Electrolytic capacitors can withstand for short instants a reverse voltage for a limited number of cycles. In detail, aluminum electrolytic capacitors with non-solid electrolyte can withstand a reverse voltage of about 1 V to 1.5 V.
Solid tantalum capacitors can also withstand reverse voltages for short periods. The most common guidelines for tantalum reverse voltage are:
- 10 % of rated voltage to a maximum of 1 V at 25 °C,
- 3 % of rated voltage to a maximum of 0.5 V at 85 °C,
- 1 % of rated voltage to a maximum of 0.1 V at 125 °C.
These guidelines apply for short excursion and should never be used to determine the maximum reverse voltage under which a capacitor can be used permanently.
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What you're talking about mostly happens in ac where for a short period of time a reverse voltage is applied and then a positive voltage immediately after that to reverse the small damage.
Reverse polarization does not occur so fast enough to damage the capacitor permanently. Time for it to get damaged depends on the reverse voltage applied, size of the capacitor and the material used for the dielectric and the electrodes.
Generally when used in ac, most common application being the filter, I have not see capacitors sustaining damage sufficient enough to interfere with the operation. Capacitors are used in filter in dc chargers and we use them every day, and they work for years. When used in such applications, there could be slow damage and oxide layer could form, but no hindrance in the normal operation.
Although, frequent transient voltages can damage the capacitors quite fast. That's why, always when turning off any device, turn down the volume, switch off the device and then remove the ac power plug.