Can Batteries Catch On Fire? Do They Ever Explode? (2023)

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In an electronic world, there’s no doubt that we all have more batteries in our homes than we can probably count. We’ve already examined the risks posed by lithium-ion batteries and car batteries on this site, but we’ve not looked at ordinary household alkaline batteries, yet. With so many of them in our lives, do they represent a fire hazard, and should we be taking more precautions with them?

An ordinary alkaline battery in normal use in your home is unlikely to catch fire spontaneously. However, if a battery is kept in a device for too long, it may leak the contents and this could potentially start a fire. You might also short circuit a loose battery to cause a fire.

There are some safety concerns when it comes to batteries and fire. Here’s what you need to know.

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Also read: Is Lithium Flammable? Battery Explosions

Table of Contents

  • What Are Batteries?
  • Can Batteries Cause A Fire?
    • What Causes Batteries To Catch Fire?
  • What Happens When Batteries Get Hot?
    • How Hot Can A Battery Get Before It Explodes?
    • What Happens When A Battery Explodes?
    • Can AA Batteries Explode?
    • Can Batteries Explode In The Cold?
  • What Happens If You Puncture a AA Battery?
  • Are AA Batteries Poisonous?
    • What Happens If A Child Swallows A Battery?
    • Related Articles

What Are Batteries?

Can Batteries Catch On Fire? Do They Ever Explode? (1)

For the purpose of this article, we are considering alkaline batteries and standard rechargeable batteries of those commonly used in household appliances.

A battery is, of course, a store of electrical power that can be released by triggering an electrochemical reaction within the cell (or cells) inside.

(Video) Lithium Ion Batteries: Why They Explode

Alkaline batteries rely on the reaction between zinc and magnesium dioxide to drive the flow of electrons and they are “alkaline” because they contain Potassium Hydroxide which is an alkali, in contrast to other batteries which tend to contain acid solutions.

If you have A, AA, C, AAA, N, PP3, etc. batteries in your home, they are going to be alkaline batteries. These batteries account for about 80% of all the batteries manufactured each year around the world and account for over 10 billion sales annually!

They are gradually being phased out in many countries to be replaced by a rechargeable version that looks similar and function identically but which have a cell in which the reaction can be reversed.

The earliest alkaline batteries appeared in 1899 and were invented by Waldemar Jungner, they would be invented independently (again) two years later by Thomas Edison.

The current versions, however, are based around a design by Lewis Urry a Canadian Engineer who was working for Union Carbide when he filed a patent for alkaline batteries which was confirmed in 1960.

One big change in these batteries in the interim years has been a drive to eliminate the metal mercury from their manufacture and to do this, they now require much purer Zinc than they once did.

Can Batteries Cause A Fire?

Technically, yes. Even the smallest voltage batteries such as a AAA battery can, given the right circumstances, start a fire.

However, in normal use or when stored in their original packaging, this is unlikely.

In order to start a fire, these batteries must be short-circuited, that is the negative and positive terminals on the battery touch the same metal object (or a series of metal objects such as coins in a pocket). This starts to draw electric energy through the circuit which as it is not required to drive any electrical item – manifests as heat.

Leave this short circuit in place for long enough? The battery gets so hot that it will set fire to things around it and, in turn, those things will set fire to your battery.

That means if you want to avoid your batteries catching fire – you should store them properly if they are not in a device.

(Video) 4 Experiments with Batteries! We Explores Battery Explosion, Battery Blast & More In This Experiment

If they come with a plastic cap on the end, keep it on. If they are in original packaging, keep them in that. If you have loose batteries, tape over the contacts on each end until you need them.

Store batteries in an orderly fashion lined up side by side so that contacts don’t touch, never throw them in a container haphazardly.

You can see how his is done here:

Also read: The Best Fire Extinguisher for Lithium-Ion Batteries – 2022

What Causes Batteries To Catch Fire?

As we’ve already noted, it’s a short circuit that causes a battery to catch fire.

You can avoid short circuits by storing your batteries properly as outlined above.

What Happens When Batteries Get Hot?

Heat will damage the lifespan of your batteries in the first instance. If they are in use, they will work harder to produce a similar current – and this reduces their longevity.

However, here we mean heat that is in reasonable excess of normal room temperature.

If batteries are allowed to get too hot then worse can happen – they will malfunction completely, they may start to bulge at the seams, the surface might bubble and they could even start sparking, catch fire and explode!

Take a look at this video:


How Hot Can A Battery Get Before It Explodes?

A battery will only explode if it gets hot enough inside the battery to ensure that the contents expand so much that they rip through the battery casing.

This tends to happen at a temperature of around 500 degrees Celsius, 1000 degrees Fahrenheit – sometimes the cell may simply burst into flame if there is a leak in the cell to allow contact between the electrodes and the outside air.

