All fire extinguishers in the UK are red. However, there are 5 different types of fire extinguisher to deal with different fire risks. You can tell the difference by using the different fire extinguisher colours indicated on their labels.
Once you learn the colours, you will be able to reliably identify the different types of extinguisher. In our guide, we bring together all types of fire extinguishers, the fire classes they can be used on, and their correct coloured labels.
Why do Fire Extinguishers Have Colour Codes?
Each class of fire needs the right type of extinguisher to safely put it out. This means it needs to be very clear which extinguisher needs to be used on particular fire classes.
The most effective way of categorising the extinguishers is by a system of fire extinguisher colours. It’s a quick way of grabbing the one you need in an emergency. In 1997, the colours were updated in line with British and European Standard BS EN3.
Before this, the containers were the colour of the fire type they represented. So, for example, a wet chemical extinguisher would have been entirely yellow. This was changed to make them red to represent danger and fire. Also, it was established that red was the best colour to find quickly in a smoky environment.
The colour was then placed on a wide band along the top so it stood out. These labels sit across the upper part of the extinguisher along with their accompanying fire class image.
Colours of Fire Extinguishers Overview
Each coloured label on fire extinguishers represents a different class of fire. Here is a simple guide with an overview of the colours and their description.
- Red: Water Extinguisher, suitable for Class A Fires.
- Cream: Foam Extinguisher, suitable for Class A and B Fires.
- Blue: Dry Powder, suitable for Class A, B, C and Electrical fires.
- Black: CO², suitable for Class B and Electrical fires.
- Yellow: Wet Chemical, suitable for Class A and Class F fires.
Dry Powder Fire Extinguisher Colour – Blue
Dry powder fire extinguishers are blue. They’re also referred to as ABC extinguishers.
The powder fire extinguisher colour identifies it to be suitable for a few different fire types. You can use dry powder on electrical fires as well as classes A, B, and C.
The dry powder gets to work on the fire by smothering the oxygen fuelling the flames. It also works well with cooling down the flames. These extinguishers are very messy to use so it is worth bearing that in mind. They can also adversely affect your vision.
Dry Powder Extinguisher Uses
Dry powder extinguishers can be used on live electrical equipment, flammable liquids, gases and some solids.
Flammable materials include paper, cardboard, wood, paint and petrol.
Dry Powder Extinguishers Should Not be Used On
You should not attempt to use dry powder extinguishers on chip pan fires as this can cause hot oil to spit.
This in turn can aggravate the fire, spreading it further. It is also important not to use them in small, enclosed areas due to how much they impair vision.
What Type of Environment Needs Dry Powder Extinguishers?
Certain environments are better suited to a dry powder extinguisher than others. Using powder in an unsuitable environment can be unsafe.
Use dry powder safely in the following areas:
- Businesses with flammable gases.
- Any workplace where welding occurs.
- Premises with large boiler rooms.
Foam fire extinguishers are cream in colour and are most suited to Class B fires.
They feature a red body and a cream coloured label with the word ‘foam’ printed in large letters. Foam is a popular choice of extinguisher due to it being safe to use on combustible materials and flammable gases.
Spraying foam onto a fire smothers the flames and stamps out the oxygen supply. It also does a great job of reducing the heat in a timely fashion.
Foam extinguishers can be used safely on Class A and B fires.
Any fires involving paper, wood, material, fabric, wood and coal can be tackled using a foam fire extinguisher. Flammable liquids can also be safely put out using foam extinguishers.
You should always bear in mind that foam is water based and is therefore unsafe to use in certain situations.
Firstly, do not attempt to use foam on anything involving electrical sources. This goes for TVs, electric cookers, microwaves and freezers.
You should not use foam on flammable metals either as this can worsen this type of fire.
Foam can be used on a range of fire types so having one in the following workspaces is important.
- Buildings that are made from wood.
- Environments where wood is used or stored.
- Medical buildings.
CO2 extinguishers are black and have an easy to see label with large CO² lettering.
In most instances, CO² extinguishers are used on electrical fires. These stand out from the other types due to the cone on the front of the nozzle.
Carbon dioxide, once released, tackles the oxygen around the fire. This will bring it back under control and, eventually, extinguish the flames.
Due to their specialised advantage in dealing with electrical fires, CO² extinguishers should be kept in workplaces where electrical fire risk has been identified.
