Just this past week, news outlets reported that Health Canada had ordered the recall of over 1.5 million uncertified USB chargers “that were found to pose the risk of electrical shock and may cause fires.” The recall spans 27 brands and counting, the majority of them sold by “retail outlets such as dollar stores and gas stations.” Although, as we’ve written in the past, there’s little to no difference in performance between most cables, when it comes to USB charger safety quality is of the utmost importance. It can be tempting to just snag a charger from a gas station or a dollar store when you’re on the run, but we advise you to take the time to examine the product before you buy it. Read on to learn a little about USB charger safety.
Powerful Protection: USB Charger Safety Mechanisms
USB power banks use lithium-ion batteries to store the power they draw from the outlet before passing it to your device. Almost a year ago, we covered why lithium-ion batteries have been known to explode. When the battery is damaged, it’s unable to properly discharge the energy it contains, creating a thermal runway effect (i.e. heat and pressure build-up). Without adequate protection, the heat becomes overwhelming, burning the electrolyte layer that facilitates the flow of charge and potentially causing an explosion.
These risks apply to both wall-mounted power adapters and portable power banks. Fortunately, manufacturers’ USB charger safety precautions can significantly mitigate risk, as the chart below shows:
Of course, it’s not just dollar store tech that can fail. Just two years ago, it was revealed that Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 batteries had a distressing tendency to explode on airplanes, precipitating a recall. For the most part, however, reputable manufacturers take battery safety very seriously. Samsung has successfully adapted its technology since the Note 7 accidents, and RAVPower’s power banks are also 100% flight-safe.
Seal(s) of Quality: USB Charger Safety Ratings
Next time you’re buying electronics, whether you’re holding the product packaging in hand or browsing a website, get in the habit of checking whether it has any safety certifications marked on the packaging. While the logos are various and daunting to keep straight without research, the presence of USB charger safety ratings is an important indication that the product has been thoroughly tested. Here are a few of the most common certifications you’ll encounter.
UL is a safety and consulting company based in Illinois that has been around for well over a century. UL is approved by the US Occupational Health and Safety Administration to perform safety testing, and also provides regional certifications according to the USB charger safety standards of different authorities worldwide. It is perhaps the most widely accepted safety certification today, with over 22 billion products bearing the UL insignia.
You will probably recognize the familiar CE marking from plenty of products you’ve purchased over the years, even if you’ve never thought to question it. This logo certifies that a product is approved for sale in the EU and European Economic Area (EEA). CE marked products must pass the highest health, safety and environmental standards to be sold on the continent—standards which are often more exacting than those in the US.
The Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive is another important EU product safety certification focused on limiting the use of hazardous materials in electronics manufacturing. Recognition of this certification in the US varies from state to state, but manufacturers worldwide have made moves to conform to its standards, including USB charger safety. It has helped reduce the amounts of heavy metals like lead found in electronics, and in countries such as China products must now disclose whether they contain the substances banned under RoHS (though these substances are not yet banned in China itself).
The Gas Station is for Gas, Not Electronics
At the risk of libeling the fine proprietors of the world’s gas stations and discount stores, their shelves and spinning display racks are not the likeliest source of high quality consumer electronics. Spending a few dollars more on products that have been stringently tested not only improves your likelihood of snagging a charger that works well, but also one that will keep you safe. It’s your call to make.