particles in the air using intelligent technology. It all begins when the smoke detector is able to detect particles in the air above a certain threshold.

From there, the alarm will create a signal that makes a sound to alert you. Then, your family can get to safety and call 000.

Every house needs at least one smoke detector to ensure your safety.

The Two Types of Smoke Detectors

When it comes to smoke detectors, there are two different options available. The first option is photoelectric. The other option available is ionization.

You can even install a combination of both options to ensure the utmost safety. Now, let’s take a closer look at both types of detectors.

How a Photoelectric Smoke Detector Works

Smoldering fires are easily caught by photoelectric detectors. When fires begin and smolder for a long period of time, a photoelectric detector is far better equipped to detect them. Photoelectric alarms use a photoelectric sensor along with a light source.

They work together as a team by sensing when smoke enters the chamber and follows the path of the light beam. Light is then scattered by the particles toward the sensor. This then causes the alarm to trigger.

How an Ionization Smoke Detector Works

When flames are raging, hot, and fast, ionization smoke detectors are far more responsive. This is because of the fact that they contain radioactive material with them. The material passes between two electrically charged plates.

They work to create an ionization chamber that ionizes the area to create a current flow between the two plates. Once smoke enters this chamber, it disturbs the ionization process and absorbs any alpha particles. This causes the current to reduce, and in turn, the alarm activates.

The Pros and Cons of These Smoke Detectors

Photoelectric Detectors


  • Ideal for detecting dense smoke.

  • Does not contain radioactive materials which makes them safer.

  • Less prone to false alarms from shower steam or cooking fumes.


  • Sensitive to insects and dust particles which means that regular maintenance is needed.

  • Expensive to maintain.

  • Require more current to operate.

Ionization Detector


  • Cheaper than photoelectric detectors.

  • Ionizing smoke alarms are far better than photoelectric smoke alarms when detecting flaming fires with very little visible smoke.


  • * Very sensitive which can lead to false alarms when you’re cooking.

  • Not as responsive to smoldering fires.

  • Use of radioactive materials is quite concerning.

The Bottom Line

In an ideal world, you should have both types of smoke detectors installed to ensure your protection. A combination of both smoke detectors will make sure that every type of fire will be noticed before anyone is hurt or too much damage is done. If you don’t want both, you need to find out what type of smoke detector works best for you.

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