Why Hot Weather is Bad for Your Electronic Devices

edited August 2023 in PC Tech

Summer's here with its radiant days, but while we enjoy the warmth, your electronics feel the heat. As heat waves roll in, your devices often find themselves in hot cars under the scorching sun, heating up more than usual. These soaring temperatures can cause your devices' heat output to surge, a reality that could disrupt your digital life. 

Ever wondered why your phone seems to slow down, or your laptop's fan works overtime on blisteringly hot days? That's the harsh impact of heat. So, the question is - how can you ensure your devices stay safe, cool, and primed for summer? Let's dive in and explore.

How heat harms electronics 

Heat is the arch-nemesis of electronics. While most devices can withstand temperatures up to 176º F (80°C), they hit their performance sweet spot at a much cooler 95ºF (35°C). That's why most elite gaming PCs have elaborate air or water cooling systems.

Persistent high temperatures can damage your gadgets. Electronic components, including SSDs, chips, batteries, resistors, capacitors, and inductors, are all at risk of heat-induced failures.

In fact, according to a US Air Force Avionics Integrity Program study, heat is a leading culprit in over 50% of electronic equipment failures. A rise in temperature of just 10°C can halve a device's lifespan, whereas a 10°C drop could potentially double it.

Cooling depends on the temperature difference between your device and the environment. The hotter the environment, the hotter your device must get to create enough temperature difference to dissipate the heat effectively.

This vicious cycle highlights the importance of keeping our electronics cool, especially during those sweltering summer months. Without proper ventilation, your electronics can produce high temperatures that can cause damage. Some devices will power themselves down to avoid this risk when they reach critical temperatures. Heat and electronics don't mix.

How overheating impacts your devices 

Electronic devices, such as laptops, are engineered to operate optimally within a specific temperature range, typically between 50ºF (10°C) - 95ºF (35°C).

Picture this: It's a sunny 70ºF (21°C) day. Your car is parked outside, soaking up the rays:

  • After 30 min: The car's interior heats to 104ºF (40°C). 
  • 1 hour later: The interior heat soars to 113ºF (45°C). 
  • If it's 80ºF (26°C) - 100ºF (38°C) outside: The car's interior swelters between 130ºF (54°C) to 172ºF (78°C).

Leaving your laptop inside your car is a bad idea. High heat can cause irreversible damage. If there's no other option, turn off your device, remove the battery, and store it in a cooler, darker area, like the trunk. And remember: excessive humidity also endangers your electronics. 

What happens when your devices overheat? 

Understanding how heat affects our electronics is crucial to prevent potential damage. Let's look at how heat can interfere with your devices: 

  1. Slowing Down: Excessive heat forces your devices to work harder, potentially leading to slower response times. Your phone might not react as quickly, apps crash, and your computer freezes. 
  2. Shorter Lifespan: If your devices frequently overheat, they won't last as long. High heat can damage delicate internal components like chips and batteries. 
  3. Battery Problems: Lithium-ion batteries, which power everything from smartphones to laptops, are sensitive to heat. In extreme conditions, they can swell, leak, or even explode. Heat can make these batteries wear out faster, even without such dramatic events. For optimal performance, keep lithium batteries between 68°F (20°C) and 77°F (25°C). 
  4. Computer Chip Issues: The components inside computer chips, which are the brains of our electronic devices, also suffer from overheating. They experience what's known as thermal leakage—a waste of power—as the temperature rises. Eventually, the heat increase and leakage can blur the distinction between the "on" and "off" states. It messes up your chip's logic functions and can bring your device to a halt until it cools down. 
  5. Self-Protection: Some devices throttle their performance to prevent overheating. It protects them from heat damage but can make them less reliable. 
  6. Losing Data: Overheating can put your data at risk. For example, a hard disk drive (HDD) or solid-state drive (SSD) can get damaged if the temperature exceeds 70°C, potentially causing the loss of important files or photos. 
  7. Physical Damage: Extreme heat can lead to physical damage to your devices. Parts might melt or warp, connections could break, and batteries might expand to the point where they crack the device's casing. 
  8. Screen Damage: Excessive heat can also negatively affect your device's screen. The display panels of phones, tablets, and laptops are often sensitive to high temperatures. Heat can cause discoloration and diminish screen brightness. The screen might even develop 'ghosting' or permanent burn-in issues in severe cases. 
  9. Cooling Issues: Devices cool down by releasing heat into the surrounding cooler air. But if that air is already hot, your device has to work even harder to cool down, leading to further heating.

