Seeing your battery swell after years of using a phone or laptop can be a scary sight, but knowing what to do if it happens and recognizing the early signs of battery swelling is essential for your safety.
Several factors, including wear and tear on the lithium-ion cells within the battery and leaving a laptop or device plugged in continuously for days, weeks, or years can contribute to battery swelling.
In this blog post, we will discuss what causes lithium batteries to swell, how to detect when this may be occurring in your devices, and ways to mitigate it if you’re working in a device lab-type environment.
Important Note: If you work in device labs or other commercial applications and are looking for ways to mitigate battery swelling across devices, read our whitepaper.
Why do device batteries swell?
Battery swelling typically occurs due to the accumulation of gases inside the battery. This can happen with different types of batteries, but it is most commonly seen with lithium-ion batteries, which are widely used in various consumer electronics, including smartphones, laptops, and other portable devices. Here are some reasons why batteries can swell:
Electrolyte Decomposition: Over time and through numerous charge/discharge cycles, the electrolyte inside the battery may start breaking down and producing gases. These gases can accumulate inside the battery casing, leading to swelling.
Overcharging: Charging a battery beyond its design limit can generate excess heat, which can lead to internal shorts and a breakdown of the battery's internal components. This decomposition can produce gases that cause the battery to swell.
Over-discharge: Discharging a battery too much can also damage the internal structure of the battery and lead to gas production.
Poor Battery Management: Modern batteries usually come with a Battery Management System (BMS) which monitors and controls the charging and discharging to ensure the battery operates safely. If this system malfunctions, it could allow the battery to operate outside of safe parameters, leading to swelling.
Physical Damage: Dropping or puncturing the battery can damage its internal structure. This can introduce internal shorts or other malfunctions that lead to gas production.
Elevated Temperatures: Exposing a battery to high temperatures can lead to the breakdown of internal materials and the production of gases. Therefore, it's essential to keep devices away from extreme heat sources.
Defective Cells: Manufacturing defects can also be a cause of battery swelling. Sometimes, imperfections during the production process can cause internal short circuits or other issues that lead to gas production.
Aging: As batteries age, their internal components degrade, leading to reduced capacity and efficiency. The breakdown of these materials can also generate gases, causing the battery to swell over time.
When a battery swells, it is an indication that something inside the battery has gone wrong, and it poses potential safety risks. A swollen battery can rupture or even catch fire in some cases. If you notice a battery swelling, it's essential to stop using the device and replace the battery as soon as possible. Always dispose of swollen batteries appropriately, according to local regulations.
What to do with a swollen battery?
If you encounter a swollen battery, it's essential to handle it with caution and ensure safety first. Here's what you should do:
Turn Off the Device and Disconnect: If the device is on, power it down immediately. If it's a device that can be unplugged, do so.
Do Not Charge or Use: Do not attempt to charge a device with a swollen battery. Continued use can further stress the battery and increase the risk of rupture or fire.
Wear Safety Gloves: Before handling the battery, wear safety gloves to prevent any unwanted chemical reactions if the battery leaks.
Avoid Puncturing or Pressing on the Battery: Never try to puncture or force a swollen battery to its original size. This can cause it to rupture and release harmful chemicals or even catch fire.
Store in a Safe Place: Place the device or battery in a location away from flammable materials. An open space with good ventilation is ideal.
Seek Professional Help: If you're unsure how to remove the battery, especially for devices where the battery is not designed to be easily user-replaceable (like many modern smartphones), consult the manufacturer or a professional technician.
Dispose Properly: Never throw a swollen battery in the regular trash. Batteries contain harmful chemicals that shouldn't end up in landfills. Instead, take it to a designated battery recycling facility or drop-off location. Many electronics stores or hazardous waste facilities have specific disposal methods for damaged batteries.
Replacement: If your device's battery has swollen, it will need to be replaced. Depending on the age of the device, it might be more economical to replace the entire device rather than just the battery. However, weigh your options carefully.
