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How to Handle a Swollen Battery in Your Laptop or Smartphone

Posted by Robert Hayes on June 28, 2019
Swollen Battery MacBook Pro

It may start with something subtle, like a trackpad that just doesn’t click like it used to, or a laptop that doesn’t quite sit flush to the desk anymore – or it may be something blatantly obvious, like a notebook case that starts to warp and grow like a bag of popcorn in the microwave. Either way, what you’re dealing with is modern technology’s equivalent of the plague – a swollen lithium-ion battery. Unlike the plague,  a swollen battery isn’t contagious, but like the plague, it’s always extremely dangerous. In this article, I’ll show you to deal with a swollen battery in your laptop, smartphone, or other high-tech device.

When did lithium-ion batteries become so prevalent?

Lithium-ion batteries are the power source for nearly all portable electronic technology these days. Like all batteries, lithium-ion batteries use a chemical reaction to store electrical power, and to provide electrical power to devices like smartphones and laptops. Development of lithium batteries actually began more than a century ago, but it was not until the 1970s that commercially-viable designs began to become practical to build. For quite some time, lithium battery development was stalled for safety reasons, as the metallic lithium used in the batteries had a tendency to form dendritic spines during cycling, which would in turn lead to rupture of the battery accompanied by fire. It was not until 1991 that Sony commercialized the first lithium ion battery, using free lithium ions rather than a metal substrate, which has led to the rapid growth of this battery technology in high-tech applications.

Why are lithium-ion batteries useful?

Lithium-ion batteries have some major advantages over other battery chemistries. Lithium-ion batteries are very energy dense, meaning that a large amount of electrical power can be stored in a relatively small and light space. The batteries have very long cycle durations and shelf life, meaning that they can be charged and discharged many hundreds of times before losing efficiency. They are easy to charge with inexpensive, low-tech battery chargers, and can be charged fairly quickly relative to other battery types. They have low self-discharge rates, meaning that a charged battery can sit for some time between uses without losing significant amounts of power.

There are some disadvantages to this battery chemistry. The largest disadvantage is that the batteries have the potential to enter a thermal runaway cycle (i.e. they catch fire) is the battery is put under certain kinds of stress; for this reason, any application using a lithium-ion cell must include circuitry that can detect these runaway cycles and shut the battery down. Lithium-ion batteries are vulnerable under high-temperature conditions, and can’t be stored at high voltages. In cold temperatures, the batteries function just fine, but cannot be rapidly recharged without severe damage to the battery. Finally, the thermal hazard that a badly-built battery represents means that transporting them requires precautions and is subject to numerous regulations.

Despite these disadvantages, the advantages of lithium batteries are such that the technology has become extremely useful, and lithium-ion batteries are used in practically all high-tech applications.

What causes a swollen battery?

There are a number of possible reasons that a lithium-ion battery can swell. The most common cause is an overcharge of the battery, which causes a chemical reaction between the electrodes and the electrolyte, resulting in the release of heat and gases that expand inside the battery, causing the casing to swell or even to split open. Swelling can also result from a poor cell build, somewhat common in very low-grade batteries from some overseas manufacturers. Mechanical damage to the battery, such as striking a hard surface and denting the casing, can definitely cause a swelling condition, as can exposure to excessive high temperatures. Finally, lithium-ion batteries can swell as a result of a deep discharge of the cells; usually lithium-ion batteries are governed by circuitry (sometimes called a battery management system or BMS) that prevents this from happening.

In any event, whatever the primary cause of the swelling, what occurs inside the battery is that too much current is present inside a given cell of the battery. According to an article by Don Sadoway, professor of materials chemistry at MIT in Electronics Weekly: “There are strict limits on how much current can be put through a lithium-ion cell. During normal charging, you never see metallic lithium, which is inherently unstable. But during overcharging, the lithium builds up faster than it can dissipate. The result is that metallic lithium plates up on the anode. At the same time, the cathode becomes an oxidizing agent and loses stability.”