These points illustrate why we should keep our devices cool, particularly during the summer. Your digital companions need a break from the heat just as much as you do!

7 tips to keep your electronics cool this summer

Heat is a foe of electronics. As summer heats up, protecting your electronics from overheating is crucial. Here are seven steps to keep your devices functioning smoothly, even when the mercury rises. Also, check our laptop overheating guide

1) Seek shade 

Direct sunlight can spike your device's temperature. Like you, your electronics appreciate some shade to cool down.

If you must use your device outside, seek a shaded area and minimize usage. Avoid leaving your device in direct sunlight at all costs.

2) Ventilate well 

Proper airflow and ventilation can help your device chill out, especially during extended usage. Most electronic devices have vents located on the back or the side. Avoid obstructing these vents and position your device near a fan or air conditioner whenever possible.

Leaving your laptop on a soft surface like a bed or rug can block its bottom vents causing it to overheat. If you plan to leave it turned on or charging, switch to a hard surface that allows its vents to displace the hot air.

Remember that hot air rises; keep your devices lower to benefit from cooler air. Position your phone near the air conditioning vent in your car or have a nearby fan blow air over your laptop.

For those sweltering summer days, consider a laptop cooling pad to help dissipate heat from your computer.

3) Don't stack devices 

Electronics already produce heat. Stacking devices on top of each other increases temperatures even more. Maintain some space between your devices— at least 2-3 inches.

4) Avoid hot cars 

Your car's interior can get significantly hotter than the outside temperature, potentially damaging your electronics. If you must leave devices in your car:

  1. Park in a shaded area. 
  2. Use a car sunshade. 
  3. Turn off your device. 
  4. Remove the battery. 
  5. Store it in the trunk or another cool, shaded place.

5) Monitor battery charging 

For Phones and Devices: Aim to charge your devices to 60-80% capacity rather than 100%. The higher voltage at 100% charging could heighten the risk of thermal runaway, encouraging dendrite growth that might make the battery combustible.

For Laptops: It's best to run the battery down to about 40% before plugging it back in. Repeat this process to help extend your laptop's battery life for anywhere from 1,200 to 2,000 cycles.

Unplug chargers and turn off power strips when not in use.

6) Keep devices clean 

Internal fans keep your devices cool. Dust and pet hair accumulation can hinder these fans, causing your device to overheat. Use a can of compressed air to remove the dust and remember to keep all vents clean and clear.  

7) Emergency shutdown 

If your device starts overheating, immediately power it down and unplug it. Remove any case or covering, let it cool until it's no longer hot to touch, then try to use it again. Use a fan to promote rapid cooling.

Following these tips can help ensure that your electronics survive the summer heat wave.

The Takeaway 

As the summer heat soars, our electronics are sensitive to extreme temperatures. Extreme temperatures can slow performance, shorten lifespan, and even cause irreversible damage leading to data loss.

The good news? Keeping your electronics cool doesn't require a degree in thermodynamics, just some simple precautions. Shade, ventilation, and mindful use can make a world of difference. So, as you enjoy the summer, remember to give your devices a break from the heat too. After all, they work best when they're chill, just like us. 

Robert is a Taiwan-based writer and digital marketer at iamrobert design. He has a passion for helping people simplify their lives through tech.


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