Spill one cup of coffee and you fry your laptop. Drop your tablet while taking a photo and it can plunge to its doom. Lose your grip on a smartphone and your $1,000 device could slip through a drainage grate and disappear forever.
Most of us can’t afford to regularly replace our devices, which is why we have to take good care of them. I have tons of practical tips on my site to help. Some popular ones are how to clean your camera, improve your Windows performance and remove viruses from your iPad or iPhone.
Based on calls to my show, emails and questions posted on my site’s tech support forums, here are five mistakes people routinely make:
1. Going the cheap route
In theory, you can buy a Lightning cable at your local corner store, but many fail to acknowledge the specific charger and cable included in the box with any new device is designed especially for that product.
If you lose your charger or the USB cable gets frayed, do not buy the cheapest charger and cable you can find. The few dollars you save on a low-cost substitute will very likely negatively affect your device’s performance.
The dirty secret these one-size-fits-all charger and cable makers don’t want you to know is that often their products do not have the proper voltage needed to work with your specific device. Why does that matter? Your battery may end up not getting the juice it needs to charge fully. Worse, it may erode the battery’s life.
These cheap chargers can even be a threat to your life. Many generic phone chargers are less likely to meet established safety and quality testing guidelines than their name-brand counterparts and could lead to severe shocks and burns.
Sound extreme? Tap or click here to read about how a generic charger caused a fire in a woman’s bed, burning both her sheets and arms.
The lesson: Spend a little more on getting a replacement charger and cable from the devices’ manufacturer or certified third-party makers.
2. Being an over-charger
The newest batteries for smartphones, tablets and laptops are a vast improvement over past years — and most of them are made of high-quality lithium-ion or lithium-polymer. While it may seem counter-intuitive, over-charging your battery can damage it.
The rule of thumb is to keep your phone, tablet and laptop charged somewhere between 40% and 80%. Batteries containing a higher charge are more stressed. Tap or click here for more battery tips for your gadgets.
As for your laptop, those batteries have a finite number of charge-discharge cycles. If you frequently let your battery completely run out of juice, it affects the charge-discharge cycle and diminishes its intended lifespan. That’s why you should try to keep your battery charged to at least 40% levels.
Related: 5 signs it’s time for a new laptop
3. Forgetting to rest
Do you plug your device into the wall socket and forget about it? Fortunately, when the new generation of batteries reaches maximum charge, they have mechanisms to prevent excess charging. That holds true for tablets, smartphones and laptops.
While it’s not considered harmful to keep your smartphone or tablet plugged in all night, do try to turn them off when you can to give them a rest. A huge side benefit is that a device’s performance gets a huge boost from a power off, power on cycle.
Don’t keep your laptop plugged in all the time. Batteries can overheat and even cause fires — a remote but real possible danger.
4. Not paying attention
The latest phones are fairly rugged: tough, water-resistant and less likely to shatter when dropped. But leaving your device in a hot car or out in the sun can cause serious damage. Not only can it cause the battery to leak or overheat, but it can also cause data to be lost or corrupted.
Like those knockoff chargers, a low-quality battery can also be dangerous. In Oklahoma City, a woman left a lithium-ion battery meant for her iPhone inside her hot car. The battery didn’t just overheat; it exploded and set the woman’s car on fire. The battery was purchased from an unauthorized third-party dealer.
Extreme cold temperatures also wreak havoc on your phone. Lithium-ion batteries can stop discharging electricity in extremely cold temperatures, leading to shortened battery life, display problems and even cracking the display glass.
Related: How to fix the 7 most irritating Windows 10 features
5. Being a Pig Pen
Whether you’re cleaning your laptop, iPad, smartphone, or favorite mouse, here are a few useful cleaning items to have on hand. They’re flexible for tidying up just about anything.
- Compressed air – This is especially useful when spraying into extremely tight quarters and crevices that are difficult to reach.
- Isopropyl alcohol – Do not use household cleaning products like Windex, glass cleaner or countertop cleansers on your electronic devices. A good rule of thumb is if you would use it to clean your kitchen, it’s not appropriate for your computer or electronics.
- Distilled or purified bottled water – Don’t rely on tap water, which could potentially leave mineral spots and stains.
- Soft cloths – Try to aim for lint-free if you can, and don’t simply opt for paper towels. If you have a 100% cotton cloth, this is also appropriate, but not things like tissues.
- Toothbrush – A soft toothbrush can be used on harder-to-reach areas and with spots that need light scrubbing.
Tap or click here for the exact steps to clean vents, ports, keyboards, touchpads and mice.
What digital lifestyle questions do you have? Call Kim’s national radio show and tap or click here to find it on your local radio station. You can listen to or watch the Kim Komando Show on your phone, tablet, television or computer. Or tap or click here for Kim’s free podcasts.