This process produces a great deal of heat, which in turn warms the gases inside the battery, causing them to expand. Lithium-ion batteries are not designed to be ventilated, and so the the battery’s casing expands with the gasses, distorting and warping its appearance into that familiar swollen look.

Swollen Battery MacBook Pro

A normal MacBook Pro battery next to a severely swollen MacBook Battery.

Because these design issues are well-understood at this point, battery designers and manufacturers build batteries with the possibility of this reaction in mind. Batteries are built to withstand a large amount of expansion, and circuitry is almost invariably included in battery controllers to regulate the battery’s charge and to shut off the power if unsafe conditions are detected. However, no safeguards are 100% effective, and it’s possible to end up with a swollen battery despite every precaution.

How to avoid a swollen battery

There are a number of things you can do to minimize the risk of a battery failure. You can’t completely eliminate the risk, simply because there is always the possibility of a factory defect, but owner mistreatment of the battery is by far the most common cause of a swollen battery. In addition to preventing battery swelling, these suggestions are also good for optimizing your battery life.

Always use the appropriate power charger. Use only quality chargers from reputable manufacturers, not third-party chargers built by a no-name factory. If you don’t have the original charger that came with a battery, then get a charger with the exact same power output as the original charger. Just because the charging plug fits does NOT mean that a charger is appropriate for your specific battery configuration!

Don’t leave your device plugged in all the time. This is particularly an issue for laptop users who primarily use their laptop at home. The device sits plugged in to the wall all the time, and the battery isn’t given the opportunity to exercise its capacity. For Mac users, the free tool coconutBattery can help remind you when it’s time to unplug your power cord and let the battery complete a discharge and recharge cycle. Windows users can check out a number of options that offer similar functionality, such as BatteryCare (free) and BatteryBar Pro ($8).

Keep your battery stored in a cool, dry environment. Occasional use in the sun is fine, but don’t store your laptop or smartphone in a hot car, or humid environment.

Replace your battery if it becomes exhausted or damaged. Batteries are consumable products; they’re meant to slowly degrade in performance over time. So if your battery is no longer holding a charge, or if it becomes damaged due to a drop or impact, make sure to replace it, before a catastrophic failure can occur.

How to deal with a swollen battery

If you suspect that your device has a swollen battery, the first step is to exercise caution. Puncturing a battery in any state is incredibly dangerous, but swollen batteries are especially vulnerable to compromise as their casing is already under stress from the built up gasses within. In short, handle any device with a suspected swollen battery with care.

Next, if your device has a user-removable battery, you can try to carefully remove it. Note that the battery’s swollen casing may make removal difficult. If you encounter any unusual resistance to removing the battery, stop and follow the advice below for those with devices containing non-user-removable batteries. If, however, you are able to successfully remove the swollen battery, place it in a safe, cool container so that it won’t be vulnerable to puncturing.

Swollen Battery MacBook Pro

Battery casings are designed to expand to contain swelling, but are more vulnerable to puncturing.

Do not discard the battery in the trash or elsewhere. Doing so can severely injure the health of sanitation workers who may come into contact with the battery, as well as the environment. Instead, always dispose of batteries — swollen or not — at an authorized battery disposal facility. Many computer repair locations have the equipment and procedures to safely handle swollen batteries. For example, if you have an Apple MacBook Pro, take the battery to your nearest Apple Store. Other electronics retailers, such as Best Buy, also offer recycling and disposal services. Just make sure that you inform the employees that you are recycling a swollen battery so that they can take the proper precautions (don’t just drop the swollen battery in a battery recycling kiosk). If you can’t find a suitable location to dispose of your battery, contact your local government for instructions.

Best Buy

Lynn Watson/Shutterstock

If your device does not have a user-replaceable battery, such as some recent laptops and smartphones, don’t try to remove it yourself. Simply take the entire device to one of the locations mentioned above for assistance. Note, however, that until your swollen battery is replaced, you shouldn’t connect your device to power or use it. Swollen batteries can explode if not properly dealt with, so you don’t want to take any actions that may hasten the arrival of this unpleasant event.

