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Which smoke detector is best?

Nothing is more important than your family’s safety. The National Fire Protection Association recommends installing smoke detectors outside of every sleeping area and on every level of the house. Choosing the best smoke detectors for fire protection is key to ensuring they are in top shape if a disaster occurs.

The First Alert Wireless Combination Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm installs easily and connects up to 11 different systems for whole-house protection.

What to know before you buy a smoke detector

Sensor type

Smoke detectors are designed to alert for even the slightest trace of smoke. They do this with one of three types of sensors.

  • Ionization: Radioactive material in the ionization sensor causes an electrical current to form between two plates. When this current is disrupted by smoke, the alarm sounds. Ionization sensors detect fire where flames are present.
  • Photoelectric: Photoelectric sensors form a beam of light inside the detector. When this beam is interrupted by smoke from a smoldering fire, the alarm sounds. 
  • Combination: Ionization and photoelectric sensors combine to detect and distinguish between an active burning flame and a smoldering fire. This type of smoke detector costs more, but it offers the best protection.

Wireless vs. hardwired smoke detectors

Wireless smoke detectors are the most common kind found in homes across the U.S. These are easy to install and use battery power, which means as long as your batteries are good the smoke detector is functional, even in a power outage. Wireless smoke detectors can also be connected to other units in the house. This means that if smoke is sensed in one remote area of the home, all of the detectors will sound the alert. 

On the other hand, hardwired smoke detectors do not work when the power is down unless there is a battery backup. They also require professional installation, and each smoke detector needs to be wired individually. This means it is difficult to connect every unit in the home. 

Both wireless and hardwired smoke detectors can be connected to smart devices when this is an option. 

Number of smoke detectors

It can be tempting to buy fewer smoke detectors to save money, but it’s not worth it. If your budget is tight, look for multipacks of detectors — it’s a cheaper way to buy the units you need. 

What to look for in a quality smoke detector

Long-lasting lithium batteries

Modern smoke detectors recognize that people routinely forget to change the batteries, sometimes until it is too late. If this sounds like you, look for a smoke detector that has 10-year lithium batteries. These are guaranteed to last longer, and they come with a built-in alert when battery life is dwindling. 


Some smoke detectors can be connected to other smart devices. This allows you to receive alarms and alerts when you are away from home. If you travel frequently or have older children who are occasionally in the home alone, this is a great feature to consider. 

Flashing lights

If you live in a home with a person who has hearing loss or is completely deaf, look for smoke detectors with flashing lights. These are bright and can help alert people who are hard of hearing. 

How much you can expect to spend on a smoke detector

Some fire departments provide free smoke detectors to city residents, and some will even install them as well. If this is not the case in your area, expect to spend $10-$60.

Smoke detector FAQ

When should you change the batteries in your smoke detector?

A. It is a tragedy when a fire death occurs in a home with a smoke detector that has inoperable batteries. To prevent this, consider purchasing a smoke detector with a 10-year battery.

If this is not an option for you, a simple rule of thumb is to change all of the batteries in your smoke detector every New Year’s Day. 

Do smoke detectors require maintenance?

A. It is easy to forget about the white disc on the ceiling, and for the most part, that’s OK. However, there are a few minor maintenance considerations. 

  • Test your smoke alarms once a month. 
  • Replace the battery as soon as it’s needed.
  • Keep units free of dust and dirt.
  • When painting the walls or area around the smoke detector, remove it to keep it free from stray paint.
  • Replace smoke detectors entirely once every 10 years.

What’s the best smoke detector to buy?

Top smoke detector

First Alert Wireless Combination Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm

First Alert Wireless Combination Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm

What you need to know: This uses clear voice alerts to locate smoke and carbon monoxide.

What you’ll love: It’s programmable to detect smoke and carbon monoxide for up to 11 connected locations. It can be connected to other alarm systems and is battery-powered.

What you should consider: Some users report excessive false alarms. Connecting to other alarm systems can also be tricky. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Top smoke detector for the money

X-Sense Battery Operated Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detector

X-Sense Battery Operated Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detector

What you need to know: The 10-year lithium battery means you won’t need to change it every year. 

What you’ll love: It has an easy-to-read screen and can detect both smoke and carbon monoxide. When the battery is running low, the system chirps an end-of-life signal to indicate it’s time to replace it. 

What you should consider: This does not mount in the same way that other smoke detectors do, so it’s best for new construction or new installation. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Worth checking out

Google Nest Protect Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detector

Google Nest Protect Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detector

What you need to know: It is a smart smoke and carbon monoxide detector that can communicate with your other smart devices. 

What you’ll love: It has a split spectrum sensor that distinguishes between a flame and a smoldering fire. The voice alert is calm and friendly, which makes it good for homes with children. It can send alerts to your phone. The contemporary styling looks great on the wall. 

What you should consider: It is expensive, and like all smart products, it takes some getting used to. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon and Home Depot


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Suzannah Kolbeck writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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