One popular extinguisher material is pure carbon dioxide. In a carbon dioxide extinguisher, the carbon dioxide is kept in pressurized liquid form in the cylinder. When the container is opened, the carbon dioxide expands to form a gas in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide gas is heavier than oxygen, so it displaces the oxygen surrounding the burning fuel. This sort of fire extinguisher is common in restaurants because it won’t contaminate the cooking equipment or food.
The most popular extinguisher material is dry chemical foam or powder, typically made of sodium bicarbonate (normal baking soda), potassium bicarbonate (nearly identical to baking soda), or monoammonium phosphate. Baking soda starts to decompose at only 158 degrees Fahrenheit (70 degrees Celsius), and when it decomposes, it releases carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide, along with the insulation of the foam, works to smother the fire.
There are many different types of fire extinguishers, each suitable for different fires. A multipurpose fire extinguisher (A,B, and C rating) contains monoammonium phosphate, a yellow powder that leaves a sticky residue that may be damaging to electrical appliances. There are also extinguishers filled with sodium bicarbonate or potassium bicarbonate – these only have a BC rating. Similarly carbon dioxide gas extinguishers are rated for BC fires. There are also pressurized water extinguishers that are only suitable for class A fires.
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