Above all else, be safe. Don’t try to puncture the battery, don’t leave it in a hot car or a location where it could be picked up by children or pets, and don’t ignore it. Your laptop or smartphone will likely continue to work with a swollen battery, at least for a little while. But ignoring the problem and continuing to use the battery will only increase the risk of a puncture or explosion, which could result in devastating injuries. Battery leaks and explosions are rare, to be sure, but you don’t want to test the odds.

We have more resources for portable technology users.

Do you own a Macbook? Then you should definitely check out our guide to knowing when to replace the battery on your Macbook.

If you need to pull a battery out of your iPhone, see our guide to iPhone battery removal.

iPhone users will want to see our walkthrough on monitoring your battery usage and health on iOS 12.

Apple product owners should check out our tutorial on checking your iPad, iPhone and Macbook battery health.

Got a Nintendo Switch? Be sure to read our guide to extending battery life on your Nintendo Switch.

12 thoughts on “How to Handle a Swollen Battery in Your Laptop or Smartphone”

tom says:
thanks for the article. I have a samsung galaxy S7. I took it up to uBreakiFix. So far, they seem nonplussed. Suspect wireless charging on my part
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Lynette Underhill says:
Thank you for the good advice. I learned a lot. I have a Samsung S5 phone, and my charging cable broke close to where it plugs into my phone. Should I get a new travel adaper, or just a new 5 ft cable?
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Phillip M says:
Need an article on how to avoid purchasing counterfeit OEM batteries and when to buy batteries from a trusted factory authorized 3rd party battery replacement. There are more counterfeit batteries out there than OEM batteries. The results can be quite serious safety wise.
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Compare phones side by side says:
Wow, This is such a wonderful post and great information. Thank you and Keep sharing such an important posts.
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RANJEET GURJAR says:
This phone bettary is fat. This 100% charging and 30 minutes after bettary 30 % ….
So solution. For bettary long life
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LunaticNeko says:
One more tip to keep up with technology, if your devices support QualComm QuickCharge or similar technologies, check the compatibility list of everything: your power supply (the thing that converts AC to DC), your cable, and your device. Sometimes it’s the cable that has compatibility constraints, but most “normal” cables (that can connect to PC, don’t have data/power switch, reversible, or fancy features) work fine.
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PhD says:
Mine is only bulging enough to prevent my trackpad from working. Yea, it was plugged in all the time. Can I just put it in the freezer for a few days and try to reinstall it? Is there any process to ‘fix’ one that’s not swollen badly?
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TekRevue says:
No, unfortunately. Once it has been compromised and starts to swell, it will only get worse. Freezer may slow the expansion of the gas inside, but won’t stop it or fix it.
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TekRevue says:
Holy crap, no, don’t do that. Even if you don’t inhale the toxic gasses (and don’t care about releasing even minor amounts of gas into the atmosphere), this is only a temporary fix. The chemical reactions in the battery itself are no longer controlled, so you’ll just release the gas, try to seal it up, and the gas will just build up again and potentially leak through your taped hole, slowly affecting you and anyone near your laptop.

New batteries aren’t that expensive in the grand scheme of things. Which model of laptop is it?

