Is It Bad to Keep My Laptop Plugged In All the Time?

A laptop, plugged in and charging.
Jason Fitzpatrick / How-To Geek

You want your laptop charged and ready to go, but you also know that charging puts wear and tear on the batteries in laptops, smartphones, and other portable devices. So where does that leave you? How should you leave the laptop on the charger, let it run down, or do something else entirely?

First, Accept There’s No Perfect Solution

Before we dig into the ins and outs of laptop batteries, optimal charging strategies, and what laptop manufacturers have to say about it, we’re going to echo a sentiment we frequently share regarding smartphone battery life.

Batteries are, ultimately, consumables. Just because the battery in your phone or laptop might last years before you need to replace it doesn’t change the fact that it was never intended to last forever.

It has a finite number of charge cycles—usually between 500 and 1,000—and from the moment you start using your device, you’re shortening the battery’s life. In a perfectly optimal scenario, your laptop battery would never be too warm (high temperatures degrade lithium-ion batteries) , rarely charged above 80% or discharged below 20%, and you’d never leave it dead in your laptop bag or charging for months at a time.

While it’s good to do things to extend the life of your battery—and we have plenty of tips for extending the battery life of your Windows laptop or MacBook—we’d encourage everyone just to use their laptop how they want.

Further, battery technology (and the hardware in the laptop that manages the battery) has improved tremendously over the years. Don’t let a bad experience with a laptop battery ten or fifteen years ago color how you use your laptop today. We know the laptops we used in the 2000s had terrible battery life no matter what we did, but the laptops today are much more forgiving with a longer lifespan. There’s a good chance you’ll replace your laptop before the battery health is degraded enough to be a noticeable problem.

But, with our encouragement to just use your laptop and enjoy it out of the way, let’s look at things you don’t need to worry about, things you should pay attention to, and some simple tips.

Don’t Worry About Overcharging Your Laptop’s Battery

There is a persistent myth that you can overcharge a laptop battery and, through that overcharging, damage the battery. There are many ways to decrease the lifespan of your battery (like leaving your poor laptop to roast in your car on a hot day), but overcharging isn’t one of them.

Even ancient laptops have built-in protection against overcharging and potential damage caused by packing too much energy into a battery that can’t hold it all. You can certainly damage a laptop with a cheap out-of-spec or damaged charger, but plugging it in with the original charger or a high-quality replacement won’t turn your battery into a lithium-ion fire bomb.

When your laptop battery reaches 100%, it stops charging, and it won’t resume charging until the battery level drops below 100% again. While this can lead to a pattern of the battery discharging slightly and then getting topped off again (which can degrade the battery over time), it won’t overcharge the battery and damage it.

Take Advantage of Laptop Smart Charging Features

Many modern laptops support smart charging features designed to protect the laptop’s battery and extend its life.

MacBooks have a feature called Battery Health Management, which is very similar to the Optimized Charging feature on iPhones. When active, the feature will learn your daily usage patterns and wait to fully charge the battery until shortly before you usually take it off the charger.

That works well if you plug your MacBook in to charge every night and then take it off the charger to go to work or class. If you have a less predictable schedule or hardly ever take the MacBook off the charger, it’s less useful.

Windows 11 laptops have a feature called Smart Charging— a separate feature from Windows Battery Saver mode—that works slightly differently. Instead of trying to optimize charging times to only charge your laptop battery to 100% right before you need it, Smart Charging prevents your laptop battery from charging to 100% to help extend the battery life over time. Smart charging is implemented on a device-by-device basis by laptop manufacturers, so search the support page and documents for your particular model for instructions.

Additionally, many laptop manufacturers, like HP, Dell, and ASUS, have company-specific battery management tools (some of which work with Smart Charging, some of which predate the feature) that let you configure similar battery management rules using either Windows software or BIOS settings. Using these settings, you can instruct your laptop hardware to not charge the battery past 80%, for example, no matter how long it’s on the charger.