Seek Manufacturer Advice: If your device is still under warranty, or if there's a known issue with certain batches of products, the manufacturer may offer a free replacement or repair.
Prevention for the Future: If a battery swells, it might be worth understanding why it happened to prevent it in the future. Overcharging, exposure to high temperatures, or using non-original chargers can be factors. Ensuring you use and maintain your devices correctly can reduce the risk of battery swelling in the future.
Remember, a swollen battery is a sign of a malfunction and is a potential safety hazard. Always prioritize safety and take appropriate precautions.
How to remove a swollen battery from a phone?
If you've determined that you need to remove a swollen battery from a phone, it's essential to approach the task with caution and the proper tools. Swollen batteries are potentially hazardous, so always prioritize safety. Here's a step-by-step guide:
- Safety First: Wear safety glasses and gloves to protect your eyes and hands from potential chemical leaks or bursts.
- Ventilation: Work in a well-ventilated area. If the battery leaks or bursts, you don't want to inhale any fumes.
- Avoid Flames and Sparks: Ensure you're away from any potential ignition sources, including open flames or anything that could cause a spark.
Steps to Remove a Swollen Battery from a Phone:
Power Off: Turn off the phone if it's still on.
Prepare Your Workspace: Lay down a soft cloth or mat to avoid scratching your phone while working on it.
Use the Right Tools: Most modern phones require specific tools for opening, such as small screwdrivers, plastic prying tools, or suction handles. It's advisable to get a phone repair kit if you don't have one.
Open the Phone:
- For phones with removable backs: Simply take off the back cover.
- For phones with non-removable backs: Carefully follow the manufacturer's guidelines or look up a guide specific to your phone model. You'll usually start by removing screws, if any, then carefully prying or heating the back to loosen the adhesive. Be extra careful if using heat; excessive heat can further damage a swollen battery.
- Disconnect the Battery: Most phone batteries are connected to the motherboard with a small plug. Carefully disconnect this using a plastic tool.
Carefully Remove the Battery:
- If the battery is glued down (common in many modern phones), you'll need to carefully pry it loose. Use plastic tools rather than metal to avoid puncturing the battery. Be gentle and patient. If the battery is severely swollen, it might apply pressure against the phone casing, making removal a bit challenging.
- If there's a pull-tab adhesive (common in some iPhones), you can pull these to release the battery.
Place the Swollen Battery in a Safe Area: Once removed, place the battery on a non-flammable surface away from other items. Avoid placing it near metal objects.
Dispose of the Battery Properly: As mentioned previously, take the swollen battery to a designated disposal facility or drop-off location. Replace the Battery or the Phone: Depending on the age and condition of the phone, you may want to replace just the battery or consider getting a new phone.
Seek Professional Help if Unsure: If at any point you feel uncomfortable or unsure about the process, it's best to consult with or hire a professional technician.
Note: Some manufacturers or service providers might consider the phone warranty voided if you open the device yourself. Always check warranty terms before attempting to repair.
How to remove a swollen battery from a laptop?
Removing a swollen battery from a laptop can be more straightforward than from a phone, especially if the laptop has a user-replaceable battery. However, if the battery is internal, the procedure can be more involved.
In case you skipped the precautions listed above (and because it’s important), we’re reiterating the precautions here:
Safety First: Wear safety glasses and gloves. This will protect you from potential chemical splashes or bursts from the battery.
Work in a Ventilated Area: This ensures you're not breathing in any potentially harmful fumes if the battery leaks.
Avoid Flames and Sparks: Make sure you're not near any potential ignition sources.
Steps to Remove a Swollen Battery from a Laptop:
Power Off and Unplug: Turn off the laptop completely and disconnect it from any power source.
Backup Data: If you can, back up any essential data before proceeding. While it's unlikely, there's always a small risk of damaging the laptop.
External Batteries: For laptops with easily removable batteries (often found in older models), there will typically be switches or sliders on the bottom. Slide or toggle them, and you should be able to pop the battery out. Handle the swollen battery with care.
- Tools Needed: Get a set of precision screwdrivers and plastic prying tools or spudgers.