PhD says:
I just bit the bullet and found what’s claimed to be a genuine OEM A1322 one on eBay (it even says ‘Designed by Apple in California’ on the photo of their battery) for $35 so I’m giving it a shot. There can’t be that many battery mfgs in China – it all seems like a big scam anyway. Whether you pay $29 or $99 I’m starting to believe that it’s the luck of the condition of the particular battery that you receive as to how well it performs for you. I had some eBay bucks so it ended up costing me $20. I’ll be looking at it and testing it carefully when it arrives. Thanks for your help!
I'm With The Banned says:
I know this article is a little old, but I have a question… I came across an old Sony PSP that I haven’t used for at least 5 or 6 years, and I noticed that the battery was slightly swollen. I took it out of the PSP and put it on top of my refrigerator until I can dispose of it properly. I have a toddler in the house so I’m wondering, without anybody touching the battery, what are the chances of it leaking or anything else? Should I get it and put it outside?
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M Jones says:
Apple STINKS…i have a swollen battery and they could care less. Girl at “GeniusBar” says be careful it may explode and oh you have to replace it yourself. NO if it explodes apple will have a nice lawsuit on their hands.
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Grace E. Kim says:
I just went to Verizon because the battery is swollen, which caused the screen to crack due to the increase of mass (originally thought it was just the protective screen on top that was cracked, not the actual screen and phone casing…).
They told me to not charge it and keep it off, and that I have to replace my entire phone, but they didn’t mention how dangerous this is and they didn’t stop me from taking my phone with me when I decided to put my claim to Asunion on hold for now
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Loneotaku says:
Thank you for this article! I have a swollen battery that I have carefully removed from a laptop (swollen to about twice its normal thickness). I placed it in an old metal cookie tin I happen to be throwing out and I’m storing it in the garage. My concern is that the garage may become to warm had hasten its demise. (or pop for short) Because of the nature of the toxic gases within, I’d rather not bring it in the house. In your experience, would you think storage in the garage till I can dispose of it at a local battery retailer, should be ok?
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TekRevue says:
It depends on where you live and how hot your garage may get. If you think the temperature in the garage will exceed 100F / 37C, I’d store it inside. Prolonged exposure to high temperatures will increase the pressure of the gasses inside the battery and may cause or hasten a puncture of the battery’s casing. As long as the battery remains in relatively cool temperatures, and you don’t wait too long to dispose of it, the toxic gasses should remain inside the battery casing and, absent a puncture, shouldn’t cause a health issue.
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Lauren Glenn says:
This was the worst article. I have a swollen battery and am worried that it could combust and you basically just said…. “don’t puncture it and don’t throw it away……..” Great, so leave the battery on my table where my cat could swat at it and it could catch fire? Or throw it in the trash in a ton of cat litter when I throw out my cat’s dirty litter? I’m going for the latter…..
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TekRevue says:
Hey Lauren,

Or, you know, you could put it in a safe container that your cat can’t get in to, and then take it to a Best Buy or other local electronics store tomorrow, like we mentioned in the article. If you can’t find an electronics store or computer repair shop that can handle swollen batteries, contact your city’s waste disposal department. They should be able to direct you to a safe disposal facility.

But please, please, please don’t just throw it out. How would you feel if a sanitation worker, unaware that the battery was in that pile of kitty litter, accidentally punctured it and was exposed to the toxic gasses within? Or if it exploded in the back of a garbage truck and started a fire?

If you really can’t find a place to take it, tell me what city you live in and I’ll try to help you find the proper location.

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Hitechcomputergeek . says:
“you basically just said…. ‘don’t puncture it and don’t throw it away……..'” Umm, no, the article actually said a lot more than that, did you even read it? What did you expect the article to say? Also, swollen or not, it is NEVER a good idea to just throw lithium-ion or lithium-polymer batteries out in the trash.
TekRevue says:
I think you replied to us when you meant to reply to Lauren up there. But thanks for the considerate support. We never did hear from Lauren on our offer to help her find a safe disposal method. I have a feeling that there’s a swollen battery in a landfill somewhere ๐Ÿ™
Hitechcomputergeek . says:
Sorry, you are correct in that I replied to the wrong comment. (Also, that was a fast reply.) But anyways, I feel like the same thing happened – a swollen battery got added to a landfill somewhere.
getoffurazzslazyobamabums says:
smh….dont be an idiot….oh wait…
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Tanya says:
Thank you for all this info, much appreciated. I just dug my swollen battery out of my garbage can and am taking to computer repair shop tomorrow. Read this article just in time ๐Ÿ™‚
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your mom says:
Fuck you and your cat.
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Replay Creation says:
Battery swelling occurs over a period of time and over charging your mobile phone battery is one of the reasons. Now, you can prevent your mobile phone battery from being overcharged by using an android app known as ‘Full Battery Alarm Pro’.
The app sounds an alarm once the battery is fully charged so that you can unplug the cable at the right time.
Download now: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.replaycretion.application
Reply

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