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Smoke detectors use two kinds of sensors to tip you off when there’s trouble. Photoelectric smoke alarms are best at detecting smoldering fires, while ionization smoke alarms are better at detecting sudden, fast-burning fires. Experts say photoelectric smoke detectors generally won’t cause as many false alarms, but for the ultimate in safety, they recommend opting for a smoke detector with both types of sensors.
Aside from sensor type, the other main consideration is whether or not you need hard-wired detectors. Hard-wired smoke detectors may require an expert for installation, but the major pro is that they only rely on batteries as a backup power source. Of course, you can also get battery-operated alarms that aren’t hard-wired for the ultimate ease of use. The downside, of course, is that they’re more likely to start chirping in the middle of the night because it’s time to change the battery. Two manufacturers, First Alert and Kidde, dominate the smoke-detector market, so you'll notice they're well represented on our list.
Here, the best smoke detectors available.
One of the best smoke alarms in terms of performance, reliability, and value is the First Alert Smoke Detector. This hardwired alarm uses both photoelectric and ionization to detect smoke, giving you peace of mind that your family will be alerted if a fire ever breaks out.
The First Alert Smoke Detector must be hardwired into your home, but it also includes a battery backup so it will still function if the power ever goes out. It features both photoelectric and ionization sensors for comprehensive fire detection, and there’s a button on the device that you can press to silence any false alarms—like if you burn popcorn. This same button can be used for monthly testing of the device.
What’s more, this fire detector has an end-of-life signal that lets you know when it’s time to replace the unit. Users say these units are quick and easy to install, and many note that the dual sensor technology does an incredible job at detecting smoke.
If you’re willing to spend a little more on a smoke detector, the Nest Protect is a top-rated smart smoke and carbon monoxide alarm. This unit comes in both hardwired and battery-powered models, and it connects to your phone via WiFi to send real-time updates on what’s happening in your house.
The Nest Protect includes a variety of useful features beyond smoke and carbon monoxide detection. This smart product automatically tests itself to save you the hassle, and it sends alerts to your phone whenever it detects a problem, letting you know there’s an emergency even when you’re not home. If there’s a false alarm, you can silence the detector from your phone, and when you walk underneath the unit at night, it lights up to help you see better.
The Nest Protect has thousands of glowing reviews from happy users who love its smart features. However, this product certainly isn’t cheap, so be prepared to pay a little more.
"For a web-enabled device, the Nest Protect’s setup is paint by numbers—especially if you go with the battery mode."—Nathan Borchelt, Product Tester
Many modern home smoke detectors come with lots of features, but if you just want a basic, no-frills model, you should consider the budget-friendly First Alert Dual-Sensor Smoke and Fire Alarm. It doesn’t talk, light up, or connect to your phone, but this unit will let you know if there’s ever an emergency in your house—and isn’t that what’s really important?
These smoke detectors are battery-powered, and they require two AA batteries, which many users like, as this variety is typically less expensive than 9V batteries. Because there’s no wiring needed, the First Alert detectors are easy to install, and they have both photoelectric and ionization sensors for comprehensive fire detection.
If there’s ever a fire, you’ll be able to hear the 85-decibel siren no matter where you are or if you’re sleeping, and if it’s a false alarm, you can silence the unit by pressing the button on the front. Overall, the First Alert Dual-Sensor Smoke and Fire Alarm is a highly rated no-frills home smoke detector that you can trust to keep your family safe.
Carbon monoxide is another threat to your family’s safety, which is why some smoke detectors have built-in carbon monoxide detectors, as well. For instance, the First Alert Smoke Detector and Carbon Monoxide Detector Alarm is a top-rated product that will alert you to both fire and CO.
While it's a little more expensive than standard smoke detectors, this hardwired product has two-in-one capabilities that make it worth the extra cost. The unit features an ionization sensor to detect fires, as well as an electrochemical carbon monoxide sensing system. If either threat is detected, the smoke detector will sound an 85-decibel siren, which can be silenced by pressing the button on the front of the unit. There’s a 9V battery backup in case of power outages, and it even provides an end-of-life alert when the unit needs replacing.