Also read: Can Static Electricity Start A Fire?

What Happens When A Battery Explodes?

Some people term a battery “exploding” as the battery leaking within the device that is being used. This can happen when the battery is left in a device for a long period of time rarely drawing current.

It’s not good news for the interior of the device, mind you, because the battery will leak potassium hydroxide onto the circuitry and terminals of the battery compartment and as this is corrosive, it will eat through the metal.

If you find that this has happened, you should clean it off with a cloth but do not touch the solution with your bare hands.

If a battery explodes in the more standard understanding of “explodes” – the chemical vapors inside expand enough to rip the casing to shreds. This is pretty much exactly how a grenade works – and while a battery doesn’t produce as much shrapnel or shrapnel as heavy as that from a grenade, it’s still not a desirable outcome.

Worse, once the shrapnel has done its worst, the potassium hydroxide inside will be sprayed all over the place as this is highly corrosive it can cause burns to you and damage to anything else it lands on.

Also read: How Hot Is Lightning? Hotter Than The Sun?

Can AA Batteries Explode?

Yes. All batteries can explode if they get hot enough, AA batteries are no exception.

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Can Batteries Explode In The Cold?

An alkaline battery is not likely to explode in the same way in the cold as it does in the heat. It is possible for an alkaline battery’s contents to expand when frozen (in the same way water freezing expands to form ice) and if this happens it may crack the casing on the battery.

If this happens you should throw the battery out using appropriate local disposal methods to avoid contaminating your garbage with potassium hydroxide.

What Happens If You Puncture a AA Battery?

If a battery is punctured there is a very small chance that it might explode if the contents ignite with the spark created, however, this is unlikely.

What is more likely is that the potassium hydroxide inside will leak out of the interior and present a corrosion hazard. Leaking batteries should be disposed of safely and any fluid should be mopped up without touching it.

Are AA Batteries Poisonous?

While not poisonous to the touch, it’s worth noting that your average AA cell contains a load of toxic heavy metals and the interior is full of highly corrosive potassium hydroxide.

That means it would be an incredibly bad idea to eat or swallow a battery and if you were to do so, it would be imperative to seek medical treatment immediately. There is a substantial risk of severe damage to your gastrointestinal tract.

What Happens If A Child Swallows A Battery?

Exactly the same as if adults do, children should not be allowed to chew on batteries as there is a risk that they might leak and cause burns to the mouth, throat, face, etc.

If a child licks a leaking battery that has had white crystals form on it, you must call your local poison center immediately.

And if they swallow one, it requires an immediate trip to the hospital.

Sources: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

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What happens when batteries catch on fire? ›

During thermal runaway of battery, a reaction can occur, which vaporizes the organic electrolyte and pressurizes the cell casing. If, or when, the case fails, the flammable and toxic gases within the cell are released. Once a thermal runaway starts, the process cannot be stopped, even by unplugging the battery.

Will a AA battery explode in a fire? ›

Never burn or expose alkaline batteries to open flame. Given enough time, all dead alkaline batteries will eventually leak. Batteries leak potassium hydroxide, a strong base, which will cause irritation of the skin, eyes, and lungs.

Do batteries ever explode? ›

The risk of explosion is labeled on every automotive battery, though few motorists bother to read such warnings, let alone take them seriously. It's an unfortunate mistake, because batteries often do explode without warning.

Why did my battery just explode? ›

Possible causes for a battery to explode: Spark near the battery which is under a charge. Frayed cables on battery terminals. Tracking across wet battery lids during charging.

How do you stop a battery fire? ›

Traditional fire extinguishers, such as foam and water, don't work on lithium battery fires. The only way to extinguish a lithium battery fire is to flood the battery with water. A Lithium Fire Blanket will safely isolate a lithium fire battery for hours, until it can be flooded and extinguished.

What temperature do batteries explode? ›

Never store batteries at temperatures higher than 170°F (76°C) as this can potentially result in self-combustion.

Can double AA batteries explode? ›

Whether they are 9-volt, AA, AAA, C or D size batteries, all are capable of exploding.

Should you throw away batteries? ›

In most communities, alkaline and zinc carbon batteries can be safely put in your household trash. EPA recommendation: send used alkaline and zinc carbon batteries to battery recyclers or check with your local or state solid waste authority.

Why is my AA battery making a sizzling noise? ›

It's normal for hydrogen gas to be produced. The batteries are not sealed, to allow this gas to vent. But misuse of the battery, or if it goes bad, excessive amounts of hydrogen gas is created. This, along with liquid corrosion byproducts, can cause gas bubbles, which you can hear.

