What Causes an iPhone to Explode? Video Captures Incident in Las Vegas

Heat is the enemy.

A smartphone repairman was working at a desk when an iPhone at the opposite end of the table allegedly exploded without warning. The incident was captured on film inside of a Las Vegas phone repair shop on May 11. The employee of the unidentified store is seen quickly lunging away from the device after it bursts into flames and releases a plume of smoke.

According to ABC News affiliate KTNV, the device caught on camera was an iPhone 6 in the process of being repaired for screen cracking due to heat damage, which caused its lithium-ion battery to swell. This type of battery bulging is nothing new in Apple smartphones and has even been reported in models as early as the iPhone 5. While it’s unclear what the exact cause of this specific incident was, it begs the questions: What’s going under the hood that could make this happen? And is your phone in danger of catching fire?

The short answer is that this can happen to any smartphone on the market, and that’s because they’re all powered by lithium-ion batteries, which have been known to explode under certain conditions. The electrolyte, or the liquid in lithium-ion batteries that carry charge between the battery’s positive and negative ends, is what makes them dangerous. Specifically, the problem is that it’s a liquid, which can create dangerous instability within the battery itself.

While this is a possibility, it doesn’t mean that every battery powered device is a ticking time bomb. Smartphone mishaps, like what occurred in Las Vegas, picked up a lot of media traction after the now-infamous Samsung Galaxy Note 7 battery malfunctions in 2016. This caused the Korean tech company to recall the Note 7. Since then, there have been a lot more eyes on these types of occurrences.

Batteries in devices sold in the United States are all subject to evaluation by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, meaning a large majority are totally safe to use. But here are two best-practice tips to make sure your iPhone doesn’t begin to swell:

  • Keep your device under 113 degrees F (45 degrees C): Passing this temperature threshold will result in a warning screen. Leaving your iPhone in a hot car or out in the sun can result in battery damage, which could lead to swelling. If you’re prompted with this notice move to a cooler area, take off your case, and let your phone cool off.
  • Knock-off chargers could cause issues: While there is no hard evidence to support this, Apple recommends that using their USB chargers avoids any chance of overcharging your phone. Take a look at the insides of a genuine Apple charger and a $3 version.

Following these two steps should keep your phone safe and sound, but there is always a possibility of hardware failure. If you notice your iPhone beginning to bulge, stop using it and take it into an Apple store as soon as possible. You may even be entitled to a complimentary swap.

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