Whenever I come across a cheap charger being used by a family member or a friend, I always tell them to immediately stop using it and discard it. And 90% of the time, their answer is something along those lines:

  • “Why? It’s working fine right now.”
  • “I’ve used it for (length of time here) and it never failed on me.”
  • “It’s cheaper than genuine chargers. I’ll just buy a new one when it breaks.”
  • “It’s only 5 volts, it can’t do serious harm.”

Rather than telling people the reasons why every time this topic comes up, my plan is to just send them a link to this blog post on why they shouldn’t be using such a charger.

Charger dissection

Now, I’m not an electrical engineer, so I can’t really tell you why these chargers are dangerous. But I don’t have to, since there are countless charger dissection videos online made by people who know about circuit design and electrical engineering.

YouTube channels like bigclivedotcom, EEVblog, and DiodeGoneWild have plenty of content on dissecting these chargers and pointing out the design flaws in the circuits.

View these videos, and you’ll start to notice a trend. Most of the bad chargers are no-name brands sold directly on eBay or AliExpress, sent from a Chinese seller that doesn’t care for your safety.

Don’t like watching videos? Here’s a nice little write-up by Ken Shirriff about tearing down a fake iPhone charger. My personal favorite from his blog is when he compares a dozen different USB chargers, including fake ones, and shows the power quality of each charger.

But it works fine right now!

Even if these cheap, fake chargers are working for you right now, they might be wrecking your device in the long run.

If you read the second blog post linked above, you can see how cheap chargers can feed your devices noisy power. This can lead to malfunctioning devices. Ever notice how your device’s touchscreen would be less responsive or even register false inputs when you use a cheap charger? That’s because of noise in the power input and possibly a problem with grounding.

Not to mention, irregular power input can destroy components. In iPhones, for example, the Tristar chip that handles charging can be destroyed by cheap chargers. From the linked store page from iPadRehab:

We all know that batteries and charge ports can become damaged and fail, but “cheap charger damage” is quite rampant as well. Until most consumers recognize importance of using MFI certified chargers, “gas station” chargers will continue to kill the tristar chip in thousands of devices. It can be laborious to tell the difference between bad battery, bad charge port, and bad tristar/tigris chip on the logic board.

“So it can damage my device, big whoop. I’ll just buy another one if/when that happens. What’s the big deal?”

Death by charger

Google “electrocuted by chargers” and read through the news articles. These unfortunate incidents are just too common, because people won’t stop using cheap chargers.

Ignoring the Darwin Award-worthy ones where people carried in extension cords to the bathtub, most of the charger deaths are due to fake chargers sending direct 110/220 volts to the phone, which travels through the person holding the phone straight to ground, electrocuting them.

Cheaply made fake chargers are dangerous for this reason. The videos above show how the components like transformers are built without care to safety. In addition, many of the circuit boards are improperly designed, leading to arcing between the parts of the board that are supposed to have different voltage levels.

So if you ever get the urge to skimp on purchasing a proper charger for your device, remember that the cheap components from China are all that stands between you and mains voltage. You are one arc away from becoming human bacon.

So what charger should I use then?

The safest option would be to purchase your charger directly from the manufacturer, such as Apple or Samsung. But I know that this is close to impossible in regions where there aren’t any local stores.

The next best option is to purchase from a reputable brand, such as Anker. Reputable brands follow safety protocols, properly design circuit boards and use trusted components that won’t blow up.

When buying your chargers, try to buy them from a physical store, not from online shops like eBay or Amazon. Yes, even Amazon should be avoided, because many counterfeit items end up on Amazon. Even ones that are “sold by Amazon” can be fake, since Amazon shares their inventory with third-party sellers.

Also, check if your country has a safety rating for electronics, like UL or CE. For example, all electronics sold in Korea must pass the KC inspection, which makes sure that these products are safe to use. Each device is stamped with the KC logo and registration number so people can look up their devices and figure out if the devices have been recalled and what not. However, don’t rely on checking for these logos, since counterfeiters often copy the mark themselves.

TL;DR

Don’t kill yourself. Use proper chargers.