Can batteries explode when not in use? ›

Merely leaving your phone out in the sun for too long should not cause a battery explosion or fire. However, if a lithium battery is exposed to extremely high temperatures for long periods, an explosion could occur.

Why do AAA batteries explode? ›

Why Alkaline Batteries Explode. When an alkaline battery heats up or is exposed to a strong electrical current, the energy releases hydrogen gas inside the battery sheathing. As the vapor pressure inside the battery reaches a critical point, the sheathing ruptures.

What causes a battery to smoke? ›

In most situations, a battery is being overcharged to the point that the battery begins venting the excess pressure created by the overcharging scenario. THE GAS VENTED BY OVERCHARGED CAR BATTERIES IS BOTH FLAMMABLE & TOXIC, SO TAKE EVERY PRECAUTION POSSIBLE.

Can a battery explode if overcharged? ›

When overcharged, lithium ion batteries may overheat, explode and cause fires. Even slight overcharging reduces a cell's discharge capacity, leading to overdischarging, which increases impedance and heat generation, and decreases cell lifetime.

Do batteries explode in heat? ›

Batteries can deform, leak and even explode when exposed to high heat for long periods of time.

How do you handle an exploded battery? ›

The leaking batteries should be removed from the device and placed in a plastic bag for disposal in the trash. The best way to remove alkaline leakage from the device is to neutralize by carefully dabbing with a few drops of a mild acid like white vinegar or lemon juice.

What batteries catch on fire? ›

From a non-technical point of view, lithium-ion batteries catch fire as they are extremely sensitive to high temperatures, even degrading much faster than ordinary ones due to heat. They are highly flammable on the inside.

Why are battery fires hard to put out? ›

All batteries, including lithium-ion batteries, use positive and negative electrodes and an electrolyte solution, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. What makes a lithium-ion battery more difficult to extinguish is its use of a highly flammable organic electrolyte, Reuters reported.

Can a fire extinguisher put out a battery fire? ›

Lithium-metal battery fires can be put out with a Class D fire extinguisher. Larger battery fires are best handled with a foam extinguisher, CO2, ABC dry chemical, powder graphite, copper powder or sodium carbonate.

How often do lithium batteries catch fire? ›

But in reality, lithium battery fires are rare. According to the tech reporting site CNET, your odds of a lithium battery fire are about 1 in 10 million.

How long does it take for a lithium battery to explode? ›

A pack can thus be destroyed in a few seconds or over several hours as each cell is being consumed. To increase safety, packs should include dividers to protect the failing cell from spreading to the neighboring one. The gas released by a venting Li-ion cell is mainly carbon dioxide (CO2).

Can old lithium batteries explode? ›

Luckily, major explosions caused by Li-ion batteries are an uncommon occurrence. If they are exposed to the wrong conditions, however, there is a slight chance of them catching fire or exploding.

Why are my AA batteries so hot? ›

In case of an internal short circuit: this can occur when the battery got a severe shock i.e. has fallen down. In this case it is possible that infernally there is created a short circuit due to the shock. The battery will have a high current discharge and will heat up.

Is it okay to store batteries in plastic bags? ›

Keep them away from metal objects

If batteries come into contact with metal, they could short-circuit. The container in which you store your batteries should be made of plastic, glass, wood … anything but metal. You can also use a specialized battery storage box.

At what temperature do alkaline batteries explode? ›

It turns out that the answer is relatively simple: it depends on the type of battery. lithium-ion batteries have a melting point of around 4500F, so they will explode if they get too hot. However, AA alkaline batteries have a much lower melting point of around 1200F.

Is throwing car batteries in the ocean good for the environment? ›

While it can be a headache to properly dispose of a dead car battery, it's incredibly important to do so responsibly. Unsurprisingly, it is illegal to throw car batteries in the ocean because it can lead to: Soil and water pollution. The death of local flora and fauna.

What happens to batteries in landfills? ›

When we add old batteries and products embedded with lithium-ion batteries to landfills, they can leach toxic, corrosive chemicals such as mercury, cadmium, lead and nickel into the soil and water table, which endangers the environment and human health. These chemicals are extremely difficult and expensive to clean up.

How many batteries end up in landfills? ›

It is estimated that 3 billion batteries are thrown away each year by Americans, a population of 323 million people. Running the math on 3 billion new battery users, using at a rate of Americans that 3 billion batteries thrown away annually turns into nearly 28 billion batteries thrown away annually.

What does it mean when a battery is boiling? ›

When charging amperage exceeds the level of the natural absorption rate, the battery may overheat, causing the electrolyte solution to bubble creating flammable hydrogen gas. Hydrogen gas, when combined with oxygen from the air, is highly explosive and can easily be ignited by a spark. Yes. You shouldn't boil them.

