The chargers that came with our phone, digital camera, and other electronics seem to disappear as often as a sock mate sometimes. As a solution, many people reach for the low-cost, generic plug-in USB chargers and charging cables found in the sea of impulse items that flank checkout lines. It can save money and it’s so convenient, most people rationalize the purchase.
Knockoffs can be great, but not when replacing original charging components for a variety of reasons. For instance, generic mobile phone chargers are less likely to meet safety and quality guidelines than the higher-priced brand-name replacements, according to an article in the Annals of Emergency Medicine, an international medical journal.
The article cites a significant injury that involved a generic phone charger near a bed. A woman experienced pain around her neck after resting on her bed with a generic iPhone charger (not an Apple brand) underneath her pillow. The charger was plugged into an outlet but not into her phone, which is not advised but a common practice. She felt a sudden burning sensation in her neck and instinctively pulled off a necklace she was wearing. The injury caused significant burn marks around her neck.
In a study conducted by Electrical Safety First in the United Kingdom, Apple provided 64 generic chargers for safety testing. Fifty-eight percent of these generic chargers failed the electric strength test, indicating a breakdown of the insulation barrier,” the article states.
Amazon recalled 26,000 AmazonBasics portable lithium-ion battery chargers and power banks after the massive online retailer learned the units can overheat and ignite, causing fire and burn hazards. According to the U.S. Consumer Safety Product Commission, the products were sold between December 2014 and July 2017.
“Although it is tempting to pick up an inexpensive phone charger to save money, buying and using cheap chargers is one place you might not want to cut corners,” according to Erin Hollinshead, Executive Director of the Energy Education Council/Safe Electricity program. “Using an authentic replacement charger made by your mobile phone’s manufacturer is always a better choice.”
Along with being a potential fire hazard, using cheaply made charging components and devices can also cause electrocution. Dangers aside, they may cost you more in the long run since they can cause damage to whatever’s on the other end of the cable.
When using charging gear, Safe Electricity recommends the following:
- Do not leave items that are charging unattended.
- Do not touch charging electronic devices with wet hands or while standing in water.
- Make sure charging components are certified by a reputable third-party testing laboratory.
- Always keep charging items away from flammable objects, especially bedding, and do not take them to bed with you. Tell kids and teens to NEVER place any charging device under their pillow. The heat gets trapped, which could cause the pillow or bed to catch fire.
- Only buy product-approved chargers and cables (those made or certified by the manufacturer). Using cheaper devices can cause damage to the USB charge chip, which can have a lasting impact on how quickly and effectively your device charges in the future.
The bottom line is this: Don’t buy charging equipment with prices that seem too good to be true or from companies you’ve never heard of. And even if you’ve heard of the company, be leery of fakes. In 2016, Apple sued a company that sold counterfeit wall chargers with Apple’s name on them for less than $10 each.
For more information, visit SafeElectricity.org.