Electronic devices are a common part of today’s world, and each one of them — from cellular phones to tablets — require batteries to function.
The batteries these devices use are not the typical, everyday AA or AAA varieties. Most of these devices use lithium-ion batteries, which can be recharged easily enough using electric outlets and USB cords or Lightning cords for Apple products.
Most electronic devices come with a charger — we plug them in at home; we plug them in at work; we even plug them in while driving. Chargers are ubiquitous. We take them for granted. You lose one, you go buy a new one. They’re not very expensive.
They’ve become so common that hotels across the country report the most commonly forgotten items these days are chargers for cell phones and laptops. Maids turn them in to the front desk after finding many of them still plugged into the wall outlets.
But should we be so cavalier with chargers? Many experts say no.
The trouble with lithium-ion batteries is that they are prone to overheating and catching on fire, especially if left in a charger after the battery has been replenished, if they are faulty, if they are badly made or if they have been damaged.
There have been reports of such batteries catching fire even when not in use.
The most notorious incident of recent times involved the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, which was shipped in 2016 with faulty batteries that led to numerous reports of overheating and fires. The issue was so serious that the U.S. Department of Transportation banned the device from American airliners.
In 2015, Hoverboards were in the headlines after a spate of incidents in which the personal transporters suddenly catch fire. They, too, were banned from passenger aircraft.
More recently, passengers flying onboard China Southern Airlines in February 2018 were in for a frightening start to their trip when a phone charger caught fire in a passenger’s luggage stowed in the overhead compartment.
Many people use chargers in the 12-volt outlets found in most cars to power up their devices while on the road. These outlets use electrical coils that heat up. In the past, such outlets were used for cigarette lighters that would pop out when they reached a certain temperature. Some chargers can block this safety feature, causing the coils to overheat and catch on fire.
There also was a report in 2014 of a fire crew that accidentally left a handheld spotlight on the bench seat in a utility vehicle — lens down, plugged in and in the on position. The heat from the light ignited a smoldering fire in the upholstery.
To prevent fires, here are some safety tips from the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services:
- Don’t place charging devices or devices in use on soft and/or combustible surfaces. The heat produced by the charging or use of the battery can get trapped around the battery and, if left untouched, can damage the battery or device, or cause a fire.
- Always use approved chargers or charging systems intended for use with the device or battery pack. Non-approved chargers or systems may not work properly and can damage the battery or device or cause a fire.
- Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for charging. Don’t overcharge devices or leave them unattended for long periods of time. Overcharging can lead to a fire.
- Don’t charge or use batteries in extreme temperatures. Cold temperatures can inhibit a batteries ability to not hold a charge, while high temperatures (or prolonged exposure to sunlight) can cause a malfunction and lead to a fire.
- Replace and properly discard damaged batteries. Using damaged batteries may lead to thermal runaway, which can cause a fire.
This article was originally published in Community Health magazine for Ohio Plan.