I hope you had a relaxing holiday break. I know that our house has been invaded by all sorts of buzzing, flashing, and really noisy toys. And you know what all those toys have in common? Batteries.
Did you know that most devices will stop working whenever the juice in its batteries fall by just 20%?
I'm not sure I believe it but…
… I learned about a little startup that had a product called Batteriser. They make a sleeve that goes around a battery and helps you get the remaining 80%. It's “still in development” and I'm eager to see their progress but like a lot of folks I'm skeptical (very skeptical).
(I'm very skeptical too… you know what they say about things that are too good to be true…)
Reading about it, and constantly tripping over a million flashing, singing, and rolling toys; sparked my interest in batteries.
What does a blogger do? I compiled a list of battery hacks I use to help me save money, lengthen the lifespan of our batteries, and work around incompatible battery sizes (because who wants to go to the store in the middle of the night to pick up the right battery?).
Before the hacks, we need to go through a quick lesson in batteries. Knowing how batteries work is like having a cheat code, all the hacks will make sense and you'll be able to remember them better.
Table of Contents
How electricity & batteries work in 60 seconds
This part contains a wee bit of science and it will turn you into a MacGyver when it comes to batteries.
First, electricity is the flow of electrons through a conductor, like a copper wire.
A battery has a cathode (+) and an anode (-) separated by an electrolyte. The chemical reaction in the battery causes a build up of electrons at the anode. These electrons really want to go to the cathode to balance it out but the electrolyte stops them. They go along whatever path you supply that connects the anode and cathode, like when you put the battery in a toy. Over time, anode and cathode under go chemical change and supply no more electrons.
For alkaline batteries, this chemical change creates a little bit of hydrogen gas. That gas needs to go somewhere, which is why batteries sometimes leak. After a certain time, the pressure builds and the gas needs to escape. Batteries leak because they are being drained (phantom drain) and age. A quick takeaway here is that if you are putting anything in storage, take out the batteries.
OK, now you know about batteries. Let’s get back to electricity. It’s all about voltage and amperage (current).
If electricity were like water flowing through a hose, the amperage is the diameter of the hose. Voltage is like water pressure on the one end, or how much you’ve opened the faucet.
AAA, AA, C, and D batteries are all 1.5 volts. All the same voltage.
They differ on amperage. As a result, they contain different Watt-hours (Watts is voltage time amperage) – or total amount of energy. That explains why they're different sizes too.
For the curious, this is a table listing all types and how much energy they contain.
Armed with this knowledge, the hacks below will make perfect sense.
Not all batteries discharge equally!
It might surprise you to learn that when your device is “out of juice,” it doesn't mean every battery is completely consumed. Test each one to find out which one is the low man on the totem pole, then just replace him.
You'll need a battery tester. You can get one designed to test batteries (it's only $7) or get a multimeter (costs about $10 more) which will let you test a variety of things (current, voltage, resistance, etc.) across two points.
In most devices, you put the batteries in series to increase the voltage. It's why you point batteries in different directions. (this is also why a 9V battery can be just 6 AAAs, which have 1.5 V each)
When your device stops working, you may only need to replace one battery. I discovered this happens a lot with children's toys.
Replacing one battery is cheaper and easier than replacing them all. And you might have a spare lying around but not a whole set.
You can test non-rechargeable batteries without a tester — Hold them about two inches above a hard surface and drop them. A dead battery will bounce higher than a good one. Much higher. (this won't work for rechargeable batteries)
Why does this work? Click here.
In an alkaline battery, the negative electrode is zinc and the positive electrode is manganese dioxide. It all sits in an alkaline electrolyte of potassium hydroxide, hence the name of the battery. When you complete the circuit, the zinc and manganese dioxide react to create electricity and waste byproducts. That process makes the battery bouncier because of how it changes the consistency of the inside of the battery.
Batteries are (Kinda) Interchangeable
Want to know how Cs become Ds, AAAs become AAs?
Now that we know how many batteries we need to replace, we can start MacGyvering. Since we learned how batteries worked in the beginning, we know it just comes down to size.
How to Turn C Batteries into D BatteriesIf you're in a jam and you have a device that takes D batteries and you only have C batteries, you can jury rig the C batteries in the D's place just by sticking in three quarters.
Put in the C battery and jam three quarters, which conduct electricity, on the negative or positive end, whichever is easiest. C batteries have less than half the energy capacity and discharge of D batteries but will work. Just not as long.
Bonus: AAA can take the place of AAs with a little crumpled up tin foil to complete the connection.
Turn a 9Vs into 6 AAAs
Cut it open and you'll find six AAAs inside.
Here's a video, if you are so brave:
Turn a 12Vs into 8 1.5V button cell batteries
I think you're starting to understand how this works. 🙂
Find a A23 12V battery, cut it open, and you'll find 8 1.5V button batteries inside. This one can save you a lot of money too because an A23 12V battery will run you about $1.00-$1.50 for a pair. A single 1.5V button battery will run you about $1.50 too. Buy two A23 12V batteries for $1.50 and rip them open to liberate $24 worth of batteries inside.
Get More Juice by “Rubbing” Battery Contacts
What happens when you rub on the contacts of a battery? You're not “recharging” the battery a little bit, you're just cleaning off the connection points and improving conductivity.
Remember the battery is a chemical reaction and you aren't reversing it when you rub a contact. You are just taking off any conduction impeding gunk, so the juice can flow more easily. This might get you one last press, or two, of the remote to turn off your TV. It won't give you another hour of shine in your flashlight. 🙂
Recharge alkaline batteries with other alkaline batteries
Apparently, you can recharge an alkaline battery using other alkaline batteries. Just tape them and wait a long time.
Infinite solutions! (I actually have no idea if this works but this guy feels confident it does and I love everything about that video)
Remove Batteries before Storage
Before you put any items in storage, where you won't use or see them for a while, remove the batteries. Alkaline batteries will eventually leak and damage your devices, especially if left alone for many months.
We have a seemingly unlimited supply of kids toys and as they age out and lose interest, we put them away… without batteries. 🙂
Oh, don't freeze your batteries!
I know a lot of people who store batteries in the fridge or freezer because they believe it prolongs life.
1. Is it a good idea to store batteries in a refrigerator or freezer?
No, storage in a refrigerator or freezer is not required or recommended for batteries produced today. Cold temperature storage can in fact harm batteries if condensation results in corroded contacts or label or seal damage due to extreme temperature storage. To maximize performance and shelf life, store batteries at normal room temperatures (68°F to 78°F or 20°C to 25°C) with moderated humidity levels (35 to 65% RH).
So why do people do it? Alkaline batteries self-discharge at room temperature (70° F) at a rate of 2% per year. Storing them at lower than room temperature will help, but it's only 2% per year and you run the risk of you forgetting you stored them next to the bag of salad you also forgot about.
NiMH and NiCd batteries (rechargeable) discharge much faster (some say a few percent a day) so there's some logic in storing those in the fridge, but here's why you shouldn't. Extreme cold can cause the seals on the battery to leak. The moisture in the fridge isn't great for the metal parts of the battery either. Finally, you should bring the battery up to room temperature before using. You might as well just charge the batteries before you need them.
Armed with this new found power, go forth and conquer the world!