What does it mean when a battery hisses? ›

As with any battery, it will give off some gas and heat when undergo charging process. It's normal. But... if it's a sealed Lead Acid Batt, and it's giving out hissing sound, suggest that there might be a leak somewhere. visual check and monitor the voltage.

What does it mean if a battery is making a clicking noise? ›

Clicking sounds are often relative to the starter relay and solenoid and might indicate the battery is low on volts. One loud click may indicate that the starter relay or starter motor may not be engaging with the engine. However, rapid clicking is a good indicator that the battery is low on volts.

Can a swollen battery explode if not plugged in? ›

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.

Why is there white stuff on my battery? ›

White Crystals and powder on the battery is potassium carbonate. This is electrolyte (potassium hydroxide) which reacted with O2 to form Potassium Carbonate. In this condition the battery is no longer usable. Potassium carbonate is a very strong alkaline and water soluble material.

Can a bad battery cause a burning smell? ›

As the battery wears, some of the acid and water may evaporate which will disturb the mixture. This may cause the battery to overheat or boil, which will produce an unpleasant smell, and even smoking in more severe cases.

What does it mean when a battery smells like rotten eggs? ›

As we know, these batteries are filled with an electrolyte of water and sulfuric acid. When you smell that rotten egg odor, the battery is heating up so much that the sulfuric acid (H2SO4) is being converted into a gas called Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S). This does not happen when a battery is working properly.

What does an overcharged battery smell like? ›

An RV battery that is overcharged can produce a chemical reaction that emits an unpleasant odor similar to rotten eggs. The sulfates in the electrolytes of the battery combine with atmospheric oxygen to produce sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide gas.

What are the chances of a lithium battery exploding? ›

According to the tech reporting site CNET, your odds of a lithium battery fire are about 1 in 10 million.

Can a 3.7 V battery explode? ›

The quick answer is yes, they can explode and catch fire. If you take the time to understand how they work you can pick up on what makes them safe. Safety is very important when it comes to any type of battery. Prevent the batteries from having punctures and keep a look out for any swelling.

Can old lithium batteries explode? ›

Luckily, major explosions caused by Li-ion batteries are an uncommon occurrence. If they are exposed to the wrong conditions, however, there is a slight chance of them catching fire or exploding.

What happens if you puncture a AA battery? ›

The Dangers of Lead-Acid Battery Punctures

Even if it is a sealed lead-acid battery, punctures almost always lead to acid leaks. These acid leaks can cause acid burns, corrosion, and equipment damage.

What to do if a lithium battery starts smoking? ›

Unplug it from the power outlet if it is on charge. Avoid inhaling any smoke or fumes. If possible, remove it to an outside area away from any combustible material and away from windows or doorways. Small devices can be dropped into a bucket of clean water to cool if this can be done safely.

How long does it take for a lithium battery to explode? ›

A pack can thus be destroyed in a few seconds or over several hours as each cell is being consumed. To increase safety, packs should include dividers to protect the failing cell from spreading to the neighboring one. The gas released by a venting Li-ion cell is mainly carbon dioxide (CO2).

How do you stop a lithium-ion battery fire? ›

Minimizing the Risk of Lithium-ion battery Fires
  1. Avoid storing at high temperatures. The batteries, or any equipment using one, must be kept away from high temperatures. ...
  2. Avoid keeping all items containing lithium-ion batteries together. ...
  3. Avoid overcharging. ...
  4. Keep EV under a shade. ...
  5. Store dry. ...
  6. Let it cool.
5 May 2022

Can batteries self combust? ›

External factors like keeping the battery very close to a heat source or near a fire can cause it to explode. Penetrating the battery pack either deliberately or through an accident is bound to cause a short circuit and the battery to catch fire.

Can a swollen battery explode if not plugged in? ›

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.

Do batteries explode in heat? ›

Batteries can deform, leak and even explode when exposed to high heat for long periods of time.

What happens if a lithium battery explodes? ›

A lithium-ion battery explosion can result in severe burns and, in rare cases, even death. Lithium-ion battery explosions can be caused by manufacturing defects in the original battery or by contact with metal objects that cause an external short-circuit.

What is the black stuff in a AA battery? ›

In an alkaline AA battery, the internal contents are a mixture of zinc-manganese dioxide and sodium or potassium hydroxide (5).

Are leaking batteries toxic? ›

What if a leaking battery touches your mouth or skin? If the conductive fluid from a battery comes into contact with skin, it can cause burns or irritation. The liquid is also poisonous and must certainly not come near the mouth.

What do I do with leaking batteries? ›

Leaking batteries are not safe to use, but you don't want to throw them out. Too many batteries end up in landfills, where they leak their contents into the environment. Instead, put the leaky batteries in a plastic bag and drop them off at a recycling facility.


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