- Open the Laptop: Flip the laptop over and locate the screws on the bottom panel. Remove all the screws.
- Carefully Pry Open: Using plastic tools, carefully pry open the bottom panel of the laptop.
- Locate the Battery: Once inside, you should see the battery pack. It might be fastened with additional screws or adhesive.
- Disconnect the Battery: Before removing, ensure you disconnect the battery connector from the motherboard. This is usually a simple plug that can be carefully unplugged using a plastic tool.
- Remove the Battery: If there are screws holding the battery, remove them. If it's glued, use the plastic tools to gently pry it away.
- Place the Swollen Battery in a Safe Area: Once removed, place the battery on a non-flammable surface, away from other items and metals.
Dispose of the Battery Properly: Do not throw the battery in regular trash. Instead, take it to a designated battery recycling facility or drop-off location.
Replacement: Purchase a replacement battery, ideally an original one from the laptop's manufacturer or a reputable third-party brand. Once you have it, you can install it by following the removal steps in reverse.
Professional Help: If you feel uncomfortable doing this yourself, or if the battery is particularly challenging to access, consider seeking help from a professional technician.
Remember, a swollen battery is a sign of failure, and it can pose potential safety hazards. Always handle it with caution and prioritize safety.
Signs of a swollen battery
Common signs of a battery swell on a device include:
Physical Bulging or Expansion: This is the most apparent sign. The battery itself may appear bloated or larger than its usual size.
Device Deformation: If the battery is inside a device, the device may show signs of bulging or deformation. For example:
- Smartphones: The screen may lift from its frame or appear pushed out.
- Laptops: The base might not sit flat on a surface, or the trackpad might be raised or become unresponsive due to the pressure from the swollen battery below.
- Wearables: The back cover or screen may be pushed outward.
Reduced Battery Life: A malfunctioning battery can lead to noticeably reduced battery life.
Overheating: A swollen battery can cause the device to heat up more than usual.
Difficulty in Charging: The device might struggle to charge, not charge at all, or show erratic battery percentage readings.
Device Doesn't Turn On: In extreme cases, the device may not turn on because the battery is too damaged to provide power.
Chemical Odor: If a battery is leaking, it might produce a peculiar chemical smell. Power down the device and stop charging immediately if you detect a strong chemical odor.
Leakage or Residue: Visible signs of leakage or residue around the battery or device compartment can indicate a battery issue.
Performance Issues: The device might restart unexpectedly, or there might be performance lags.
Warning Messages: Some devices have built-in diagnostics that can alert users when the battery's health is compromised.
Tips to avoid swollen batteries
Here are some tips to help you avoid battery swelling on both modern laptops and cell phones:
- Use original chargers
- Avoid extreme temperatures
- Avoid overcharging your device
- Avoid deep discharges
- Use protective cases wisely (to avoid high temperatures)
Avoiding Device Battery Swelling in Commerical Applications
In device labs, laboratories, schools, medical facilities, and other areas where devices may be under constant strain or continued use, battery swelling can become an issue.
One of the easiest ways to mitigate battery swelling is through a charge controller. Acroname USB hubs allow you to monitor, manage, and specify charging programs on a device that charges over USB.
If you’re interested in our advanced guide to mitigating battery swelling in device labs or other commercial applications, check out our whitepaper.
You can also learn more about each of our hubs at these links:
Battery swelling is a phenomenon no device owner wants to encounter, but understanding its signs and causes is crucial to ensuring both personal safety and the longevity of our cherished gadgets. As we've explored in this post, recognizing early indications such as physical deformities in devices, reduced battery life, and unusual heating can be vital in detecting potential battery malfunctions.
Moreover, adopting proactive measures such as avoiding extreme temperatures, using recommended chargers, and being mindful of battery health can significantly mitigate the risk of swelling. It's imperative that, as responsible tech users, we remain educated and vigilant. After all, a little caution and preventive care can go a long way in preserving the health of our devices and, by extension, the digital experiences they support.