You're at the stove when suddenly a fire erupts. You're prepared because you have a fire extinguisher at the ready. But in the heat (literally) of the moment, do you know how to use it? Chances are, you've never thought about it.

Even before you learn how, make sure you know what type of fire extinguisher to use — and not to use — on what type of fire. An ABC extinguisher should cover you for most types of house fires. Second, make sure you should use a fire extinguisher at all. (More on this in a minute.)

Finally, memorize the acronym PASS so you'll know exactly how to put out the fire with the extinguisher.

  • Pull the pin on the extinguisher.
  • Aim the extinguisher nozzle at the base of the fire, not at the top of the flames.
  • Squeeze the trigger; don’t jerk it.
  • Sweep back and forth along the base of the fire, not over the top or into the middle of the flames.

Related: 3 Ways to Make Sure Your Fire Extinguisher Would Save Your Life

Tips for using an extinguisher safely

Where you stand while using the extinguisher matters. It is important to remember that the smaller the extinguisher, the less time you have to use it. UL advises people that the extinguisher the size of a two-liter bottle of soda will not even give you a full minute of use to put out the flames. It’s important to extinguish the fire with your back toward the door. So if something happens and the extinguisher cannot do the job, you can still get out of the room.

Here are other tips for safe extinguisher use, courtesy of UL and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

  • Choose a fire extinguisher that carries the label of an independent testing laboratory such as UL.
  • Buy one you can handle. Some models are heavy and bulky.
  • Read the instructions before a fire breaks out.
  • If possible, take a free hands-on fire extinguisher training session from your local fire department. Most fire departments offer them to the public.
  • If a fire breaks out, first make sure everyone is out of the building and someone has called the fire department.
  • If the room fills with smoke, leave immediately.
  • Know when to get out. Your first priority is a safe escape.

Related: How to Survive a Fire

Should you use an extinguisher at all?

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) advises asking yourself these questions before attempting to put out a fire:

  • Has someone called the fire department?
  • Are there two ways to exit the area quickly and safely if I attempt to extinguish the fire?
  • Do I have the right type of extinguisher for the type of fire?
  • Is the extinguisher large enough for the fire?
  • Is the fire small and contained (like in a wastepaper basket)?
  • Is the area free from other dangers, such as hazardous materials or any debris?

"If you answer 'NO' to any of these questions or if you will be unable to put out the fire in 5 seconds using the extinguisher, you should not use a fire extinguisher," writes FEMA.

UL recommends shaking your fire extinguisher once a month if it's a dry chemical fire extinguisher so the powder doesn't become packed down, and replacing it every 5 to 10 years.

Don't forget to create a home fire escape plan and practice it twice a year. And of course, have a smoke alarm in each bedroom, on each floor where family members sleep and in the basement.

Related: Quiz: Are You Prepared for a House Fire?

Muriel Vega is a writer with a passion for budget travel and staying safe while abroad. A Georgia State University graduate, she has over 6 years of editorial experience and has written for The Guardian, The Atlantic, The Billfold, among other outlets. In her free time, you can find her baking pies, playing with her two dogs and cat, or planning her next vacation. She spends way too much time on Twitter, one of her favorite social media channels. Her favorite safety tip: Make sure you have all the necessary shots before you go abroad.