​Don't rely on your nose – let a smoke alarm do the work

May 6, 2021

Working alarms save lives! Test yours today


​Our noses are amazing things. They make our food taste better. They bring back pleasant memories when we smell something familiar. They can even save our lives by, for example, smelling smoke when there are no other signs of a fire. But even the best sense of smell can't take the place of a smoke alarm.

For one thing, you need to be awake to smell smoke or anything else. Only a very small percentage of humans can smell while sleeping lightly, and even they can't smell anything while deeply asleep. No one can. So if you're thinking y​ou don't need a smoke alarm because the smell will wake you up, think again.

Your sense of smell can be hindered even while you're awake, though. Seasonal allergies are often enough to stuff up one's nose, and of course a nasty cold can do it too. And don't forget that losing the sense of smell – even if only temporarily – is a symptom of COVID-19. It's fairly common; in fact, 86 percent of people who get the virus lose some or all of their ability to smell. That impairment tends to last about three weeks, but for some it can last for months.

For example, a family of eight in Waco, Texas, lost their entire home in a fire in January. Seven of the family members had COVID-19; the only one who didn't, a 17-year-old daughter, smelled what she thought was “burnt plastic." She alerted the rest of her family to the fire in time for them all to escape, but their home burned to the ground. What if she hadn't been there? With a lack of working smoke alarms, the story could have taken a much more tragic turn.

Ultimately, you can't count on your nose to alert you to a fire in your home. There are just too many ways for it to go wrong. Instead, get smoke alarms for your home. Put one on every level, and outside of every sleeping area. Test them once a month, change their batteries every six months, and replace them every 10 years (or based on the manufacturer's recommendations). Smoke alarms save lives, but only if they work.

Working smoke alarms in your home will give you the precious seconds you need to get out. A fire doubles in size every 60 seconds, so you'll need every extra moment you can get to escape with your family — especially if an alarm wakes you and you find yourself groggy and disoriented.

So save that excellent sense of smell for Aunt Sarah's pies or the flowers you've just planted that remind you of your dad. Your nose can bring you joy, but it shouldn't be relied upon to save your life. Leave that to the smoke alarms.