It should go without saying, but it's an important enough point that we
will say it anyway: Fire extinguishers are a simple and effective way to
keep a small, controllable fire from spinning into an unmitigated disaster
that threatens your home and loved ones. They are an important part of a
sensible fire protection program that also includes strategically placed
Our What to Look For page includes a detailed description of the codes included on fire extinguisher labeling, but in short, Class A extinguishers are rated to work best on normal combustibles like wood and paper. Class B units are for gasoline, oil or grease fires, and Class C fire extinguishers are intended for electrical fires. Most homeowners should go for a combination fire extinguisher that can handle all three classes. As a supplement in a kitchen, consider adding a Class B/C extinguisher.
Class A and Class B fire extinguisher labels will also have a numerical code before the letter. That number refers to the fire extinguishing potential (the bigger the better). The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends a minimum of one 2-A:10-B:C fire extinguisher on each floor of your house.
As for reviews, very few sources have tested them at all; ConsumerReports.org conducted a small roundup of home fire extinguishers. The food magazine, Cook's Illustrated. has tested a handful of kitchen and all-purpose fire extinguishers. Other than that, there's not much out there. We didn't find many user reviews of fire extinguishers, but among those we read at Amazon.com, most complaints are about shipping problems -- primarily that their unit had discharged during shipping and arrived empty.
Although any fire extinguisher that's passed Underwriters Laboratories (UL) testing should be capable of putting out a fire, expert feedback points out that some are easier to use in an emergency. The Kidde Full Home Fire Extinguisher (*Est. $45) in particular earned the best comments for ease of use in one comparative review. That review adds that this 3-A:40-B:C fire extinguisher is also relatively lightweight, works quickly and is a good value. At Cook's Illustrated magazine, the two most highly rated fire extinguishers for kitchen use are manufactured by Kidde, including the Kidde Kitchen Fire Extinguisher (*Est. $20). Though this 10-B:C fire extinguisher is not rated to put out fires on ordinary combustibles (paper, wood), it had no problem extinguishing a burning towel and handled a grease fire with ease. One benefit of not being Class A rated is that it uses a fire retardant that's less likely to damage kitchen countertops and appliances.
First Alert fire extinguishers also come in for some recognition, but most experts rank them slightly lower than their Kidde-made equivalents because they are a little harder to use. For example, Cook's Illustrated magazine places the First Alert Multipurpose Fire Extinguisher (*Est. $20) among its second tier of recommended kitchen fire extinguishers because of a pin that's a challenge to remove. Once that's done, however, the fire extinguisher proved to be very effective in that magazine's tests.
We've also seen some reviews for the 5-B:C HomeHero kitchen fire extinguisher (*Est. $30), which is sold exclusively at Home Depot. Its claim to fame is its attractive styling, which Popular Mechanics says makes it good enough to stay in full view and easy to find in a near-panic situation. However, other reviews are pretty lackluster, including one ding in a major review for being hard to use.
Two expert reviewers weigh in with testing-based reports on home fire extinguishers. ConsumerReports.org's coverage is balanced, but a more detailed discussion would be helpful. Cook's Illustrated magazine also tests lots of fire extinguishers, and it does a nice job describing its methodology, but its report is centered on supplemental fire extinguishers for kitchen use. Popular Mechanics weighs in with a short report on one current fire extinguisher, but it's not clear if any testing was done. Amazon.com and HomeDepot.com are the most helpful destinations for user reviews.