How to Properly Handle Lithium Batteries (And What Can Happen if You Don’t)

You’ve probably heard horror stories of damaged lithium batteries catching fire or exploding. Although it’s fairly rare, when lithium batteries do catch fire or explore, the results can be terrifying.

Here’s a video of some real lithium battery explosions. Scary stuff!

Luckily, you can avoid many of the issues of exploding batteries by handling your lithium ion batteries properly, and disposing of them in a responsible way.

The Vermont state government has some great tips on safe handling of these sensitive batteries. Here are a few key takeaways.

Handing Lithium Batteries Properly

Lithium-based batteries are used to power many of our everyday electronics, such as cell phones, vaping devices, and thin laptops. With their convenience and portability come some safety considerations when it comes to handling and storing lithium-based batteries.

Check if the Battery is User Replaceable

When removing a spent battery from a product, it is important to take caution and not to remove any lithium battery that is not intended to be replaceable.

This is because the battery may be glued into the product. Forced removal of the battery can lead to an immediate fire or explosion. Additionally, the battery may be in silver-colored, cellophane-type bags or hard-plastic casing.

Tearing or puncturing the bag or crushing/penetrating the plastic casing can also result in an immediate fire or explosion.

Many smart devices have compact, non-replaceable batteries

Bagging Batteries for Disposal

Once a spent battery has been removed from a product, it is important to bag it individually in a clear sealable bag or tape the terminals with clear packing tape.

This prevents fires resulting from contact with other batteries or other conductive materials. It is important to use clear packing tape and bags, because less-durable tapes, such as masking or cellophane tape, and open bags commonly fall off during transport.

Non-clear bags or tapes, such as duct tape or electrical tape, also do not allow a visible identification of the chemistry of the battery when being sorted for recycling and can be a safety hazard to workers.

Other Storage Considerations

It is also important to note that lithium-based batteries should never be stored where the terminals are touching or anywhere they can come into contact with metal objects such as keys or coins.

Additionally, large quantities of lithium-based batteries should be stored in a separate containment area or building to prevent property loss in the event of a reaction or fire.

By following the safety considerations outlined above, you can help ensure that you are properly handling and storing your lithium-based batteries, and protecting yourself and others from potential risks associated with them.

Lithium batteries often require more complex storage procedures than batteries like this Ni-MH battery

What to Do With Damaged Lithium Batteries

When it comes to lithium batteries, it’s important to remember to never use any that are damaged or abused. It’s important to store them in a watertight covered container and fill it with either sand or kitty litter.

You can also contact your solid waste management district or municipality for proper management in your area.

But what should you do if a lithium battery starts to swell, smoke, or catch fire? First, it’s important to never touch the battery with bare hands. Immediately bring the battery outside, as far away as possible to avoid inhalation, and place it in a container filled with either kitty litter or sand.

Again, it’s important to contact your solid waste management district or municipality for proper management.

Flying With Lithium Batteries

If you fly with lithium batteries, there are some additional safety steps you should take. A lithium battery fire is always dangerous, but its doubly dangerous if a fire occurs in the air, where escape options are limited.

Devices that use lithium batteries should not be checked

The Federal Aviation Administration has some guidelines for flying with lithium batteries.

  • Smartphones, tablets, cameras, laptops, and other devices with lithium metal or lithium ion batteries should be kept in carry-on baggage.
  • Spare lithium metal and lithium ion batteries, E-cigarettes, and vaping devices are not allowed in checked baggage and should be kept in carry-on baggage.
  • If carry-on baggage is checked at the gate or planeside, spare lithium batteries, electronic cigarettes, and vaping devices must be removed from the baggage and kept with the passenger in the aircraft cabin.
  • Damaged, defective or recalled lithium batteries should not be carried if they are likely to be a safety concern.

Lithium Batteries in Electric Vehicles

Many of today’s electric vehicles use giant batteries composed of many lithium cells wired together. In the event of a crash, these can sometimes catch on fire.

If you ever find yourself in an EV crash, move away from the vehicle if the battery has been damaged. Many people assume that because EVs don’t use gasoline, they cannot catch fire.

As we’ve see, though, lithium batteries catch fire when damaged, and the same thing can happen in an EV.


Lithium batteries are a great technology, because they are much more energy dense than traditional batteries. That allows them to power today’s energy hungry devices, from vehicles to drones to laptops.

Still, that energy density makes lithium batteries dangerous when they’re not handled properly. Treat these batteries with care and respect, and you can reduce the risk of lithium battery use.

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