FAQ | Infant Dies After Phone Battery Blows Up: Why Do Mobile Phones Explode?
At least two alleged incidents of phones exploding and killing people have been reported in the past week.
An eight-month-old baby died in UP's Bareilly on Sunday, 11 September, after a mobile phone that was charging next to her face exploded.
Just one day later, on Monday, a tech YouTuber took to Twitter to say that his aunt had died after a smartphone exploded near her face while she was asleep.
These aren't the first reports of a phone exploding. As far back as 2016, Samsung's Galaxy Note 7 phones were notorious for exploding and causing fires.
The fact that we spend three-five hours daily actively using our smartphones (as of 2022), apart from the near round-the-clock proximity to our mobile phones, make news of exploding phones decidedly unnerving.
The Quint spoke to tech experts to understand why phones explode, how to prevent it, and whether we should take more precautions while using phones to avoid this.
What causes a phone to explode?
The main reason for a phone exploding is poor thermal management of the phone's battery. Lithium-ion is the material most phones use in their batteries. Lithium-ion is fairly unstable which means when you're charging it, you have to have proper current management.
This means that the flow of electricity into the battery needs to be carefully regulated. Problems like phones catching on fire and/or exploding usually are a result of a faulty charger causing a surge in electricity. This gives the battery far more electricity than it can handle, and in some rare cases, can lead to fires or exploding phones.
Second, your phone needs a proper cooling system. Because, as it gets charged, heat is generated. This is why you'll sometimes feel your phone getting hot when it is charging. That's natural.
But even if there's a small problem with one of the cells in the lithium-ion battery packs, this heating increases to unnatural amounts, and it can catch fire. This happens in electric scooters too, because scooters are subjected to far more stress than phones.
Don't phones have a safety mechanism that prevents such surges or overcharging?
Most phones have a built-in software that will limit your charging current. The chargers often have software in them that will also stop them from overcharging batteries beyond their capacity. Like Samsung and OnePlus, which come with fast chargers, that even go as high as 65W.
But if you plug the same charger into a Xiaomi or another brand phone, it won't charge fast. It'll usually charge very slowly.
How does a fast charger work?
Well, it's like filling a bucket with water using a pipe. If you have a high-pressure pipe and you're filling a bucket of water, about 75 percent will fill really fast. After that, you regulate the speed and flow by slowing it. As it reaches near 100 percent, you reduce it to a trickle. That's exactly how a battery charges, too.
Can using an unstable power source to charge your phone cause it to explode?
If the current being given to the phone is not stable, it can definitely happen. For example, in the case in UP's Bareilly, the parents of the infant were charging their phone with a battery and a solar panel. A solar panel doesn't have a fixed flow of current.
If there's a sudden burst of sunshine, it'll cause a power surge. There's no regulator on the solar panel to limit this. That's why they always say you should use the original chargers that come with your phone.
Further, if you're charging your phone at night, don't fall asleep with the phone next to your face. While incidents of phones exploding are rare, this will limit the damage it can do if your phone explodes.
Are there any other best practices to stay safe while you use your phone?
Avoid using solar panels or a power source that can't regulate the flow of current. When you are using a solar panel to charge your phone, you'll usually be outdoors, and your phone already gets hot while it charges, so the combination of the internal heat and high external temperatures can cause problems.
If your phone gets wet, avoid charging it till it's dry. While phones may be water-proof, the presence of water in the delicate insides of your phone, and even between the charger and the phone, and the charger and the plug point, can cause a power surge.
If your phone's battery appears swollen or broken, do not charge it. Immediately stop charging your phone if the battery appears faulty. If you're not sure about the battery's health, approach a professional to take a closer look at your phone. Avoid using your phone if your battery appears to be leaking or swollen.
If your battery leaks or combusts, immediately put your phone away in a safe place, away from non-flammable objects. A metal bucket with sand or a sealed metal can are good options to store your phone till you can get it fixed.
No matter how long a battery lasts, eventually all batteries need a replacement.
You can often tell if a battery is leaking or swollen from a faint gas-like smell. Consult a professional and replace your battery as soon as possible if you suspect this is the case.
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