They are safe to use on anything electrical that has caught fire as long as you have judged it safe to proceed. There is no water in this type of extinguisher which is why they are readily used in these instances.
They can also be used on Class B fires but their effectiveness is limited.
Be very careful when using a carbon dioxide extinguisher.
They starve the air of oxygen and as a result, should never be used in small spaces. They should never be used on oil fires, flammable metals or combustible solids.
Some work environments should have carbon dioxide available at all times. This includes:
- Computer server environments.
- Commercial kitchens.
- Building sites.
- Work vehicles.
Wet Chemical Fire Extinguisher Colour – Yellow
A wet chemical fire extinguisher has a yellow label with “wet chemical” in large letters.
This type of extinguisher is extremely specialised and used in the event of chip pan fires. They set to work by creating a change in the chemicals of the fire.
This is the type of fire extinguisher used in a commercial kitchen, you should see a wet chemical fire extinguisher on the premises.
This purpose built extinguisher was made specifically for dealing with chip pan and deep fat fryer fires. It is the only one safe to use for burning oils and fats. It is safe to use because it doesn’t have the potential to spread the fire as other extinguishers do.
Technically, you can use wet chemicals on Class A fires but this is unusual as it isn’t often purchased for this use.
Due to the specific purpose of wet chemical extinguishers, there are fires it will be unsuitable for.
Do not use a wet chemical extinguisher on flammable liquids, electrical fires or any fire involving flammable metals (class D). This can be dangerous and spread the fire further.
Due to its unique use, you will mainly find wet chemical extinguishers in:
- Commercial kitchens.
- Chip shops.
- Chinese takeaways.
A water fire extinguisher is red, it has a red body and also a red label. It has “water extinguisher” on the label in large letters.
This one looks most like the old ones before they were all updated. The writing will be in white, containing the word ‘water’. You can also purchase a water mist version of this extinguisher.
Water is perhaps the most common fire extinguisher type and is the one you naturally link with a fire situation. They ultimately work by cooling the fire.
Water fire extinguishers are used mainly on Class A fires.
They are appropriate to use on any burning paper, wood, coal, materials or plastic.
The introduction of water mist varieties means these models can technically be used on Class F and even electrical fires. However, many fire safety experts still do not recommend them. Once you release the water, it comes out as a fine mist so will not conduct electricity.
A water fire extinguisher has limited use and should only be used on Class A fires.
Water used on burning oils or electrical appliances is extremely dangerous, sometimes even fatal. If you do wish to purchase a water extinguisher that has more flexibility, then you need the mist type.
If you have any of the following workplaces then you might want to get yourself a water fire extinguisher.
- Buildings that are made from wood.
- Buildings storing wood.
Importance of Training Staff to Understand Fire Extinguisher Colours
In the thick of an emergency, it is essential there are people on site who understand fire extinguisher colours.
Ensuring staff participate in some training in this area is very important. Picking up, and using, the wrong extinguisher can have devastating consequences.
Teaching staff which extinguishers should be in the workplace helps keep everyone safe. There should always be at least one or more people trained on fire extinguishers on site at any one time.
As well as learning about the different colours and types of extinguishers, you will also learn about fires. This is important as it allows staff to be able to identify common risks in the workplace. These risks can then be minimised as a way of preventing future fires. The courses can also help staff effectively manage risk assessments.
Fire Extinguisher Training Courses
Fire extinguisher training courses can be conducted in a variety of ways to suit your staff.
You can request on site training which means the trainer comes to your premises for the session. You can group up with other participants at a previously confirmed location.
Online training is also available for those who would like to do it from their home or workplace. The beauty of virtual training is that you can go at your own pace.
- Fire prevention skills.
- How fires can start.
- Different classes of fires.
- Colour codes on extinguishers.
- Fire triangles.
- Description of each fire extinguisher type.
- Suitability of each extinguisher for the different fire classes.
- How many extinguishers a workplace should have.
- How to use fire blankets.
- How to assess if you should tackle the fire.
- How to effectively use the PASS method.
There are 5 coloured labels for fire extinguishers. You have blue (dry powder), cream (foam), yellow (chemical), black (CO²), and red (water).
A blue dry powder fire extinguisher is the one that tackles the broadest range of fire types. The only fires you should not use it on are Class F fires.