Who among us doesn’t have a gadget drawer or a box on a closet shelf with a few old phones? Those old gadgets aren’t just a mess: They’re a potential fire hazard. Here’s what you need to know.
Why old gadgets are a fire hazard
An old Android phone or three here, a forgotten tablet or two there. It’s all too easy to accumulate a pile of old gadgets and gear that you never take care of.
Unfortunately, unlike old junk drawer gadgets like a flashlight or calculator, modern devices pose a unique risk: they are a fire hazard.
Why ? Most modern portable electronic devices use lithium-ion batteries. Lithium-ion batteries are excellent in many ways.
They are small, light and store a good amount of energy for their size. Without them, we wouldn’t have super-thin smartphones that can last all day (and even longer) on a single charge.
But storing a lot of energy in a small space is always a potential risk, and lithium-ion batteries are not exempt. As they age and degrade, the risk of battery failure increases.
A phone battery on fire.
I don’t always throw phone batteries on the floor, but when I do, they’re on fire. Jason Fitzpatrick
Unlike what happens with, for example, AA batteries stuck in the back of an old toy, the risk of failure of a lithium-ion battery is not limited to a leak or corrosion in the battery compartment, this is a potential fire because the battery swells and the gases (combined with stored energy) turn the battery into a potential fireball.
Not only do photos of dangerously swollen batteries appear quite frequently on /r/TechSupportGore, there’s even an entire subreddit devoted to the subject with the tongue-in-cheek name /r/SpicyPillows, a nod to the pillow shape of a swollen and burning lithium-ion battery that can result from damage to the “pillow”.
We don’t want people freaking out about their forgotten iPhone 5 or old MP3 player burning down their house while they read this article on their lunch break.
Exploding phones are pretty rare, and we should know that keeping a pile of old gadgets around isn’t a death warrant. But good gadget management and storage practices can help reduce the risk to almost zero – and declutter your home in the process.
Preventing an old phone or tablet from failing and taking your house down is all about risk management and reducing the risk of battery failure.
Get rid of old gadgets
This might seem like heresy to people who keep all the gadgets, cables, and maybe even the box they come in, forever and ever, but it’s definitely good practice that you should consider.
Rather than keeping old gadgets around forever, get rid of them when they’re replaced by a new gadget.
Bought a new phone? Save the old one for a few weeks in case the new one is a lemon, but then dispose of it safely. Sell it, recycle it, give it to a friend or relative to use, but don’t leave it in a drawer for so long that when you finally find it, someone may say: “It has its place in a museum! The best time to sell an iPhone, after all, is just when you’re replacing it to take advantage of the iPhone’s high resale value.
The same goes for all your other gadgets. Make a habit of selling, recycling, or giving away your old eBook reader, tablet, and even your Bluetooth speaker as soon as you replace it with something new. If it contains a lithium-ion battery and you no longer use it regularly, it’s time to find it a new home.
And while the device wasn’t destined to break down and explode in your desk drawer, it’s good to keep gadgets in use and pass them on to people who will actually use them.
Properly charge your gadgets
If you are not ready to get rid of your gadget, it is better to charge it properly to store it. Proper charging keeps battery cells and circuitry healthy.
Although recommendations vary by manufacturer and application, the general consensus is that lithium-ion batteries should be charged to around 40%. (Some manufacturers recommend a 50% or 60% charge instead).
In reality, the important thing here is not the exact percentage. What is important is to ensure that the battery is charged to around half capacity and not stored with a fully discharged or fully charged battery.
Discharge rates for lithium-ion batteries in completely de-energized devices are very slow, but you should still plan to top up the charge every 12-18 months or so to keep it around 50%.
Store them properly
Gadgets on your VIP long-term storage list deserve proper long-term storage. Just like a myriad of other household items, from paints to cans, your gadgets will be happiest in a cool, dry place.