INDIANAPOLIS — You may not realize it but there are different types of smoke detectors, and knowing which you have could save your life. 

Ionization detects flaming fires faster and photoelectric smoke detectors respond faster to smoldering fires, which develop slower. Experts say the smoke from each differs.  

The US Fire Administration does not take a position on which smoke detector is better. However, Bargersville Fire Deputy Chief Michael Pruitt allowed us to witness a series of smoke detector tests using 2 different scenarios. 

“Both smoke alarms serve a great purpose for different types of fires,” Pruitt explained.

In the first test, Pruitt simulated a smoldering fire with a cushion and a soldering iron. He placed it directly under a photoelectric detector and we started the clock. 

It detected smoke within 2 minutes and 4 seconds. In the second test, same scenario, Pruitt used the ionization detector.

It took 7 minutes and 30 seconds to detect the smoke. 

“Ionization is more so designed for a fast flaming fire, maybe something that is including an accelerant at some point,” Pruitt explained.

Next, Pruitt ignited a plastic trashcan with flammable materials. We started first with a test of the ionization detector right above the flame, and it went off eight seconds later. 

Then in the photoelectric device’s test, same scenario, two minutes and 27 seconds passed before the alarm sounded. Again, the photoelectric tool is better at detecting smoke from smoldering fires. 

“When you’re asleep at night, it’s smoldering, the home’s filling full of poisonous gases, that’s the one we want to alert and let us know what’s going on in the home,” Pruitt said.

The US Fire Administration funded numerous studies to evaluate which detector is better in a home. Again, the agency did not make a determination so that’s why the organization advises installing both ionization and photoelectric detectors, or a dual sensor, so you’re covered for all types of fires.