Remove the Battery to Avoid Heat, If You Can

If you’ve noticed a theme in our comments on battery life so far, there are two clear threats to battery longevity: excessive charging and excessive heat (which can go hand in hand).

Laptops with removable batteries are increasingly rare these days as companies design slimmer and slimmer laptops, but if you have a laptop with a removable battery, it’s worth pulling it from your laptop when you’re using the laptop as a desktop computer substitute. Pop the battery in when you’re actually out and about at a coffee shop or meeting with a client, but remove it at home.

If your laptop doesn’t have a removable battery, you can still do your best to keep it cool by using it and charging it on a laptop stand to help dissipate heat (and save your neck and back too).

Discharge Cycles Can Help “Calibrate” the Battery

Putting your laptop through an occasional full charge cycle can help calibrate the battery on many laptops. This ensures the laptop knows exactly how much charge it has left and can show you an accurate estimate. In other words, if your battery isn’t calibrated properly, Windows may think you have 20% battery left when it’s really 0%, and your laptop will shut down without giving you much warning.

By allowing the laptop’s battery to (almost) fully discharge and then recharge, the battery circuitry can learn how much power it has left. This calibration process won’t improve the battery’s lifespan or make it hold more energy—it will only ensure the computer is giving you an accurate estimation. But this is one reason you wouldn’t to leave your laptop plugged in all the time. Unplugging it and using it on battery power might show you incorrect battery life estimates and die before you expect it to.

Should I Keep My Laptop Plugged In All the Time?

At this point, you might be left wondering exactly what you should do with your laptop: leave it plugged in, only plug it in to charge, or some carefully balanced mix of the two with an eye on battery percentages and such.

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of clear guidance on the matter. Many laptop manufacturers simply don’t address the topic with a clear-cut answer (or at all). Apple used to advise against leaving MacBooks plugged in all the time, but their battery advice page no longer has this piece of advice on it.

If you dig around in HP’s help files, you’ll find a Q&A about laptop battery charging where they acknowledge exactly what we’ve talked about here—that charging your battery adds wear, there’s no way to avoid it, and keeping it partially charged significantly extends battery life. Overall, their advice is to charge your battery as little as possible. That’s technically accurate advice but a bit impractical in the real world.

You’ll find other manufacturers will either skip over discussing the unpleasant truth that laptop battery lifespans are finite or give similar best-use-case (but not very practical) advice. Dell, for example, recommends you unplug your laptop when it is done charging and only charge it when the battery falls below 50%.

Our advice to you, tempered by realistic expectations for what people will actually tolerate and do under real-world conditions, would be to charge your laptop as little as is practical for the way you use your laptop.

For example, if you only use your laptop when working away from home (and otherwise use your desktop computer) then it makes sense to charge the laptop to around 70-80% and then leave it, shutdown fully, off the charge in a sort of storage mode waiting for your next trip to the coffee shop.

If you use your laptop off the charger every day, then it makes sense to charge it daily to ensure it’s ready to go for the next day. You could always opt to take it off the charger after the amount of time it takes to fully charge or use a smart plug routine to charge it for X number of minutes before turning it off for the day. But again, to emphasize a point from the beginning of the article: laptop batteries are lightyears better than they were a decade ago, and you’re probably not going to get a huge return on your investment micromanaging your laptop battery.

Finally, if you rarely take the laptop off the charger or use it away from home, it’s probably not worth stressing about elaborate charging routines and battery optimization strategies. If you have a gaming laptop that sucks down so much power that you pretty much need to keep it plugged in to enjoy it, there is no sense in stressing about the battery health over years of gameplay.

Your laptop will continue to work, plugged in, even if the battery health is absolute trash. At that point, it’ll be no different than a desktop computer plugged into the wall for continuous power—and if that’s how you’ve been using it for years, then it hardly matters if the battery isn’t in optimum shape.

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