Old Samsung Phones’ Bloated Batteries Blowing Up – on Social Media

By: Adam Swimmer

4 Min Read

October 24, 2022

Some tech reviewers, such as Arun Maini and Marques Brownlee, have noticed battery swelling issues with certain Samsung phones in their collection. Battery swelling (or bloating) is when a lithium-ion battery literally expands. Swollen battery can be fascinating to look at. In fact, there’s an entire subreddit – spicypillows – dedicated to photos of them. However, it can be frustrating, not to mention dangerous, if it happens to your device.

So what caused this?

One of the main causes of battery bloating is overcharging. However, as these devices were shelved for years that’s a less likely culprit. Our battery experts here at LAVA have some hypotheses.

The electrolyte in the battery could be crystallizing 

We know that a mobile device is never truly off – at least while its battery still has a charge. This means when you leave a smartphone or tablet unplugged, its battery slowly depletes over time. If the Samsung devices had completely drained of energy, alkaline crystallization could have begun to grow from the electrolyte. In other words, some of the liquid in the battery could have solidified into crystals.

Did you ever create a supersaturated solution of sugar of salt water in science class back in grade school? It’s similar to that. When you heat up the water, you can dissolve more of the substance than you could at room temperature. If you put a piece of string in it, it acts as the seed crystal or heterogeneous nucleation site. You will be able to observe crystals forming on the string as the solution cools back down.

Similarly, if the mobile device’s battery drops below 3.3 volts (the lower threshold for most lithium-ion batteries), some, or even all, of the electrolyte could crystallize. This leads to heterogeneous nucleation around the surfaces of the battery, starting at the electrodes.

This physical process could cause the battery to expand. Once the process begins, you cannot reverse it.  Even if swelling doesn’t occur, a new charge would make the situation worse. When you plug the mobile device back in, it wouldn’t hold a charge as effectively as it did before. Since the battery is trying to charge up and take in energy, it will need to store it somehow. In this state, the most effective way to reduce this energy is to release a gas, sort of like a burp. This build-up of gas causes the battery to expand (i.e. bloating).

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The Samsung phones could be too hot. Sizzle sizzle!

Another common cause of battery bloating is overheating. These devices likely didn’t overheat from overcharging is unlikely. However, environmental factors may have played a role.

We’ve just come out of an extremely hot summer. In fact, this year’s June-to-August period was the hottest on record for Europe and China and second hottest for North America and Asia. If these reviewers didn’t have their air conditioning running non-stop or the systems failed for some reason, the hot rooms could have heated up the mobile devices’ batteries. Similarly, if the rooms had skylights, the sunlight shining in could heat up the phones even if the rest of the room remained cool.

After a while, the batteries would need to off gas to release the extra energy being applied from the heat.

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Minor bloating could have already occurred

It’s possible that the devices had already started to bloat while the tech reviewers were using them but it was so small at the time that they didn’t or couldn’t notice.

While battery swelling can be slowed down, it can’t be reversed. In other words, once the battery starts to expand, it will continue to do so. So if the device was left in storage for a long enough period of time, the bloating would eventually become more noticeable.

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The individual Samsung units may have been defective

Normally, this would be considered a statistical anomaly.  However due to the large volume of mobile devices tech reviewers test over the years, the chances of them receiving the odd faulty unit is higher.

Also, reviewers sometimes receive pre-production models, which may have older firmware and hardware, with fewer fixes implemented than the release models.

We’ll never have complete information about what happened to the particular Samsung devices in question. However, it is likely a combination of factors that led to their batteries swelling. For example, the devices could have overheated and dropped below a minimum charge.

At LAVA, we’ve learned from experience that putting a lithium-ion battery through an optimal charging and discharging cycle helps keeps it healthy. This, in turn, increases its lifespan.

If you’re concerned about bloating in your tablet or smartphone, check out this blog, which offers four tips to protect your mobile device’s battery.

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