Dealing with a lithium-ion battery that has gone bad and is swelling up is not a fun prospect, but what do you do if you are unable to properly dispose of it quickly? What is the best way to store it until you can get rid of it? Today’s SuperUser Q&A post has some helpful advice for a concerned reader.

Today’s Question & Answer session comes to us courtesy of SuperUser—a subdivision of Stack Exchange, a community-driven grouping of Q&A web sites.

The Question

SuperUser reader A.Grandt wants to know how to safely store a defective (bulging) lithium-ion battery:

I have a defective lithium-ion battery, one that is bulging quite severely and is about 50 percent thicker in the middle than it is at the edges. While the battery still actually works, I have replaced it since it would no longer fit inside my mobile phone and was about to make the screen come loose.

I cannot safely dispose of it just yet, so my question is, is it safe to just leave it unused on a table until I can get around to disposing of it or would it be safer to keep it cool/frozen?

How do you safely store a defective (bulging) lithium-ion battery?

The Answer

SuperUser contributor Journeyman Geek has the answer for us:

I had this happen and had to store it until there was ample time to drop by a designated e-waste center that specifically accepted lithium-ion batteries. This is important! Throwing potentially inflammable materials in with regular trash is bad (only you can stop fires)!

There is likely no need to panic if it is just a week or two until you can properly dispose of it. You want to store it for as short a time as possible. For the most part, unless you stab it, an unused bloated battery ought to be reasonably safe.

On a practical note, you want to leave it somewhere cool and dry, so a refrigerator is not the best place. The refrigerator trick is used for dying batteries in some cases, but not dead ones.

I would suggest taping over the connectors to prevent accidental shorting and just leave it somewhere safe. Freezing a battery does not sound bad until you realize there will be a sudden change in temperature (potentially bad) and condensation (moisture) when you need to take it out.

It is also worth remembering that this happened over the course of weeks or even months before it became noticeable. There was some pressure on the screen and I had assumed it was an air bubble behind the screen protector. I noticed the bloating entirely by accident.

So, short of baking (inadvertently or otherwise), burning or stabbing your battery, or taking a few months to dispose of it, you probably do not need to massively baby the battery. Just do not charge it (and for once self-discharge is fine). A battery not in use is slightly less likely to spontaneously catch fire.

There are a few suggestions that I have seen online, like putting the battery in salty water (which sounds like a terrible idea, especially since lithium reacts violently with water and is a potential source of bloating anyway) or trying to discharge the battery (the energy flow could mean heat which could lead to a fire). The MSDS backs this up suggesting that the electrolyte reacts with water to form HF (which is nasty), the anode with H2, and many other scary things.

So leave it alone, keep an eye on it, avoid Viking funerals, and you should be fine.

Have something to add to the explanation? Sound off in the comments. Want to read more answers from other tech-savvy Stack Exchange users? Check out the full discussion thread here.

Image Credits: Dennis van Zuijlekom (Flickr), Journeyman Geek (SuperUser)

Akemi Iwaya
Akemi Iwaya has been part of the How-To Geek/LifeSavvy Media team since 2009. She has previously written under the pen name "Asian Angel" and was a Lifehacker intern before joining How-To Geek/LifeSavvy Media. She has been quoted as an authoritative source by ZDNet Worldwide.
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