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Tips to Protect Your Home: Lithium-Ion Battery Safety

Lithium-ion batteries have become integral to modern life, powering everything from smartphones and laptops to power tools and electric vehicles. Safety is paramount when it comes to handling and using them due to the risk of lithium-ion battery fires if mishandled. By familiarizing yourself with lithium-ion batteries, you can use them safely and effectively in your everyday life.

What are lithium-ion batteries and where are they used?

They’re a type of rechargeable battery that use lithium ions as their main component for generating electricity. These batteries have gained popularity due to two main benefits:

  • High energy density: They pack a high amount of energy into a smaller and lighter package compared to other types of batteries, which makes them ideal for quickly charging handheld electronic devices.
  • Long life span: Lithium-ion batteries often last longer than traditional rechargeable batteries. They can go through thousands of charging cycles before their performance drops significantly, making them a smarter investment over time.

Chances are, you interact with devices powered by lithium-ion batteries on a daily basis. These may include smartphones, cordless power tools, cordless vacuums, electric toothbrushes, remote-controlled toys, and other common household items. Larger devices, such as electric and hybrid vehicles, electric lawn equipment, electric wheelchairs and home energy storage systems also commonly rely on lithium-ion batteries.

Identifying safety concerns with lithium-ion batteries

Understanding the safety issues related to lithium-ion batteries is essential because of the potential hazards they pose, including the risk of lithium-ion battery fires. Here are some important safety concerns:

  • Fire hazards from thermal runaway: Thermal runaway occurs when heat triggers chain reactions inside the battery. This is typically caused by overcharging, defects or physical damage, rapidly raising its temperature.
  • Potential explosions due to overheating: When a lithium-ion battery overheats, it can release flammable gases, which can lead to an explosion if ignited. Physical impact or exposure to high temperatures can increase the risk of the battery overheating and potentially causing lithium-ion battery fires. Typically, larger lithium-ion batteries for equipment like e-bikes or e-scooters pose bigger risks. These batteries store more energy which means they have a higher chance of causing a fire if something goes wrong.
  • Toxic chemical leaks from damaged batteries: Lithium-ion batteries contain toxic materials such as, lithium, nickel and cobalt. If a battery is damaged, these materials can leak out, posing health risks to humans, animals and the environment.
  • Environmental impacts from improper disposal: Improper disposal of lithium-ion batteries can have serious environmental consequences. When batteries are thrown in the trash or recycling bins, they can end up in landfills or incinerators, where they may release toxic chemicals into the soil, water and air. 

Stop using a lithium-ion battery if you notice any of the following: unusual odors, changes in color, excessive heat, alterations in shape, leakage or strange sounds indicating a potential lithium-ion battery fire. If possible, move the device away from flammable materials. If you see signs of fire, leave the area and contact emergency services immediately.

Implementing effective battery safety practices

Adopting safety measures

Purchase lithium-ion batteries from reputable brands known for their quality and adherence to safety standards. Batteries that are certified by nationally recognized laboratories have met rigorous testing.

It’s important to adhere to manufacturer guidelines for proper battery use, including recommended charging methods and usage conditions. Make sure to follow the instructions for appropriate storage to maintain battery health and prevent safety issues.

Routine maintenance and handling

  • Periodically inspect batteries for signs of damage or wear. Look for physical damage, such as cracks, swelling or leakage, which may indicate internal issues. If any damage is detected, discontinue use of the battery and safely dispose of it according to local regulations to prevent potential lithium-ion battery fires.

    Avoid dropping or physically damaging lithium-ion batteries, as this can cause internal damage and increase the risk of a malfunction.
  • Always use the charger that is specifically designed for the battery and device you’re charging. Using an incorrect charger can damage the battery and pose safety risks. Don't charge devices on upholstered furniture like beds or couches, or near other easily ignitable sources like blankets, pillows or curtains. Keep an eye on them and remove them from the charger once they’re fully charged.

    Overcharging can cause the battery to overheat, leading to a risk of fire. Once the battery is fully charged, disconnect it from the charger.
  • Store lithium-ion batteries in a cool, dry place to maintain optimal performance and safety. Keep batteries away from flammable materials and ensure they’re stored securely to prevent physical damage.

    Try to avoid extreme temperatures. High temperatures can cause lithium-ion batteries to malfunction or catch fire. Avoid exposing batteries to direct sunlight, and don't leave them in hot vehicles. Similarly, extreme cold can also affect battery performance.
  • Avoid throwing lithium-ion batteries in the trash or recycling bins. Wrap them in electrical tape and take them to certified battery recycling centers or drop-off locations. These facilities have the proper equipment and procedures to handle and recycle batteries safely.

    Lithium-ion batteries may need special fire extinguishers, equipment, or techniques to be safely extinguished. This is especially important for larger, more powerful, and potentially more destructive batteries. Always be prepared by knowing how to contact your local emergency services in case of a fire. If you are unsure about handling a lithium-ion battery fire, it's best to leave it to the professionals.

Following these safety recommendations can lower the chances of accidents and support the safe use of lithium-ion batteries in various devices.

Keeping home safety top of mind

Much like other fire risks that require attention, maintaining lithium-ion battery safety is a critical aspect of fire safety at home. Just as you would take precautions with items such as candles, cooking appliances or electrical outlets, it's essential to follow lithium-ion battery management guidelines diligently. Following these safety recommendations can lower the chances of accidents and support the safe use of lithium-ion batteries in various devices.

For further insights into home fire safety, check out our guide on home fire prevention and safety tips.

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