Charging, using and storing your vaping devices and batteries safely can help to prevent a fire or injury. This is your complete guide to vaping battery safety.
Lithium-ion batteries are extremely potent stores of power, and that’s why we use them in virtually all portable electronic devices.
A lithium-ion battery can power your computer or phone all day, and a bank of lithium-ion batteries can allow an electric car to travel for hundreds of miles between recharges. Before vaping became popular, though, most people never handled bare lithium-ion cells — and that lack of knowledge has led to some accidents.
Many new vapers do not realise the incredible difference in power between lithium-ion batteries and standard disposable alkaline batteries, and that difference will be the focus of this article.
Lithium-ion batteries are more dangerous than alkaline batteries because they store more power and because they’re more sensitive to extreme temperatures and short circuits. In the event of a short circuit, a lithium-ion battery releases its stored power instantaneously, causing great internal heat.
When the interior of a lithium-ion battery becomes too hot, the battery can enter a condition called thermal runaway. The battery begins to vent sparks and hot gas, causing severe burns to anyone and anything nearby. Thermal runaway can also happen if a battery overheats due to improper charging.
Once a lithium-ion battery enters thermal runaway, nothing can stop the chemical reaction. The only remedy is to move the battery to a safe place if it’s possible to do so.
In the United Kingdom, most vaping-related fires occur due to improper battery charging. However, it is also possible for a vaping battery to short circuit and enter thermal runaway during use or when it’s carried in a pocket. In any case, the potential outcomes of a vaping battery fire can be horrendous.
During the vaping industry's first decade of existence, there have been several hundred vaping-related fires. There have been at least two deaths, and several dozen people around the world have been severely burned by vaping batteries.
Before you become overly concerned about the risk of a vaping battery fire, it’s important to remember that tobacco smoking is far, far more dangerous to your health and property than vaping could ever be.
According to the UK government, fire and rescue services responded to about 26,320 fires relating to tobacco smoking in England from April 2015 to March 2016. By far, tobacco smoking is the most common cause of home fires that lead to deaths. In London alone, there are around 44 smoking-related fires — and at least one smoking-related fire death — per month.
In terms of the risk of fire, vaping is inherently less dangerous than smoking. Nevertheless, proper handling will help to ensure that your risk of a battery fire from vaping is as close to zero as possible.
Charge vaping batteries from your computer’s USB port with manufacturer-supplied equipment.
A computer’s USB port should always conform to the proper standards for power delivery via USB, and most vaping devices are designed specifically to support computer-based charging. Therefore, the safest option is always to charge your vaping device via your computer’s USB port unless the manufacturer has a recommended mains adapter available.
You should also avoid charging any vaping device with a car charger unless it’s supplied by the manufacturer of the vaping device.
If your vaping device has removable batteries, you can safely charge the batteries in a quality standalone battery charger.
Although they’re rare, lithium-ion batteries with manufacturing issues do exist. In addition, the materials and separators in a battery can degrade over time. Sometimes, that can lead to a situation in which a battery becomes thermally unstable during charging.
If you’re present when a battery encounters an issue during charging, you’ll notice the signs — such as a spark or unpleasant smell — and can act before a fire occurs.
It’s always safest to charge any battery while you’re present and awake. Don’t charge batteries while you’re sleeping or out of your home.
Have you ever wondered how you can charge a completely dead mobile phone to a usable battery capacity in just a few minutes? It’s because a mains adapter for a tablet or mobile phone often uses a stronger charging current than what a typical USB wall adapter would use. The batteries for mobile devices are certified to handle those stronger currents without overheating, but the battery in your vaping device isn’t.
Never charge a vaping device with a tablet or mobile phone charger.
Use a regulated vaping device with built-in safety monitoring.
The vast majority of vaping devices have built-in safety monitoring features that can detect issues like battery instability and short circuits. A regulated vaping device should shut itself down if it detects a potential safety issue.
A mechanical mod, on the other hand, has no such features and should never be used in a high-amperage vaping scenario or by those who don’t understand the basic principles of battery safety.
Most people should not use mechanical mods. Improper use of unregulated vaping devices has caused many terrible injuries.
A regulated vaping device has the ability to test the resistance of the connected tank or atomizer. That’s how the device determines the appropriate operational voltage for the wattage that you select. It’s also how the device detects a short circuit or unsafe current.
Suppose, however, that you build your own atomizer coils, and you build one with a short. Are you willing to trust your safety to your vaping device? It’s far safer to use a standalone resistance tester and check the resistance of every coil before using it.
Every battery has a maximum discharge rate — expressed in amps — that it can safely support. If your vaping device has a built-in battery, the maximum discharge rate isn’t something that should greatly concern you because your device automatically limits the operational current to whatever the battery supports.
If your device has a removable battery, though, you should always know the limits of your battery and should not use an atomizer coil that would cause an unsafe discharge. In most cases, batteries that are packaged for vaping use have their maximum discharge rates printed on their outer wrappers.
If your vaping device uses a removable battery, it’s wise to inspect the battery periodically to confirm that it has no visible damage.
If a battery has a damaged outer wrapper, that can lead to a short circuit because a lithium-ion battery’s entire outer metal case is conductive. The wrapper isn’t just there for show; it also helps to ensure that metal objects can only touch the battery’s terminals.
If you have a battery with a damaged wrapper, the battery is unsafe unless you replace the wrapper. If you’re uncomfortable doing that yourself, some local vape shops will do it for you.
If you have a battery with other signs of visible damage — such as denting or bulging — you should stop using the battery and recycle it.
Do not carry vaping batteries in your pocket!
One of the most important things to know about vaping batteries is that you should never carry them loose in your pocket. That is the absolute worst way to transport a battery because, in the event of a short, the battery is right next to your skin and some extremely important organs.
If you’re carrying a battery in your pocket — and the battery touches other metal objects such as your keys or loose change — the battery can experience a critical failure. This isn’t a theoretical problem; dozens of people around the world have been horribly burned because they carried spare vaping batteries in their pockets.
When you transport batteries, place them a carrier that protects them from damage and prevents the terminals from touching other metal objects. Padded carriers and hard plastic cases for battery storage are inexpensive and easily found at vape shops and on general-purpose retail websites like Amazon.
You should avoid carrying your vaping device in your pocket. When you transport a vaping device, lock the fire button or turn the device off. You can usually disable a vaping device by pressing the fire button five times quickly. Locking the fire button can help to prevent overheating due to accidental activation.
Most airlines forbid passengers from bringing lithium-ion batteries in their checked luggage. That’s because, if a battery overheats and catches fire, it needs to happen in the passenger cabin where flight personnel can take quick action.
When you travel with your vape gear, store your vaping devices and batteries in your carry-on baggage. Learn more in our guide on travelling with your vape gear.