Let’s start off this piece with a question: by a show of hands, how many people know what happens when you put diesel fuel in a gas engine? Technically, diesel and unleaded gasoline are both combustible fuels, but your engine doesn’t see things that way. If you were to put your car through such treatment, bad things could result. Yet, despite similar warnings, vapers continue to put themselves at risk by continuing to enter harm’s way with their devices. We’ve all seen the headlines on the evening news about “vape explosions” and “vape bombs.” Experienced vapers usually agree that these incidents are rarely the result of dangerous products. They’re almost always the result of irresponsible handling.
Now, we’re not saying that vape devices will never malfunction. But quality control from major vape companies has come a long way. Today’s electronic vape devices have a wide range of safety features built in, and would only have a devastating failure when used outside of their listed capabilities. In other words, if vapers read the instructions, used the device as intended, and took care when storing and carrying extra batteries, we likely wouldn’t be reading about unfortunate, preventable disasters. Let’s look at some of the most common ways to keep your vape devices operating well – and well within their abilities.
Lots of vape device sold today come with a USB cable and/or proprietary charging unit. So, yes, technically, the “U” in “USB” stands for universal. But that doesn’t mean they are all created equally. In fact, using four different vape mods from the same company, I have experienced different levels of performance just for upgrading firmware with the enclosed cables. It might get annoying to add to a massive collection of short USB cables every time you get a new device. But it’s a necessary problem to have. In order to get the most from charging and upgrading capabilities, it’s best to use the hardware provided in the box. This is what was deemed best for your product, and remains the ideal way to ensure safe vaping.
Comedian Steven Wright once joked about how his uncle made millions by being the guy who designed the diagram that showed you how to put batteries in things. A funny idea, to be sure. But let’s be realistic – without those omnipresent plusses and minuses, more than a few toys would have bitten the bullet on Christmas morning. When dealing with high-powered lithium ion cells -- sometimes in devices capable of 200 watts or more -- these markings become all the more important. Placing batteries in the wrong direction will not only lead to potential failure, but it could also lead to something far more serious – thermal venting.
Without getting too detailed, lithium batteries used improperly could find themselves generating unexpected (and uncontrollable) amounts of heat. When the thermal capacity of a cell exceeds its limitations, it could vent out – in the form of extremely hot gasses, or even flames. Series mods typically use an alternating positive/negative layout, while parallel mods seat the batteries just as described, in parallel with one another. Getting this backwards can potentially lead to tragedy, occasionally even in mods with built-in reverse battery protection. But placement is only part of the overall battery safety routine.
Lithium ion batteries can be just as dangerous OUTSIDE of a vape device as inside. I’m sure you’ve seen those YouTube clips of Duracell batteries and foil being used to create a quick lighter for camping. Nifty trick, but it also shows the ongoing power flow that exists within a cell. Using something as innocuous as aluminum foil can create instantaneous combustion. If an exposed battery cell rubs against keys, coins, or other metal objects in a pocket or purse, the massive current flowing within the terminal can VERY quickly come flowing out, and if the only place it has to go is back into the other end of the battery through these metal conductors...boom! If you plan on having spare vape batteries with you on your next night out, make sure they’re carried properly – either in a hard-shell plastic carry case, or a silicone sleeve that prevents the contact points from touching anything else.
(And for good measure, keep the keys in another pocket.)
Another thing to keep in mind with batteries is cleanliness and proper wrapping. Dirty terminals can misfire, in or out of a device, while torn or loose wrapping could potentially expose more of the underlying cell than intended. Both of these things could cause imbalanced heat distribution, which can – again – promote unexpected venting. Finally, storing lithium ion batteries properly is paramount. Not only to keep them clean and intact, but also at a proper ambient temperature. Heat is the enemy, so storing your 18650s on a sunny windowsill probably isn’t the best choice. Like it is with so many vape products, the best environment is cool, dry and out of direct sunlight.
While the power source is USUALLY the culprit in “exploding” vape devices, the mechanics of the device itself are also worth noting. Today’s regulated devices have a number of safety features onboard, and they work well. But chances are these companies didn’t stress test these mods and tanks in washing machines, concrete porches, toilets, and the like. And since vape mods seem to get dropped as often as mobile phones, it’s important to constantly stay abreast of your devices’ condition and operation.
A short drop or two probably won’t affect performance of your vape. But if your mods regularly hit the ground, dirt and grime could build up in the device openings. More importantly, remember that the more complicated these mods become, the more electronic components get squeezed into a small space. Every abrupt fall on hard surfaces will inevitable jar and damage the circuit board and internal power system, potentially leading to misfires, inaccurate coil readings, and even battery failure. I think you know what these things can lead to if not monitored. If your Alien has taken one too many trips to rough terrain, strongly consider a new device before pushing it to 200 watts. On that note...
This is where quite a few vape accidents occur – when common sense isn’t used. Unfortunately, there is a subset of the vaping community more focused on pushing performance than actually achieving an enjoyable vape. This approach to vaping can lead to careless errors, and near-tragedies. Just recently, I saw a video of a homemade modder stacking no fewer than 15 batteries, just to launch a cloud of vapor a mile high. While there are always going to be people who want to push the limits of their gear, this exercise did nothing more than expose vaping to more unnecessary criticism, and the modder to considerable risk.
At any moment in that video, those batteries could have started venting, creating a deadly fireball right in the man’s face. Fortunately, they didn’t. But for every success, there are copycats waiting in the wings. On a more realistic level, vapers still need to pay attention to their devices’ true limitations and capabilities. Yes, that shiny new four-battery beast might be rated to go to 300+ watts, but those inflated numbers aren’t there as a potential high score. At those wattages, temperatures throughout your mod and tank could exceed safe levels, exposing all mechanisms and power sources to potential catastrophe. The problem is that vape mod companies are creating devices that far exceed what tanks, batteries and the like can realistically handle. When using that new 300-watt mod, be sure you don’t fly too close to the sun, and always respect the limitations of the other variables, like coil resistance, battery amperage and overall temperature.
I recently discussed high-wattage devices with a relatively new vaper, who was thrilled with his new Wismec Predator. He touted “power” and “clouds,” but never mentioned the batteries he was using. I asked to check them out, and lo and behold, they were older 18650s, rated for no more than 15 amps. They were not appropriate for the usage this guy was subjecting them to, and thankfully nothing bad happened. His response was appreciative, and indicated he slapped in the cheapest batteries available, simply because “they’re all the same, right?” No cloud is worth a potential explosion, and to be honest, I have yet to experience a vape that improved at wattages that high, either.
This article barely scratches the surface of vape safety and preventing explosions. But these are the most common mistakes made by vapers of all types. Whether they’re looking to push their new devices to the limit, or are simply ignorant to smart vaping practices, unsafe handling of vape products can lead to harm, with a little bad luck. If you’re unsure about the quality of your batteries, what a safe resistance is for your atomizer, or if a mod is malfunctioning, find someone who knows and ask. Vape shops and forums are full of knowledgeable people who love to help. Take advantage of them!