Rechargeable batteries are in everything. Look around you right now, and there are probably half a dozen devices that contain a rechargeable battery within arm’s reach of you.
Given the number of gadgets that house a rechargeable battery that live in your home, it’s a good thing that they are surprisingly safe and rarely burst into flames.
But rarely is not never.
Yes, that’s right, a battery can — and sometimes does — burst into flames.
The good news is that batteries generally give you a warning before erupting into a fireball. And if you know the warning signs, you can deal with it before getting a nasty surprise.
Here are the warning signs you should look for that your smartphone or laptop battery could be getting ready to explode.
1. The gadget gets really hot
This is a big warning sign that something bad could happen imminently.
Also: Are long USB-C charging cables a fire hazard?
2. The device is swelling, or the seams are bursting open
Rechargeable batteries can swell up dramatically when faulty, and this can push displays out of smartphones and even bend and bulge the case of laptops and other gadgets.
3. A nasty chemical smell comes emitted from the device
This is another warning sign. It might not be the battery at fault here, but any acrid smells coming from a gadget is a sign that it needs checking.
Kind of goes without saying that this is a problem you shouldn’t ignore.
5. Device doesn’t charge properly
This might not be an imminent sign that your smartphone, laptop, or other gadget is going to go up in flames, but it’s a sign that something is wrong, and to be on the safe side, it’s worth getting the device checked.
Also: MacBook not charging? Here’s what to check
6. Liquids leaking from a device
This might not be the battery, but it’s still a warning sign that you shouldn’t ignore. If it’s not coming from the battery, it’s coming from something.
7. The device has suffered serious damage
Maybe a big drop where the case is dented or been crushed or bent. If there’s any chance that the battery has been damaged or punctured, this is a problem that you shouldn’t ignore.
What to do in the event of a fire
If you come across any of these signs, stop using the device and seek expert help, and in the meantime, put the device somewhere where if it does burst into flames, it’s not going to cause a big problem (on a metal tray, on concrete, something that’s not going to catch and spread the fire).
If your device catches fire, don’t throw water on it, as this can make it worse! This is when having the appropriate fire extinguisher can save the day. Don’t have one? Buy one now. Seriously.
If the fire is small and you don’t have access to a fire extinguisher, then covering the device with something fireproof — a metal pan or glass bowl — can help prevent the spread. That said, don’t take chances where fires are concerned. Evacuating the area and calling the emergency services is the safest thing to do.