Homeowner’s Guide to Safely Setting Off Fireworks

Does your next celebration involve backyard fireworks? Here's everything you need to know to pull off a safe and stunning show.

Is there really anything more American than lighting off sparklers, bottle rockets and roman candles and watching them explode in the sky? Whether it’s the Fourth of July or some random weekend in August, fireworks are fun, symbolic, and a relatively safe way for the pyromaniac in your family to make things go boom.

“Relatively” is the key word, however. Though consumer fireworks are made to be as safe as possible, they can be extremely dangerous if used irresponsibly. Here’s a look at everything you need to know to make fireworks a safe and enjoyable part of your summer festivities.

Set an Age Limit

It’s pretty simple: Young kids really should not be handling fireworks. Even smaller stuff like firecrackers and sparklers can be dangerous in the hands of a small child.

If you think your kid is smart and mature enough to hold something that on fire in their hand, then it’s up to you to make that call. Just keep this in mind — chances are, your child will be just as happy watching fireworks go off as they are setting them off themselves.

Learn the Laws in Your Area

Specific laws and requirements for consumer fireworks use vary wildly from state to state. So if you just moved across the country or haven’t read up on the rules in a while, it’s a good idea to check those out before setting off this year’s firework haul.

There’s a lot to consider, from the legality of certain kinds of fireworks to the noise ordinances in your neighborhood. To avoid this year’s fireworks display being cut short by the police, research your local and state firework laws.

Choose the Right Fireworks

When it comes to fireworks, it’s “go big or go home,” right? Well … to a certain extent. While the largest fireworks in the brightest packaging definitely looks most appealing on the shelf, they’ll require more expertise and more careful handling.

If you’ve never set off fireworks before, ease into it by purchasing smaller and more manageable rockets. Also, keep an eye out for fireworks packaged in brown paper. The Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends people avoid those, since the brown packaging “is often a sign that the fireworks were made for professional displays and that they could pose a danger to consumers.”

Proper Handling and Lighting

Here are a few tips for safely handling and lighting fireworks:

  • Only light off fireworks outside, and keep a bucket of water and a hose nearby in case of sparks or fire.
  • Do not point or throw fireworks at anyone.
  • Make sure fireworks are directed away from homes and anything potentially flammable, like piles of leaves or brush.
  • Only light off one firework at a time, and only have one person doing thr lighting.
  • Do not light off fireworks in glass or metal containers.
  • If a firework fails to go off, spray it down with a hose and dispose of it. Do not attempt to relight it.
  • Once a firework is burnt out, hose it down before disposing of it.

Fireworks and Your Pets

While lighting off fireworks is a fun and celebratory activity for people, our pets typically dislike the experience. For cats and dogs, their heightened senses of hearing make the booms and pops of exploding fireworks terrifying.

It’s a good idea to put your pets in a safe, indoor location if fireworks will be set off that night. Try to set up an insulated space away from windows where the sounds will be lessened, and surround your pets with toys and treats to keep their anxiety levels low.

The American Kennel Club also recommends making sure the identification information on your pet’s collar is up to date, so if they do run off scared there’s a better chance they will be returned to you safely.