Battery tech has come a long way since the early days of Li-ion batteries with memory effects and size constraints. We now see large capacity batteries with high densities in handheld gadgets and while it has certainly gotten better, safer and more modern, the chemistry involved has remained the same. Batteries still lose charge over a period of time, and the calibration can still get messed up more often than you would think.
With the entire world going digital, batteries are one of the most vital components in everyday life. Just imagine a single day with your phone’s battery dead. You are frightened by just the thought of it, right? Well, that’s how much we rely on battery power. But what if there is indeed a situation when any of your gadgets stop charging? You’ve tried multiple chargers, tried changing cables and adaptors but all in vain. Where’s the solution? Well, it’s right there in your kitchen. What? Yes.
It’s the refrigerator.
Might sound absurd, right? We don’t blame you. We were of the same belief before giving it a shot and were genuinely surprised when we saw the result. And the fact that you’re reading this article is proof of the pudding. Before we go on to tell you what’s really happening or how your refrigerator is effectively a technician in disguise, you must be wondering what made us try such a thing in the first place.
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Back in 2015 when the first-gen Mi Band, the ultra-cheap fitness tracker from Xiaomi was launched, the battery life was incredible. Mostly due to the absence of a display, but upwards of 30 days battery nevertheless was insane. Due to this, I often forgot when I had to charge the device which more of than not led to the battery going zero eventually and then having to charge it completely. On one such occasion, the device totally died on me and the charger failed to detect it too. So I did what anybody would generally do in such a situation. I tried a different charging cable, but that didn’t seem to help. I tried cleaning the contact pins of the tracker and the charger, no result yet again.
Then I remembered that Xiaomi had its own forums and there I was looking for users facing similar issues. After going through a few threads, I realized I’m not the only one facing this problem. Plenty of users reported the exact same issue I was facing but none had a solution until I landed on this particular thread with the tag “problem solved”. My first reaction looking at the solution was “you gotta be kidding me!” How can putting a fitness tracker in a refrigerator bring it back to life? I spent the next 10 minutes ridiculing the author of the thread. And then I saw multiple people reporting that it actually worked for them. So, I decided that I had nothing to lose and put the tracker in the refrigerator with my mom almost convinced that I’d lost my mind.
I took it out the next morning and connected it to the charger, and from being a moron in my head for putting a gadget into the refrigerator, I now felt like an engineer in a repair shop. The Mi Band was back to life!
Tried the age old trick of putting the tracker in the refrigerator for a while, something that I used to do with the Mi Band 1, and voila, it's charging again! https://t.co/hOtH0JVRRB
— Sumukh Rao (@RaoSumukh) July 31, 2019
Back to the present, my Mi Band 3 was in a similar situation just yesterday. Failed to charge or power on. The first thing that occurred to me was the original Mi Band incident from four years ago. While I thought that was a one-off, I decided to give it a shot one more time, and voila! It worked again! Here’s a Reddit thread about a similar issue on the Mi Band 2.
Now, before we label this as a miraculous repair, let’s just appreciate the science behind it, and tell you if you too should put your electronics in the refrigerator if they fail to charge!
How does it work?
Most gadgets, including the Mi Band in our case, are powered by Lithium-ion, or more commonly known as Li-ion batteries. Li-ion batteries have a stipulated shelf-life, which means they can be charged and discharged ‘X’ number of times before they lose their charge-holding capability. A complete charge and discharge are counted as one complete charging cycle. Now, how is this related to a refrigerator?
Well, the reason why the Mi Band was refusing to turn on was that the battery had depleted to zero, but not entirely. Every cell/battery has some reserved juice and unless forced, does not deplete to a complete zero. The Mi Band’s battery was not completely zero, but it also didn’t have enough juice to be able to power on. The battery was essentially stuck in this confused state. This is where the refrigerator comes in.
Going by the chemistry behind Li-ion batteries, the batteries lose their charge-holding capacity below a certain temperature, which makes the battery drain to a complete zero. Since the temperature inside a refrigerator is very low, the battery on the Mi Band drained to a complete zero which completed the battery cycle and it was ready to be charged once again.
While this seems unusual, doing a bit of research online also enlightened us about the fact that storing some kind of batteries in the refrigerator or freezer can even extend the battery life by up to 90% which is insane. Putting them in a lower temperature essentially decreases the self-discharge rate. Lifehacker.com, in one of their articles, said “A number of studies have shown that storing batteries in the freezer helps them retain their charge longer. This is less true for alkaline batteries (freezing extends their shelf life by only about 5%) than it is for NiMH and Nicad batteries often used in electronics. Keeping NiMH batteries in the freezer can boost battery life by 90%.”
Should you put your phones in the refrigerator too?
In all honesty, this option should be your last resort. When phones, once upon a time, came with removable batteries, some fixes for a non-charging phone even included removing the battery and putting in a refrigerator for a couple of days. However, with batteries being non-removable nowadays, it’s not advisable to put your phone inside a refrigerator, especially if it’s NOT IP6X certified since moisture due to condensation may seep into the phone, hence voiding your warranty. Instead, first try generic methods like switching cables and adaptors, cleaning the charging port or the best option would be to take it to the authorized service center.
If you have smaller gadgets or devices like fitness trackers or smartwatches that are water-resistant and you are willing to take the risk, you can try putting it into your refrigerator to see if science can indeed perform some miracle on your device! And the same applies to things like DSLR batteries, camcorder batteries, gimbals etc.
Is it the best solution out there?
Not really. There can be adverse effects too. Batteries shouldn’t generally be exposed to extreme temperatures or they may become non-functional. Please note that no one recommends putting the batteries in a freezer. If you’re putting an entire device or gadget into the refrigerator, the extremely low temperatures can mess up other components inside the device on the PCB, so it’s always advisable to be aware of the risks involved and the best way to resurrect your device is to get it fixed by an authorized technician, and not one who’s sitting in your home disguised as a fridge.