Is It Safe to Use Headphones While the Laptop Is Charging?

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There are new concerns about whether it is actually safe to use headphones on a laptop while it is charging, thanks to a few high-profile deaths in the news where people have been electrocuted while using headphones connected to a charging piece of technology. 

So, is it safe to use headphones while the laptop is charging? It is almost always safe to use headphones while a laptop is charging; however, basic precautions should be taken to avoid electrocution, and electronics like computers and smartphones should never be used around water. 

If it’s safe to use headphones while a laptop is charging? What’s with the rash of electrocution deaths being reported in connection to headphones and charging technology? Read on to find out how these tragic accidents occurred and how to prevent them from happening to you. 

Why Using Headphones While A Laptop Is Charging Is Generally Safe

The most obvious answer to why this is generally a safe practice is that to put it simply, headphones are designed to conduct electricity safely while they’re on your head or inserted in your ears. 

If it was that easy to electrocute a person through their headphones, there would be a lot more warnings attached to using headphones with electrical technology. But have you ever heard of any major tech company–say, Apple–issuing warnings against this practice? No. 

That’s because the chances of being electrocuted through your headphones while charging a laptop or smartphone are minuscule. You’re more likely to be electrocuted walking into your own backyard in a thunderstorm. 

That being said, a minuscule risk doesn’t equal no risk at all, and there have been people electrocuted through their headphones while charging their laptops on a wall adapter. 

Why Have People Been Killed Using Headphones While Their Laptops Are Charging?

There have been a few cases in the news in the past two years of people being electrocuted using headphones, either on computers or through their smartphones. Here are a few examples:

  • In December 2018, a Malaysian teenager was electrocuted by his headphones while charging his smartphone on a wall socket. The cause of death was later determined to be a faulty charging cable.
  • In 2013, a Chinese woman was electrocuted by her headphones while the smartphone was charging. It was later found out that the short circuit that caused her death was the result of using a faulty third-party adapter.
  • In February 2018, a Brazilian teenage girl was electrocuted through her headphones while charging her smartphone. 
  • In 2011 in Kolkata, India, a 34-year-old man was electrocuted through his headphones by his laptop while it was charging. 
  • In April 2014, a 28-year-old Australian woman was electrocuted by her headphones plugged into her laptop while it was charging. 

Scary, right? But you have to keep things in perspective. These are less than half a dozen deaths over the course of a decade. And tens of thousands of people use headphones while charging their laptops and smartphones all the time. So what caused these people to be killed? 

Laptop and Smartphone Headphone Deaths Are Caused by Bad Wiring

In every case where a person has been mysteriously electrocuted while wearing headphones on a charging laptop or smartphone, it was eventually determined that their death was the result of bad wiring, using a non-grounded outlet, using a faulty adapter, or being around water.

While it is possible to be electrocuted by faulty wiring or a bad adapter, it is extremely rare. It is rare enough to the point that you really shouldn’t worry about it any more than you worry about getting hit by a bus on your way to work.

In many cases where people have been electrocuted in this way, they were operating off of non-stable electrical systems in third world countries or using faulty knockoff adapters that input the wrong amount of current into the system, causing a short circuit. 

For example, within a few months of the man in Kolkata who was electrocuted through his headphones, four other people in Kolkata were electrocuted through their home wiring in the same area. This is not the result of using charging tech; this is ungrounded outlets and bad electrical infrastructure. 

How To Stay Safe Using Headphones While Charging Your Laptop

While the chances of you being electrocuted while using headphones on a charging laptop or smartphone are close to nil, wall-bound electricity is still extremely dangerous, and it pays to be cautious when it comes to sticking things that conduct it into your ears. 

Here are some ways that you can be safer when using headphones that are plugged into charging electrical devices:

  • Always check your charger cables for any signs of damage or frying. If your cables are damaged in any way, do not use them. Replace them. It isn’t worth the risk. 
  • Do not use your laptop or smartphone with headphones around water. Not by the bathtub. Not by the pool. In the past year alone, two women have been electrocuted by having their smartphones in their bathrooms and exposing them to water.

    Bathrooms sometimes feature non-grounded outlets, which make them especially dangerous when tech is exposed to water in the bathroom. Never plug up a laptop or smartphone on a charger near water. 
  • Don’t use cheap, knockoff, third-party adapters for your technology. Not only do faulty chargers run the risk of damaging your laptop or smartphone, if they don’t output the correct amount of current, they can overload the technology and cause a short circuit.

    These are the kinds of short circuit surges that are responsible for several of the deaths listed above. To be safe, always use original equipment manufacturer (OEM) chargers and cables that were made specifically for your laptop or phone.

    OEM chargers are built specifically for the tech they go with, and if you use them you’ll never have to worry about accidentally using a charger with the wrong voltage. A lot of chargers look alike, so this can be a very real danger. 
  • Use over-the-ear headphones. People who are electrocuted through their headphones have universally been electrocuted through earbuds, which have metal pieces that are in direct contact with the skin of your inner ears.

    This allows direct conduction of electricity straight to the brain should the unspeakable happen. While it is rare to be electrocuted in this way, it does happen.

    To prevent even the remotest possibility of this, the safest thing to do is use headphones that go over the ears, rather than inside them. This will inhibit a deadly shock. 
  • To be absolutely safe, just abstain from using headphones while your technology is charging up. Using a piece of technology while it’s charging causes it to charge more slowly and less efficiently anyway, so the best thing to do is just wait. 
  • Make sure that the wiring in your home is safe. If you are constantly throwing breakers or losing outlet capability, you might have some faulty wiring in your walls.

    Faulty wiring can lead to surges and short circuits, and these are dangerous in combination with any tech that is attached from the wall to your head.

    If you suspect the wiring of your home is faulty at all, absolutely do not use headphones while charging your tech. In fact, if you suspect your wiring is faulty, get it checked immediately, as it can also lead to fatal electrical fires. 
  • Do not leave live laptops on a soft surface like a bed while you have headphones connected into them (or ever). Laptops need good ventilation to prevent overheating, as overheating can cause an electrical surge that may lead to a fire or electrocution. 

Charging Laptops with Headphones Is Safe! Just Use Common Sense

There’s no doubt about it, electricity is a force to be reckoned with–almost nothing in the world can kill you as quickly, and once you’ve been struck by a strong electrical current, there really isn’t much anyone can do for you. 

You shouldn’t worry about being electrocuted by your headphones, however. As long as you take some simple precautions, using headphones while you charge your laptop is safe.

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