exploding device fire phone

For most of us, our smartphones are one of our most cherished companions. We take our beloved phone with us everywhere we go – even to the loo! We never expect our nearest and dearest techy friends to bring danger to our lives, why would something we love so much want to hurt us? Nobody assumes their phone is going to explode right in their face, but sadly this happens all too often. What would cause such a horrific event, why would technology turn against us?

There’s a number of reasons why phones explode, and you might be surprised to learn that it isn’t all Samsung’s fault. Though they can certainly take the blame for the wonky battery infernos from the infamous Galaxy Note 7-gate.

What causes smartphones to explode?

The main cause of this epidemic is not that our phones are trying to eliminate us one-by-one so they can take over the world (although that might make a good Will Smith film). The key culprit here is the smartphone battery. But don’t worry, your battery is unlikely to just explode by itself. There’s a number of external forces that contribute to battery explosions.

Phone batteries are extremely sensitive to heat. Putting your phone in the range of additional heat sources can make it more susceptible to overheating, and ultimately, exploding.

Sources of heat include direct sunlight, heaters and fireplaces, and of course, your butt.

This may be mildly funny to us who have not experienced our phones spontaneously igniting, but it was not so funny for these male victims of rear pants pocket phone combustion.

This unfortunate Bondi man copped severe burns after his iPhone exploded following the impact of when he ‘landed on it’ after falling from his bike. Of the freak accident, he said, “It was a one in one million chance I hit a part of the phone which pierced the lithium battery and it exploded.”

phone battery explosion

What’s the story with these risky phone batteries?

For the most part, smartphone lithium-ion batteries are safe, despite the capacity to be highly explosive.

Sony introduced the first lithium-ion battery in 1991 following many years of pioneering experimentation. Modern Lithium-ion batteries power everything from smartphones to Tesla vehicles and solar power storage systems. In fact, the majority of the world’s rechargeable batteries these days are made from lithium-ion. Even those in pacemakers and hearing aids.

With the high use of lithium-ion in phones, digital cameras and laptops, there are bound to be some issues. According to Battery University, a one-in 200,000 failure rate triggered a recall of almost six million lithium-ion packs used in laptops manufactured by Dell and Apple.

Sony says that on rare occasions, microscopic metal particles may come into contact with other elements in the battery cell, leading to a short circuit. During a lithium-ion battery explosion, this is the sequence of events:

  • One section of the battery begins to overheat due to a short-circuit or other external cause. 
  • This triggers a chemical reaction inside called electrolyte overheat, where hot areas continue to generate their own heat and spread. 
  • This building heat leads to the electrolyte giving off steam with ultimately bursts the battery casing. 
  • Extremely flammable, piping hot liquid similar to napalm, escapes and burns or melts whatever it comes into contact with.

That, my suitably horrified friends, is a chemical reaction known as “thermal runway.” But before you scream and run away from your tech forever, rest assured manufacturers are continuously applying new safety features in the production of lithium-ion batteries that reduce the likelihood  of a “thermal runway” experience.

Which phones might explode on you?

When you think phone explosion, what is the first brand name that comes to mind? If you answered Samsung then you’re not alone. After the 2017 debacle involving Samsung Galaxy Note 7’s spontaneously combusting, the company’s reputation took a tumble, scoring a low 49 on The Harris Poll; a US poll that ranks the reputations of companies with the most visibility. Since, however, they have been able to recover and are sitting on a cool, comfortable seven.

Despite primarily only hearing the traumatic recounts of Samsung users and their explosive devices, this issue has and can affect any phone, or any device using lithium-ion batteries.

Many cases of iPhones exploding have been reported, most commonly by men with their phones in their rear pocket (we repeat, don’t sit on your phone people!).

This issue is most definitely not an Apple issue, or a Samsung issue; but a battery issue. There are, however, ways to prevent this horror story from happening to you.

How to prevent your phone from exploding 

Phones, being as precious as they are, are more than just communication devices. They store our special memories and help us run our lives with all of their special apps. Also, let’s not forget, they’re pretty expensive these days. Imagine your collection of moments and memories going up in flames but then also having to pay for a brand new phone? It would be devastating – especially to our wallets.

charging phone 100 percent explosion
There are a number of ways you can keep your phone from becoming an inferno, and they all revolve around keeping your tech from overheating.

  • Keep your phone out of direct sunlight, and away from fire and heaters
  • Avoid overcharging. Don’t leave your phone on the charger after it has reached 100% 
  • Shut down unused apps running in the background
  • Avoid maximising your screen brightness
  • Choose a high quality phone case from the manufacturer
  • Remove the phone case if your phone is overheating
  • Don’t store your phone near your butt. No more keeping it in back pockets! 
  • Avoid impact with anything…especially the ground
  • Say no to marathon phone calls or running intensive graphics and games for extended periods
  • Did we mention don’t sit on your phone?
  • Always use the charger provided by the manufacturer
  • Never replace a battery with an Asian non-brand battery at a lower price point. Always use an approved battery model

 

The cool conclusion

Due to the way our phones are constructed these days, phone explosions are a potential, though highly unlikely scenario, provided you keep your cool. If you follow our simple tips, you should be able to avoid your device going up in smoke, and you will also preserve the performance and lifespan of your battery. If you treat your treasured lithium-ion powered battery with care and respect, it’s likely to keep sparking happiness in your life rather than unwelcome eruptions.

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