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Ecig Explosions, A Look Into Battery Safety

We've been seeing quite a few "exploding e-cigarette" articles in the news lately – unfortunately this isn't a new phenomenon, as it seems a couple of new stories make the rounds locally and nationally every four or five months. It's been this way pretty much since the beginning of vaping, but the good news is that in almost every story written well enough to provide details on what happened, the "explosion" (just as often a fireball or scattering of sparks) turns out to have been entirely avoidable.

Battery safety is no joke – your vape runs off electrical power, and it requires just as much care and attention as a mobile phone or any other personal electronic device you may carry. The good news is that your vape is much less likely to blow up than a Samsung phone, if you follow these simple bits of advice.

  1. Use the right batteries. This may seem to be so obvious as to go without mention, and there's a chance we've even overlooked it in previous discussions. Still, we've seen queries over the years from people who want to use AA alkaline cells in their vapes (hey, they're kind of, sort of the same size as 18650s, right?), or to stuff button-top 18650s into a mod (virtually all of them these days are designed for flat-topped cells). Don't even think about attempting to do anything like this.
  2. Don't fall for fakes. To vape safely, you need a cell with a continuous discharge rating of 20 amps or higher to generate 75 watts of power. Two 20-amp cells will get you to 150 watts, and so on. If you're trying to get more power out of your mod, you need a 30-amp cell. For most all uses, you NEVER want to go with a cell offering less than 20 amps.

We'll say this once here – there is no such thing as an 18650 cell that offers more continuous draw than 30 amps. None. If a battery claims it can deliver more, it's lying to you. There are only three battery manufacturers in existence that make cells suitable for vaping, and you've heard of all of them – LG, Samsung, and Sony. Not every battery made by these manufacturers is suitable for vaping, but no battery made by anyone else is a good idea to use.

"Hey, wait!" you say. "I have these super purple 35 amp cells, and there are batteries with 'vape' in the name that go to 40, even 50!"

Wrong. What these "manufacturers" actually make is plastic shrink wrap. The batteries they're peddling are generally "seconds" from one of the known manufacturers (read: cells that didn't pass a quality control test and the factory they came from doesn't want to put their name on them). Not only are they inferior cells with fake specs, they generally cost more than the legit name-brands. Don't fall for it.

If you're buying a product with a built-in battery, whether it's an eGo-style stick battery or a full-fledged mod, make sure you're getting a trusted name brand. Mystery electronics, while a few bucks cheaper, aren't worth a scorched hand or face.

  1. Charge properly. Charging batteries, just like draining them, generates heat. The more the charge (or discharge) rate, the more heat. Remember that amp thing from the last point? That rating tells you, among other things, how much power a battery can discharge without overheating internally (read: exploding). But charging is worth a consideration too – you've seen the photos of cell phones that have exploded on the charger from overheating that your grandma likes to forward via email chain, no? Those phone batteries took on too much of a charge, or they took it on too fast.

Your vape batteries can be charged too fast as well, and it can damage the cells, sometimes to the point of catastrophic failure. Do you have one of those new "fast charge" cables that can juice up your phone in 15 or 20 minutes? It's delivering a lot more power than the old cables that took a few hours. Your phone's battery was designed to take on this kind of power load at once. Your mod might not be, so just because they both have micro-USB ports doesn't mean it's cool to plug your vape into your phone charger.

Mods really weren't designed to charge batteries anyhow, but you knew that already, which is why you're using a standalone battery charger – it's a good name brand like Nitecore or Xtar, right? Good. You may notice it has several different settings – 500 mAh, 1A, and 2A – as you go up on the scale, the charger pushes more juice into your batteries. Unless you really haven't thought ahead and you need some spare cells right now, stay away from that 2A setting – it's going to tax your batteries more than a nice trickle charge, meaning they don't last as many charge cycles, heat up more, and might even become dangerous. Some people get away with 1A charging, but I prefer to keep my batteries trickling up nice and slow at 500 mAh. I've got 2 mods and 4 sets of cells in rotation at any time though, so I'm pretty much always stocked.

If you insist on fast-charging your batteries or using the wrong charger, never let them out of your sight. Touch them frequently, make sure they never get more than the slightest bit warm – if they do, stop charging immediately. Never leave charged batteries sitting around on the charger.

  1. Store and carry safely. Your batteries are stupid. Really, they are – they're just a bunch of pent-up energy, ready to burst as soon as given the chance, like an untrained puppy you left in the apartment all day. Your car keys, loose change in your pocket, or just about anything else metal could give them the chance to run loose.

That's why you NEVER carry loose batteries around – once a battery is set loose, it'll keep right on draining (and generating heat) as fast as it can, for as long as it can (until it catches fire or explodes, neither of which makes for a happy ending). Plastic and silicone cases specifically designed for 18650 batteries are readily available and cheap – there's no excuse for not having more than you need and keeping your batteries securely stored during every second they're not in a mod or in your charger.

This has to be the #1 issue we see – if you read a story about some guy's pants catching on fire for an unexplained reason somehow related to an e-cigarette, nearly every time it's because he had spare batteries in his pocket, unprotected, and they were energized by touching one another and/or other metal objects in the same pocket. The rare exception is nonstop-firing of a mod with no safety features, which brings us to…

  1. Respect your cell's limits. With most regulated mods these days, the computer chip between your finger and the firing pin will tell the mod to stop if you've asked it to do something stupid like fire a coil with too low of a resistance, for so long it roasts your atomizer, or when your batteries are so drained they're ready to give out.

This isn't the case with mechanical mods, which still remain popular with a segment of the vaping population. For these people, you really need to understand Ohm's Law and make sure you're building safely to avoid letting your batteries enter thermal runaway. We've got a post with some of the basics, at the very minimum you need to know the information here front to back before attempting to use a mechanical device. Nothing is fail-safe when it comes to electronics, of course.

But if you're willing to follow a few simple safety precautions, there's no reason vaping has to carry any more risk than using a mobile phone or other battery-powered device, despite what the media may tell you. Take heed of the steps above, and you'll drastically lower your chances of joining the Darwin Award candidates that wind up on the evening news.