Batteries can bulge and explode, what to watch out for

black android smartphone on table

Batteries are pouches of active chemicals. If it sounds concerning it should. Generally, battery manufacturers do a really good job of keeping us safe. But occasionally batteries begin to degrade. This can be from over-use, non-use, environmental effects, age, defects, or simply bad luck.

One of the most obvious tell-tale signs of a bad battery is that it will begin to bulge. Sometimes it’s so obvious that the back panel of your laptop computer or iPhone will pop off, but sometimes you’ll see it more subtly like in my video below. If the battery expands enough it could potentially damage your computer with pressure or it could burst. The chemicals it leaks are highly flammable.

This is one reason I strongly urge customers to recycle or sell any unused battery-powered electronics you have lying around. If you aren’t using it regularly and the battery does this you won’t be there to see it. There isn’t any sense in keeping an old device that’s no longer in use. If it’s not useful now it isn’t likely to get more useful with age, and you probably aren’t curating a museum.

While common enough that I’ve seen it happen among a dozen or more of my clients, it’s not something that should keep you up at night. Just keep an eye out for these physical changes to your devices and seek immediate attention if any of them arise.

Symptoms to watch for

  • Your laptop wobbles on a flat surface
  • The trackpad on your MacBook is difficult to press, doesn’t respond, clicks at random, moves your cursor randomly, or is raised up above the rest of the body.
  • The bottom panel of your MacBook is beginning to bulge or separate from the rest of the body.
  • The lid of your laptop makes contact only at the middle when closed, but not on the sides.
  • The back panel or the screen of your iPhone or iPad is bent or detached, usually arching in the middle but still connected at the top and bottom.
  • Your device spontaneously turns off well before reaching 0% charge.

What to do

  • Get the computer diagnosed if you’re not sure that the problem is caused by a bad battery.
  • If it’s a device that’s no longer in use, you probably should recycle it. You can take it to an Apple Store, Best Buy, Staples, or your county hazardous waste collection center. Generally, retail stores do not accept loose batteries for recycling.
  • If you would like to repair it and it’s an Apple device I recommend getting service from Apple. Their original batteries are much better quality than the third-party ones I’ve seen, and certain battery health features require an Apple-verified battery.
  • Do NOT take the device on an airplane. The change in cabin pressure can cause the battery to expand more and possibly burst.
  • Do NOT put batteries in the trash. They can cause a trash fire. Have them properly recycled.

Further help

If you are an existing customer who needs help with this or if you have other questions, or if you are in San Francisco and interested in becoming a client I invite you to book an appointment with me. Otherwise, you may wish to contact Apple Support or find a local Apple consultant.

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Photo by Tyler Lastovich on