Best Battery-Operated: Kidde Battery-Operated Combination Smoke/Carbon Monoxide Alarm with Voice Warning
If you’re not particularly handy, you might prefer to buy battery-powered smoke detectors, which don’t require any wiring to install. One of the best options in the category is the Kidde Battery-Operated Combination Smoke/Carbon Monoxide Alarm, which operates on three AA batteries.
This product is a fire alarm and carbon monoxide detector in one, so you can rest assured that your home and family are protected from a variety of life-threatening emergencies. The unit includes a voice alarm that will alert you to whether there’s fire or carbon monoxide in the home, and its alarm sounds at a loud 85 decibels, so it will wake you up if you’re sleeping.
When the batteries need to be replaced, the unit will announce that the batteries are low and give off a chirping alarm. The only downside to this product is that it only uses ionization technology, so it may not detect slow, smoldering fires as well as a product with a photoelectric sensor.
"The battery compartment will only shut if the batteries have been installed properly. We like this extra safeguard as it ensures our alarm is always functioning correctly."—Katie Begley, Product Tester
There are two types of fire sensors: ionization sensors, which are best for detecting flames, and photoelectric sensors, which are more responsive to smoldering fires. For comprehensive fire protection in your home, the National Fire Protection Association recommends dual-sensor alarms, which combine both these technologies.
Beyond our best overall pick, one of the best dual-sensor smoke detectors out there is the Kidde Hardwire Smoke Detector with Ionization/Photoelectric Dual Sensors. This hardwired alarm includes a 9V battery backup in case of a power outage, and it can be used as a standalone unit or part of an interconnected system. The design is tamper-resistant to prevent unwanted changes or theft, and there’s a hush feature to silence false alarms. The alarm itself operates at 85 decibels, and users say this unit is easy to install and a good value for a dual-sensor product.
Most experts recommend changing the batteries in your smoke detectors every six months or so, and that can get pretty expensive if you have several units installed throughout your home. To solve this common problem, several companies now offer smoke detectors with 10-year lithium batteries so you don’t have to worry about frequent maintenance.
One of the top-rated products in this category is the Kidde Code One 10-Year Sealed Battery Smoke Detector. This product is powered by a lithium battery that can last up to 10 years, and the battery is sealed into the unit, preventing unwanted tampering and ensuring the alarm is always on—you can also check the green LED light to ensure it’s functioning properly.
This smoke detector is easy to install since there are no wires needed, and it includes a smart hush feature to silence false alerts. The Kidde Smoke Detector uses ionization sensors to detect invisible fire particles, but it does not include a photoelectric sensor.
If you need all new smoke detectors for your home, you can save some money by purchasing a set of them. For instance, this two-pack of Kidde FireX Hardwire Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Combination Detectors is a great value for a pair of highly rated smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
The two units must be hardwired into your home, and each has a 9V battery backup to ensure uninterrupted protection. The units are interconnected, so they all will sound in case of an emergency, and they include voice alerts that let you know whether there’s a fire or carbon monoxide detected. The only downside of these smoke detectors is that they solely use photoelectric sensors, so they might not detect a fast-burning fire as quickly as a unit with an ionization sensor.
Power Smoke detectors can be hardwired to your home’s electrical system, but that often requires professional installation. Look for devices with backup batteries in case the power goes out, and be sure to check them every so often. Battery-operated models are easy to install but require more maintenance in the long run.
Sensor type Smoke detectors use two kinds of sensors to tip you off when there’s trouble. Photoelectric smoke alarms are best at detecting smoldering fires, while ionization smoke alarms are better at detecting sudden, fast-burning fires. Experts say photoelectric smoke detectors generally won’t cause as many false alarms, but for the ultimate in safety, they recommend opting for a smoke detector with both types of sensors.
Lifespan The lifespan of a smoke detector depends on the model and how it’s installed. It’s best to check your unit’s manual for specific information, but most smoke detectors need to be replaced every five to 10 years. Combination units — a smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector all in one — need to be replaced more often.