Nintendo recently warned Switch owners that failing to charge their consoles regularly (in this case, at least every six months or so) could impact battery life. It’s an easy problem to avoid — if you somehow aren’t using it enough to drain the battery, just make sure you charge your Switch or Switch Lite twice a year or so — but it’s not unique to Nintendo’s hardware.
Every gadget with a rechargeable battery needs to be periodically juiced up to avoid a myriad of problems, even the ones you only use once in a while. Some batteries will stop holding a charge if left on empty for too long, and others could eventually experience chemical reactions that may lead to… explosive results.
The devices you infrequently use and aren’t likely to replace are the most at risk — consider that old PlayStation Portable handheld you still pull out when the urge strikes, the portable battery pack you only use on summer camping trips, or the battery pack for that DSLR you bought in college and have held onto ever since.
The recommended charging interval varies between devices and battery types, but charging your under-used hardware once every three to six months seems to be the general recommendation. Try to leave your old gear at a charge of around 50 per cent before putting it away, if possible. There’s no need to max out the battery if it’s just going back in a drawer, since that too might affect its overall capacity. (And that drawer should ideally be in a cool and dry location.)
That said, don’t immediately rush to plug in the gear you haven’t used in months or years; some of those batteries may be unsafe. Check your old hardware for swelling, cracks, corrosion, or leaking battery acid — especially if they’ve been sitting untouched in a closet or warm garage.
If you see any signs of hazardous deterioration, make sure you dispose of the busted battery properly. This is especially important for classic tech collectors who have devices with rechargeable batteries in their stash.
What about smartphones, tablets, and laptops?
While tech you only use occasionally is the most at risk for long-term deterioration, the batteries in the iPhones, Android devices, and laptops you use every day are affected by under-charging, too, albeit in different ways.
Modern smartphones, tablets, and laptops generally maintain their full battery potential for up to 500 cycles (draining the battery to zero, then fully recharging it) before battery life is reduced. However, partial recharges do not count toward that full cycle count, which is why you shouldn’t let your smart phone or laptop’s battery completely drain if you can avoid it. The good news? You can safely keep these devices plugged in without damaging the battery much more than you already do simply by using them.
This article was originally published in October 2020.