Years ago, the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 gained notoriety when its battery caught fire in a series of incidents. Since then, similar but isolated incidents have continued. However, despite the high-profile reports of problems with batteries, the vast majority of lithium-ion batteries are safe.
The chemical reactions that take place inside a lithium-ion battery are complex, but like any battery, there are negative and positive electrodes. In lithium batteries, the negative electrode is a lithium carbon compound and the positive electrode is cobalt oxide (though many battery manufacturers are moving away from cobalt). These two compounds, when controlled, cause a safe reaction and power your device. But when the reaction gets out of hand, your earbuds end up melting in your ears. There can be many reasons for changing a safe response to an uncontrolled response: overheating, physical damage during use, physical damage during manufacturing, or using the wrong charger.
The three basic rules that have kept me (so far) safe by testing dozens of batteries are:
- Avoid cheap power cords, chargers, and outlet adapters.
- Make sure the battery is not exposed to excessive heat (over 110 degrees).
- Check the battery regularly for signs of damage.
Avoiding cheap wall outlet adapters, power cords, and chargers is paramount. These are your most likely sources of problems. Those chargers you see on Amazon are $20 cheaper than the competition? not worth it. They may lower the price by omitting insulation, omitting power management tools, and ignoring the basics of electrical safety. Price alone does not guarantee safety either. Buy from reputable companies and brands.
Then there’s heat. Too much of it can cause all kinds of problems, both in terms of emissions and safety. Avoid high temperatures and pay attention to the battery while charging. If your device overheats while charging, this could be a symptom of a problem. Again, watch out for any swollen, bulging, or otherwise misshapen batteries.
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