Do Vape Pens Explode?
Do Vape Pens Explode?
You may have heard horror stories circulating on the internet reporting on the dangers of exploding vape devices, many of them from seemingly credible sources. These can be understandably distressing, with accounts of burns suffered or houses catching on fire frequently part of the coverage.
Does this really happen? If so, is it a frequent enough occurrence that you should be worried? We've got some answers for you, and luckily the truth should help you relax a bit.
Vape Type Matters
First, it's important to know that different vape types pose different risks. Most "pen-style" and "pod mod" devices produce a relatively low amount of power and have sealed battery systems, meaning you'll never handle bare batteries. These devices also have protections built in to prevent firing in malfunction situations, and most use proprietary liquid storage units that plug into the batteries, so incidence of devices failing while in use are exceedingly rare.
There have been issues in the past with older eGo-style "pen" chargers generating excessive heat while plugged into a USB-style outlet. While these have largely been remedied and the devices in question have fallen out of favor since the mid-2010s, it's still not advisable to charge any type of battery-powered device unsupervised. The safest way to charge anything, from a vape to a cell phone to a computer, is to stay nearby and periodically check on your device, unplugging it immediately if it becomes warm to the touch and allowing it to cool down.
Likewise, most advanced personal vaporizers (APVs) or "box mods" are controlled by a specialized computer chip with built-in safety protection for the user. If batteries are inserted incorrectly, an unsafe coil is installed, or the batteries are too depleted to function, the mod will refuse to fire. These devices also have a built-in cutoff, usually at 10 seconds, to ensure they won't continuously fire if left accidentally unlocked in a pocket or purse – you might damage your coil's wicking if you allow your device to activate while not using it, but you're at little risk of causing a fire or explosion.
Dangers To Watch
While most modern vapor devices are no more dangerous than other lithium ion-powered products like mobile phones, there are still some risks to be aware of. These include mechanical mods and loose batteries themselves.
"Mechanical" mods are usually tube-shaped devices that hold a single battery, though some multi-battery mechanical boxes exist as well. These differ from APVs in that there's no onboard computer to regulate their safety – push the fire button and the mod will extract power from the batteries without checking to see if it's safe to do so first.
While mechanical mods have fallen out of favor over the last five years or so as the performance of APVs has improved, there are still some vape hobbyists that enjoy using them. While they can be relatively harmless in the hands of an expert vaper, they're not recommended for use by novices because they require a knowledge of electrical theory to operate safely. If, for example, you install a coil with a resistance too low for a battery to safely power, you run the risk of pushing the battery until it overheats, causing it to enter thermal runaway. When this happens, excess heat beyond a cell's built in cooling capacity needs somewhere to escape and toxic gasses will be emitted from the cell. If there's nowhere for that heat to go the battery expands, possibly to the point of explosion, creating a fire risk and potentially burning a user with super-heated chemicals.
Batteries themselves also pose a risk. Because of the high power demands of an APV, vape mods require the use of specialized "high discharge" lithium ion cells capable of delivering a lot of power in a relatively short period of time. A standard AA battery you might use in your television remote, for example, can deliver at most about 1 amp of continuous power. While similar in size, a proper vape-spec 18650 cell can deliver 20-30 amps of power.
That power can be dangerous when mishandled, and as it turns out the vast majority of "exploding e-cig" stories are actually stories about loose batteries exploding. The reason is that high-discharge 18650 cells used for vaping are "unprotected," meaning they rely on the user (or a regulated APV's computer chip) to prevent them from being used in an unsafe way. Basically the way they're activated is by making a connection with both the positive (top) and negative (bottom) terminals, then the battery will deliver power until the connection is broken.
Why is this important? Many people (wrongly) assume it's safe to carry a set of spare batteries in their pocket or purse to swap out when the cells in their mod need a charge. But any other loose metal – keys, change, pens, another battery – could complete the connection and cause the battery to start draining without the owner's knowledge. If the connection is maintained for even as short a period as 20 or 30 seconds, the battery could enter thermal runaway. At best this runs the risk of a serious chemical burn, at worst fires and explosions occur. For this reason it's important to always carry spare batteries in a sealed plastic or rubber case that securely covers the positive and negative terminals to ensure they never come into contact with other batteries or loose bits of metal that could cause them to discharge unexpectedly.
At the end of the day, if you're using a low-powered pod mod or pen-style vape the risk of explosion while using it is incredibly low. Be sure to practice safe charging habits by never leaving a battery plugged in unsupervised and you'll be fine. If your device acts up in any way, however, it's best to immediately power down and seek help – a device that gets hot to the touch or starts firing on its own may pose a danger and you shouldn't continue using it.
APV and regulated box mod users should take care to handle their batteries safely. If your device has removable batteries, use a standalone external charger designed for lithium ion cells to charge them, and don't charge unsupervised. Take care to transport your batteries safely, always using a case that ensures they won't come into contact with anything metal outside of your mod.
If you're not an expert vaper with an understanding of Ohm's Law and the other electrical principles involved in regulating the current draw from a battery, including always checking coil resistance to ensure safety before installing a new coil, stay away from mechanical mods entirely.
Follow these simple steps and rest assured that you've taken every possible precaution to avoid the (again, exceedingly rare) situations in which a vapor device could cause a fire or explosion.