Most of us are surrounded by flammable objects that we willingly paid for. Be it smartphones, laptops, or literally any gadget that has a battery, they’re all vulnerable to catching fire. (Samsung Note 7, anyone?) Your devices are unlikely to catch fire and explode without warning, but you should understand when there’s a fire risk and what you can do to avoid it.
How to identify when your device’s battery is at a risk
These are the most common signs of a dying battery — if you’re able to catch these symptoms in time, you won’t have to deal with catastrophic consequences, such as your device catching fire.
Significantly reduced battery life
This is the surest sign of a degrading battery. Most gadgets we use have lithium-ion batteries, which have a limited life span. As you charge and discharge the battery, its capacity to hold a charge keeps reducing. This is why older phones have significantly lower battery life than their brand new counterparts.
If you have a smartphone that goes from 100% battery to zero within a couple of hours, you should take that as a sign of a degraded battery. It’s best to either trade in the device and upgrade, or get the battery replaced from an authorised service centre.
Is your device bulging near the battery? In smartphones, the back panel starts to curve and expand; in a laptop, swelling happens below the keyboard. This expansion could be due to a swollen battery. Once your battery is swollen, it’s time to stop using it immediately. You should contact your device’s repair professionals for advice on how to safely dispose of the swollen battery and get it replaced with a new one as soon as possible.
While you’re waiting for a replacement, do not store the swollen battery inside your house, or any other space that can catch fire.
Smoke or acrid smells from your device
It goes without saying if you see smoke emanating from your gadget it’s time to immediately move it away from anything you hold dear. Take the device away from your house and keep it on a surface such as concrete where it can’t spread the fire.
It’s also important to avoid inhaling any of the fumes from a device that’s emanating smoke or on fire. These fumes are extremely toxic.
A leaking battery
If liquid is leaking from a device’s battery, you should take the same precautions described earlier to ensure that the battery doesn’t explode anywhere near you. Contact your device’s repair professionals for advice on how to properly dispose of it.
Your device is damaged
A short drop that leaves you with a cracked screen probably isn’t a big problem, but if your device is seriously damaged, it’s time to start thinking “fire hazard.” For example, if a car runs over your laptop, you should avoid trying to boot it up and immediately send it in for repairs (if there’s anything left to repair). A battery replacement is a good idea in these cases, because a damaged battery can also explode without much warning.
How to prevent damaging your device’s batteries
You can take a few steps to avoid damaging your gadgets’ batteries. These steps don’t take much effort but they pay off in the long run.
Proactively replace ageing batteries
If your gadget is getting long in the tooth, you should consider replacing its battery anyway. This will give you significantly improved performance and reduce the risk of battery-related hazards. The cost of replacing the battery at this stage is far lower than dealing with the consequences of an exploded battery later.
The lower the battery life, the better it is to consider a battery replacement. You can also proactively check the device’s battery health to check if the battery needs to be swapped.
Avoid direct exposure to sunlight
Some of us live in sunny places and tend to leave our gadgets near windows or in areas where they’re exposed to direct sunlight. This can expose the battery to higher temperatures and lead to significant degradation much before its normal lifespan. If you keep it away from sunlight, you immediately reducing the risk of a fire hazard.
Use the device in its operating temperature range
You should check your device’s box or user manual to find its ideal operating temperature. Apple says that iPhones are to be used in temperatures ranging from 0° to 35° C. Heat is the enemy of batteries, and if you avoid using your phone in extremely hot environments, you’ll be prolonging its life.
It’s worth noting that the ambient temperature inside your house or in your office can vary widely from the outside temperature. You’re probably safe if you use your phone indoors in peak summer, but if you’re going to be playing games or recording videos in the hot sun, the battery is going to be affected.
Tips for longterm storage
If you aren’t planning to use a device any longer, you might chuck it in a random drawer and forget about it entirely. Before you do this, you should check the manufacturer’s user manual to find out the ideal way to store devices. Apple recommends that you charge iPhones to 50% before storing them for a long time. This step is important because the battery of a completely discharged device can enter a deep discharge state over a period of time, meaning it’ll be unable to hold any charge at all. Similarly, storing an iPhone at 100% battery also leads to battery degradation.
You should also avoid keeping your devices in humid environments to keep the battery safe. If you live in a humid area, consider investing in a dry cabinet to store your gadgets.