Smartphones are cool. Explosions are cool. But combining the two are not so cool. Every now and again we hear cases of smartphones exploding, and this has become a major concern because such explosions are life-threatening. While it’s very rare, Samsung was forced to recall the entire Note 7 lineup after over thirty-five cases of smartphone explosions were reported.
Since the Note 7 fiasco, we’ve had several isolated cases of smartphones exploding, and last year we witnessed the worst case scenario where a man died after his phone exploded and caught fire. To help you protect yourself, we’re going to cover the main reasons smartphones explode and explain what you should do to stay safe.
What Causes Smartphone Batteries to Explode?
While manufacturing defects are the main reason smartphones explode, there are also situations on the user’s end that could cause a battery to explode. Here are the main reasons why smartphone batteries explode.
1. Manufacturing Defects
A bad batch of batteries (as was the issue with the Note 7), use of a wrong component, or a fault in the assembly line that caused a component to be damaged can cause a battery to malfunction. When this happens, an explosion is hard to avoid.
Flawed design and counterfeit products are also major causes of battery failures and explosions. You’re likely to see this in cheap products or from manufacturers who are clearly cutting corners. Many of the cheap and counterfeit products do not contain the required safety features offered by reputable brands.
2. Inside Fracture
An inside fracture, which might be caused by dropping your phone, can cause your phone battery to swell and eventually explode. A hard fall can cause the thin compacted battery material that separates the cells to break, and this can produce an internal short circuit leading to swelling and potential explosions.
In the event of a drop, most people will run to the nearby repair center to have their screen repaired. While the key focus is usually on the screen, many people undermine the impact the fall could have had on the battery. What many don’t know is that a fall can also alter the chemical and mechanical structure of the battery. Such changes can cause the fail-safe circuitry to fail, paving the way for internal stress which could lead to swelling and potential explosions.
To be on the safe side, it’s good to always check your battery’s health regularly, especially if your phone has hit the floor several times. Here are the signs to look for:
- Excess heat generation, especially when charging
- Phone restarting on its own
- Battery draining easily
- Phone not charging after being plugged in
If you see any of the above signs, you should consider replacing your phone’s battery. Paying close attention to these symptoms can help to avoid battery explosions.
3. Excessive Heat
Excessive heat can break down internal cells within the battery, and this can also cause an internal short circuit. However, this can only occur in extremely high temperatures, unless the battery is damaged. Excessive heat can result from overcharging since the battery will be receiving more current than it can safely handle, causing it to overheat.
If the excess heat builds up inside the battery, it causes a reaction known as a “thermal runaway.” This refers to a situation where an increase in temperature changes the chemical reactions in a way that causes a further increase in temperature. In other words, rather than helping the battery to cool down, thermal runaway accelerates temperature increase — a catalyst for explosions.
There are many factors that can cause your phone to naturally heat up, such as playing graphics-intensive games. While your phone can handle all these functions just fine, performing them in a hot environment could impact your battery negatively. For example, playing music for long hours in direct sunlight can make an already straining phone struggle to cool itself.
4. Using the Wrong Charger
The use of a wrong or faulty charger can cause an explosion as the charger might supply more current than what your battery can handle. Also, manufacturers of cheap chargers often don’t meet the safety specifications required by USB devices. Such chargers often use sub-standard quality materials or incorrect gauge of wire that lack the required overcurrent protection.
How to Protect Yourself
Now that you know why smartphone batteries explode, there are measures you can take to protect yourself and your devices from explosions. By following these simple tips, you’ll be able to eliminate all the common causes of smartphone explosions.
- Don’t charge your phone in bed – We know how tempting it can be to charge your phone while watching a video in bed. However, this is very risky, as you can easily roll over your phone and have it overheat.
- Stick to first-party chargers – If possible, use only the charger that comes with the phone. This ensures your phone is getting the optimal voltage and current.
- Buy your devices from reputable retailers – Today, the online stores are flooded with cloned products, and it might be hard to distinguish the real ones from counterfeits. Buying from manufacturers ensures you get high-quality products that are free from manufacturing defects.
- Always allow your phone to cool down – If it gets hot during charging, unplug it to allow it to cool down. Avoid using it or keeping it in hot environments.
- If a device is recalled, make sure to return it. The sooner the better.
While smartphone explosions are a real thing, these occurrences are rare, and manufacturers have taken huge steps to ensure smartphones’ safety. For example, after the Note 7 debacle, Samsung implemented an eight-step battery test to prevent future phones from exploding. For your safety, it’s good to ensure you’re buying known brand names and from reputable outlets.