31 May, 2021

Small, rechargeable devices such as smartphones and tablets are commonplace in our lives.

We use (and sometimes abuse) them so regularly it’s easy to forget that they do need to be handled with care.

Many devices and appliances that are now common in our homes use rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. These powerful batteries are ideal for keeping energy-hungry portable devices charged up but can pose a fire risk if mistreated.

This is especially true of larger lithium-ion batteries used in devices such as power tools, e-scooters and e-bikes. These batteries will release greater energy if they fail due to battery damage, overcharging or overheating.

Understanding how to safely charge and maintain your battery-powered devices is important, as in some circumstances they can present a fire risk.

RELATED: WA housefire risks you may not have considered »

Charging safely

When charging a device ensure it is on a hard surface. Leaving it to charge on bedding or other soft furnishings may cause heat to build up. The same applies when you’re using devices such as laptops with internals fans and vents – ensure they are always used on a hard surface to prevent overheating.

You should also keep devices away from anything flammable while they are being recharged.

Check that your charging cord is fully unwound before plugging it in. A cord that is coiled or kinked has the potential to overheat.

Phone charging on soft couch

Unsafe off-brand chargers and batteries

Never use off-brand charging cables and other accessories that aren’t supplied or recommended by the device’s manufacturer. Although they may be cheaper to buy, low-quality off-brand accessories run the risk of short circuits, power surges and potentially, fires.

Knock-off lithium-ion batteries carry similar risks and can also be highly combustible. Poor manufacturing standards and materials can make these batteries unsafe.

If you’re uncertain whether your charger or battery complies with Australian standards, check the Australian Government’s Electrical Equipment Safety Scheme for safety and compliance information.

Impacts could cause battery damage

Dropping a lithium-ion battery or subjecting it to a powerful impact could damage the battery’s separator and cause internal electrodes to overlap and potentially ignite. If the impact pierces the battery case, the chances of an electrical short circuit (and fire) increase.

Drill on the floor

Dusting and cleaning

Even if it isn’t visible, dust and grime that gets into your device carries a potential fire risk. This may happen where there are vents beneath the device, through the keyboard, or in the charging port or speaker holes.

To prevent any build-up of dust, regularly clean around these areas with a damp cloth. Just be sure to lightly wipe keyboards to prevent damage. If you notice heavy build-up, try using a cotton bud to dislodge and remove it safely.

Leads, cords and power boards

The electric cable attached to your charger contains an insulated live wire, that, when exposed, can leave you vulnerable to electrical fire. If your cord becomes frayed, it’s essential to replace it immediately. Using adhesive tape to ‘fix’ it is not a safe solution.

When using extension cords, you should avoid running them under rugs as an electrical cord with a heavy load may heat up.

Frayed charging cord

When using a power board to charge your device, don’t piggyback plugs by stacking two power boards, or a power board and a double adapter, together.

You should also avoid blocking power boards by putting other objects on top of them or placing them beneath rugs or low furniture. They require space to emit heat, and when smothered, could become a fire risk.

Before plugging your charger into a power board, examine its ports for dust or grime. If dust builds up in unused ports, it has the potential to become a fire hazard if moisture also enters the port. To avoid this, purchase a power board with safety covers so unused ports stay closed off. Regularly examine your power boards for signs of damage or dust to limit your risk.

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Products issued by RAC Insurance Pty Limited. *$70 discount applies to your first year of insurance only. This discount is subject to minimum premiums and is only available when you switch to a combined home and contents insurance policy online. Benefits are subject to policy conditions and PED Guide. Before you make a decision, please check the PDS and TMD to see if the policy is right for you.