E-Cig Fires & Vape Explosions: Causes / Prevention
Stories about e-cig fires and vape explosions have been making headlines for years. Every few months or so a new story hits the airwaves warning people about the danger of an e-cigarette catching on fire; or worse yet – EXPLODING. The underlying message is almost always that electronic cigarettes are unsafe and that people should proceed with caution when considering vaping as an alternative to smoking. But what these stories often fail to tell you is that vape fires and e-cig explosions are almost always caused by USER ERROR… not by faulty or unsafe vaping products.
Videos posted on Youtube and shared on social media help contribute to the public's perception that vaping products are unsafe. Pictures of horrific injuries caused by e-cig explosions will naturally have you concerned, but for the most part the issue is completely avoidable if you use common sense.
How Dangerous Are They?
First off, it's important to point out that it's extremely rare for an e-cig to catch on fire, let alone cause an explosion. To put the risk into perspective, consider that according to the U.S. Fire Administration, only 195 e-cigarette fires / vape explosions were reported in the United States between 2009 and 2016.
Although many incidents are likely to go unreported, there's no evidence that e-cigarettes or vape mods explode any more than any other battery powered consumer product. You cell phone is just as likely to be dangerous!
Understanding Vape Explosions
When you press the button on any e-cigarette or vape mod, a circuit is completely between the positive and negative battery poles and power is delivered to the coil. If power isn't sufficiently drawn while the circuit is connected, the energy loops back into the battery and causes it to overheat and possibly catch fire or explode. Any conductive material between the battery poles can cause the same issue.
Luckily, most of today's vaping devices have built-in safety features to protect users from short circuits, reverse polarity, overheating, etc… but they can't prevent a careless or uneducated user from starting an e-cig fire / vape explosion.
Mistakes That Lead to Vape Fires
Common sense and following a few simple rules will go a long way to protect you from the highly unlikely event of a vape fire or e-cig explosion. Nearly all situations involving exploding vapes are cause by a few common user errors.
Carrying Loose Batteries
Carrying loose batteries is a potential fire hazard and a HUGE NO-NO. The easiest way to cause a battery to overheat and catch fire is to nonchalantly toss them into your pocket or purse. If a battery is left unprotected, anything metal (like keys or loose change) has the potential to make contact between the battery terminals and cause a flaming hot fire. An explosion is unlikely, but certainly possible.
You're just asking for trouble if you don't carry loose e-cigarette batteries in a protective battery cover or sleeve. Unfortunately, many users figure this out the hard way.
Using the Wrong Batteries
For people who use vape mods with replaceable 18650, 26650, 20700 or 21700 cells, it's important to choose batteries that are compatible with your device. Amp ratings vary and the specs provided by manufacturers are often confusing or exaggerated.
A battery marked 40A may not provide that amount continuously, but rather in short bursts. If the device you're using requires more amps than the battery can put out, there's a risk of it overheating. And with no way for it to discharge or vent, the energy collects within the cell and may cause your vape to catch fire or explode. This is especially true for mechanical mod users.
Luckily, regulated devices do a pretty good job of protecting users from improper or poor battery choices; but the same can't be said for users of mechanical mods. Without any basic safety protections, it's vital that you understand Ohm's Law (and how it applies to battery ratings) before you use a mechanical mod.
In either case, make sure you know the limits of your device and be sure that the amp rating provided for your battery is the “continuous discharge rate” and not the “max”, “pulse” or “peak” rate – which is only safe in short bursts. If these specs aren't clearly labeled, choose another battery supplier.
Improper Use of Hybrid Mech Mods
In addition to choosing the correct batteries, another issue that has caused many of the widely-reported vape explosions is the improper use of a specific type of mechanical mod – referred to as a “hybrid”. In a hybrid, rather than using a metal contact between the device and the battery, the terminal connects directly to the atomizer pin when activated. This improves conductivity, but it's especially dangerous with certain 510 connections.
I won't get into the specifics, but suffice it to say you shouldn't use most sub-ohm tanks (or any atty with a short 510 pin) on a hybrid mechanical mod. Unless you're an expert, there's really no need to use one of these anyways.
Vape explosions caused by improper charging are extremely rare, but using a charger other than one designed for your device is definitely risky. For example, using a high-capacity charger on a low-capacity cell may lead to overcharging, which creates instability in the cell and is a potential fire hazard.
Stick to the charger that came with your device. If you need a charger for external batteries, buy one from a reputable vape supplier and be sure it has some built-in safety features (such as overcharge and reverse polarity protection), just in case.
Counterfeit / Cheap Batteries
Retail shops and online sellers looking to make a fast buck often sell fake products, many coming to us from China where there are fewer safety regulations to protect the consumer. Low-amp batteries that are wrapped to copy higher amp products may not provide sufficient amperage to support your device and atomizer combination… leading to overheating and possibly a vape fire.
The most popular brands are vulnerable to imitations; and unfortunately, many counterfeit batteries display all of the same branding of the original product. It's often difficult to spot a fake, so buying from reputable suppliers is vital.
Knowingly using cheap, non-branded e-cig batteries can also be dangerous since they may not meet the same quality standards.
Preventing E-Cig Fires & Explosions
Now that you know some of the most common causes for e-cig and vape fires, preventing them should be easy. Here are some common sense tips:
Handle Batteries with Care – Protect loose batteries from making contact with each other by purchasing inexpensive plastic cases or silicone sleeves. Keep batteries clean and dry – water and electricity don't mix! Make it a habit to wipe the battery terminal every time you add liquid or remove the atomizer.
Charge and Store Properly – Charge and store your vaporizer in a cool, dry place – away from water and excess heat. Keep it out of direct sunlight. Never leave a charging battery unattended, even those with automatic shut-offs. Remember that the electrical circuit is ‘live' unless you unplug it from the outlet. A surge in the electrical system could destroy your battery of even cause a fire.
Use the Correct Batteries and Charger – Choosing the right battery for your device will prevent it from overheating and keep your vaporizer working more efficiently. Careful consideration is even more important when using mechanical mods. Most reputable vaping suppliers will carry the appropriate batteries for your device, so if you're unsure which ones are compatible, be sure to ask.
Try to stick with the charger that came with your device. If you must use an aftermarket charger, be sure it's compatible. The best chargers have built-in safety features and digital readouts to show when batteries are fully charged.
Buy Quality Batteries – To be safe and lower the chance of experiencing an e-cig fire or vape explosion, buy from reputable vaping suppliers who guarantee original products and don't sell knockoffs. Avoid using cheap batteries sold by no-name resellers online. If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.
While e-cigarette fires may be rare, it's always wise to be proactive and take precautionary steps to prevent your vape from catching on fire or exploding. Pay attention to what you're buying, where you're storing and how you're using your vape gear. Not only will it help you prevent a disaster, the safety practices you follow will make vaping more pleasurable and increase the longevity of your device.