May 14, 2017 7:14 PM   Subscribe

Cooking sets off all our smoke alarms. How can I fix this?

We have a small house and cook a lot. Our only vent in the kitchen is the one built into our old above-stove microwave that came with the house, or opening windows. Should I replace the microwave/vent? Buy some special kind of smoke detector? For now I have taken the inadvisable step of taking down all our smoke detectors and stashing them in a far corner of the house. I want a better solution!
posted by latkes to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
My only solution is to put a shower cap over it before I start cooking...and then try to remember to take it off!
posted by elke_wood at 7:22 PM on May 14, 2017 [4 favorites]

My new kitchen vent is a box fan in the kitchen window, blowing out. I have lived in a chain of apartments where the kitchen vent doesn't actually vent, it just blows from the hood to the ceiling, which, wtf. I like the box fan better than covering the smoke detectors, since the consequences of failing to turn off the fan are preferable to the consequences of sleeping through a fire.
posted by xueexueg at 7:50 PM on May 14, 2017 [4 favorites]

I found that cleaning the smoke detector and putting a new battery in helped a great deal. I think the built-up dust and grease was making it more reactive. I'm sure it's not a cure-all, but it might be worth trying.
posted by lazuli at 8:34 PM on May 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Quit burning your food! Jk. It might be worthwhile to see about cleaning the vent, and maybe your oven is due for a cleaning as well. But it could just be a matter of poor ventilation and using cooking techniques that smoke a lot (like using hot oils, or searing or broiling foods). Maybe your house just doesn't have good air flow. You could also try opening windows on opposite sides of the house (to create air flow) before you begin cooking, as a pre-emptive measure.
posted by Autumnheart at 9:14 PM on May 14, 2017

Response by poster: Yeah, I have totally tried opening front and back door and multiple windows. I don't do that much frying but even like, cooking french toast can set off the smoke detectors in our small house. ):
posted by latkes at 9:23 PM on May 14, 2017

Are the smoke detectors linked? If so, replace the kitchen one with a heat triggered detector instead of a smoke detector & close the kitchen door when you’re cooking.

Otherwise, put a cover on the kitchen one when you’re cooking & close the kitchen door !
posted by pharm at 9:45 PM on May 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

Ionization smoke detectors can often give nuisance alarms. You might swap it out for a photoelectric one instead. Those tend to do better in kitchens.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 9:57 PM on May 14, 2017 [5 favorites]

How high are your burners when you cook? I used to teach cooking classes and the number one mistake I'd see was people turning the gas all the way up, which makes food smoky in a bad way.

Clean your oven.
posted by jessca84 at 11:19 PM on May 14, 2017

I found this happens when I cook lentils in particular, for some reason. Maybe there's a lot of particulate matter that gets lifted into the air by the steam and the smoke detector can't distinguish it from smoke. Anyway, what worked for me was closing doors, but I'd also try turning on the vent fan, cooking things in the oven in a big cast-iron pot, putting a gentle fan near the stove to blow steam away from smoke detectors. Good luck!
posted by iffthen at 12:39 AM on May 15, 2017

In the UK, the only kind of fire alarm that's permitted for kitchens is a heat alarm. Since smoke in kitchens is usually innocuous.

I would suggest changing the type of alarm, assuming your existing one is not part of a linked system.
posted by tel3path at 2:07 AM on May 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Should I replace the microwave/vent?

Definitely. I would, if my LL allowed it. (I offered to pay for a new fan, he declined, being concerned about the possible effect on his tiling of having to fit a different size.) A strong fan is magical. It just takes everything away, you can cook anything at super high temps without your clothes smelling like your favourite stinky meal for the next week (in addition to taking care of any smoke). I'd get a dedicated vent with serious suction, in my wildest dreams... if you can, do it!

(If you don't have direct venting that goes outside with your current one, worth replacing the filter regularly, too.)

(If you bake a lot, might also be worth giving your oven a deep clean, in case there are any drippings in there wanting to express themselves whenever there's heat.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 6:13 AM on May 15, 2017

Ditto the ionisation smoke detector. We had an old one that went off all the time, even when boiling water (so comments to not burn food are not helpful). We replaced it with an X-Sense model (sadly no longer sold in the US) and the false alarms went away completely. Now it will go off once or twice a year when there is something legitimately burning in the oven.
posted by wnissen at 10:48 AM on May 15, 2017

Another alternative, if you're not feeling like replacing the detector, is to get one of these fancy batteries:

Apparently you can "snooze" it. Which I think is a feature that should be required on all smoke detectors.
posted by booooooze at 12:21 PM on May 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

We got a Nest smart smoke detector. It's on our wifi, can send alerts to our phones, and can probably arrange your Netflix queue if you set it up right.

My two favorite features are:

+ It tells you when it needs a new battery

+ You can silence the smoke alarm temporarily. (Basically telling it, I know about the smoke, I'm frying eggplant again, stop beeping.)
posted by Cranialtorque at 12:43 PM on May 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: OK, I've ordered some photoelectric smoke alarms and a new microwave that supposedly has better venting. When I install it I'll try to clean out the exhaust vent. I'll report back after everything is in place. Thanks!
posted by latkes at 6:44 PM on May 24, 2017

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