Ripple current is the AC component of an applied source (often a switched-mode power supply) whose frequency may be constant or varying. Ripple current causes heat to be generated within the capacitor due to the dielectric losses caused by the changing field strength together with the current flow across the slightly resistive supply lines or the electrolyte in the capacitor. The equivalent series resistance (ESR) is the amount of internal series resistance one would add to a perfect capacitor to model this.
Some types of capacitors, primarily tantalum and aluminum electrolytic capacitors, as well as some film capacitors have a specified rating value for maximum ripple current.
Tantalum electrolytic capacitors with solid manganese dioxide electrolyte are limited by ripple current and generally have the highest ESR ratings in the capacitor family. Exceeding their ripple limits can lead to shorts and burning parts.
Aluminum electrolytic capacitors, the most common type of electrolytic, suffer a shortening of life expectancy at higher ripple currents. If ripple current exceeds the rated value of the capacitor, it tends to result in explosive failure.
Ceramic capacitors generally have no ripple current limitation and have some of the lowest ESR ratings.
Film capacitors have very low ESR ratings but exceeding rated ripple current may cause degradation failures.
The capacitance of certain capacitors decreases as the component ages. In ceramic capacitors, this is caused by degradation of the dielectric. The type of dielectric, ambient operating and storage temperatures are the most significant aging factors, while the operating voltage has a smaller effect. The aging process may be reversed by heating the component above the Curie point. Aging is fastest near the beginning of life of the component, and the device stabilizes over time. Electrolytic capacitors age as the electrolyte evaporates. In contrast with ceramic capacitors, this occurs towards the end of life of the component.
Temperature dependence of capacitance is usually expressed in parts per million (ppm) per °C. It can usually be taken as a broadly linear function but can be noticeably non-linear at the temperature extremes. The temperature coefficient can be either positive or negative, sometimes even amongst different samples of the same type. In other words, the spread in the range of temperature coefficients can encompass zero.
Capacitors, especially ceramic capacitors, and older designs such as paper capacitors, can absorb sound waves resulting in a microphonic effect. Vibration moves the plates, causing the capacitance to vary, in turn inducing AC current. Some dielectrics also generate piezoelectricity. The resulting interference is especially problematic in audio applications, potentially causing feedback or unintended recording. In the reverse microphonic effect, the varying electric field between the capacitor plates exerts a physical force, moving them as a speaker. This can generate audible sound, but drains energy and stresses the dielectric and the electrolyte, if any.