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Do Lithium-Ion Batteries Pose a Fire Risk?

Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries are in widespread use in consumer electronics. Lithium batteries have become the industry standard for rechargeable storage devices. Lithium batteries are generally safe and unlikely to fail, but only so long as there are no defects, and the batteries are not damaged or mistreated.  Despite their many advantages, lithium-ion batteries have the potential to overheat, catch fire, and cause explosions. So the answer is yes; lithium-ion batteries can pose a fire risk.

Fires involving lithium-ion battery-powered devices have been increasing at an alarming rate and have resulted in numerous injuries and fatalities. When people store and charge their devices inside their homes, garages or businesses, there is the potential for battery fires that lead to structure fires.

Common devices:

  • cameras
  • cell phones
  • e-bikes
  • e-cigarettes
  • e-scooters
  • hover boards
  • laptops
  • power tools
  • “smart” luggage
  • toothbrushes
  • toys

The problem:

  • These batteries store a large amount of energy in a small amount of space.
  • Sometimes batteries are not used the right way; batteries not designed for a specific use can be dangerous.
  • Like any product, a small number of these batteries are defective. They can overheat, catch fire, or explode.

Safety tips:

Lithium-ion batteries are here to stay. The solution is not to throw away anything with a rechargeable battery, but there are steps to take that will minimize the chances of a fire.

  • Purchase and use devices that are listed by a qualified laboratory, like Underwriters Labs (UL).
  • Always follow the device manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Avoid crushing, bending, or dropping the device and charger.
  • Avoid using a device in a highly damp or humid environment.
  • Only use the battery that is designed for the device.
  • Put batteries into the device correctly.
  • Keep devices and lithium-ion batteries at room temperature.
  • Store lithium-ion batteries away from anything that can catch fire.
  • Do not place lithium-ion batteries in direct sunlight or keep them in hot vehicles.
  • Only use the charging cord that came with the device.
  • Avoid excessive charging.
  • Don’t charge a device under your pillow, on your bed, or on a couch.
  • Remove the batteries from an e-cigarette before placing in a pocket or purse.

Battery Disposal:

  • Do not put discarded lithium-ion batteries in piles.
  • Do not throw batteries in the trash. These batteries are considered Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) and should not be placed in the trash.
  • Take the batteries to a recycling center. HHW can be dropped off for free at Spokane County Regional Waste Disposal sites.

Signs of a Problem:

Stop using the device or battery if you notice any of the following problem signs:

  1. Odor
  2. Change in color
  3. Too much heat
  4. Change in shape
  5. Leaking
  6. Odd noises

If any of the above happen and you feel in danger, move the device away from all items and call 9-1-1.