A variety of external elements can cause a false alarm from a standard ionization smoke detector. Loss of power, humidity, dust, insects and debris from common household appliances can all cause a false alarm.
The most common type of household smoke detector is an ionization detector. Ionization detectors work by using a small amount of ionizing radiation. Essentially, ionizing radiation removes an ion from the oxygen and nitrogen atoms in a small chamber. These atoms then produce positive and negative charges that can be detected by the smoke detector. Should smoke enter the chamber, it interferes with the ionization process and neutralizes the positive and negative charges. The smoke detector can detect the drop in charge and then alarms. Many objects entering the ionization chamber can produce a drop in charge and trigger a false alarm. General household dust or materials such as oil and residue from the furnace can build up in the smoke detector and disrupt the standard ionization process. Even humidity or water vapor from a shower can cause enough of a change in the ionization process to set off the alarm. One of the most basic reasons an alarm might go off is low or intermittent power. Many detectors are set to beep intermittently when power from a battery is low or main power from house current is lost. An individual should check the battery and wiring first. Homeowners should clean the smoke detector gently and move it away from bathroom doors and major household appliances.