How to clean and dispose of corroded batteries

Everyone has to deal with a leaky battery at some point. You open the battery compartment for a remote or other device you haven't used in months only to find a crusty, chalky substance encrusted on the batteries and the surrounding area. 

A leaky battery can cause skin irritation, so it needs careful handling. But why do batteries leak anyway? Can you recycle corroded batteries, and how can you clean battery corrosion when you find it?

Why do batteries leak?

Let’s get the most obvious question out of the way first: why do batteries leak? Alkaline batteries generate power through chemical reactions within the battery cell. These reactions create hydrogen gas, which is usually not a problem. If too much gas develops, the battery cell ruptures, releasing the white sticky substance we call battery acid.

Under regular use, an alkaline battery will not leak. Manufacturing defects can cause leakage, but by far, the most common reason for leaky batteries is a lack of use. When batteries sit in unused devices for long periods, hydrogen can build up in the battery cell until the pressure causes the battery’s insulating seals to breach. The gas is harmlessly released, but the rupture also provides an exit point for the battery cell’s chemical components. 

What is Battery Acid?

Alkaline battery leakage is potassium hydroxide, and it’s an alkaline, not an acid. So why call it battery acid? The term comes from the sulphuric acid used in lead car batteries, which is much more toxic.

While you need to handle potassium hydroxide with care, the chemical is easy to neutralize, after which you can clean battery corrosion from your devices safely. 

How to Avoid Leaky Batteries

Proper storage is the best way to prevent battery leakage. When batteries are stored loose they can come into contact with other batteries and metal items, causing power generation within the battery cell that leads to hydrogen build-up. The best way to store batteries is to keep them organized in a box like the Better Battery Company’s subscription box, where each battery is isolated in its own cozy compartment. You can also take the following steps to reduce the risk of battery leakage:

  • Alway use the same type and brand of battery for devices requiring multiple batteries. Mixing alkaline, recyclable, and lithium batteries — or even the same kind of battery from different brands — results in whichever battery is strongest discharging faster, increasing the possibility of battery leakage. 

  • Remove batteries from any device you don’t use often. 

  • Remove batteries from devices with AC adapters when the adapter is plugged in. 

  • Avoid storing your batteries in areas of extreme heat and cold. Storing batteries in the refrigerator will not make them last longer. Instead, the cold reduces battery lifespan and increases the risk of leakage. 

  • Do not put old batteries and new ones in the same device. 

How to Dispose of Batteries that are Leaking

Leaking batteries are not safe to use, but you don’t want to throw them out. Too many batteries end up in landfills, where they leak their contents into the environment. Instead, put the leaky batteries in a plastic bag and drop them off at a recycling facility. For batteries greater than nine volts, you should put clear tape over the battery terminals to prevent the battery from generating heat, leading to fires. 

Can you recycle corroded batteries?

Corroded, leaky batteries require special attention but can be recycled. The U.S. The Department of Transportation requires special packaging and handling requirements for corroded, leaky batteries. Call2Recycle, our recycling partner, offers a service for the safe transportation of leaky batteries.

Defective and recalled batteries also require special handling and shipping requirements. Better Battery Company provides shipping services for batteries identified by the Consumer Product Safety Commission as defective and will replace such batteries at no cost. 

How to Clean Battery Corrosion in Toys and Remotes

Knowing how to clean battery corrosion in remote controls, toys, and other devices helps you salvage electronics before battery leakage ruins them. To clean battery corrosion safely, you’ll need the following:

  • Rubber or latex gloves

  • Eye protection

  • Cotton swabs

  • An old toothbrush

  • Vinegar or lemon juice

  • Baking soda

Choose a well-ventilated area for cleaning. Put on gloves and eye protection to prevent irritation caused by contact with potassium hydroxide and take these steps:

  1. Remove batteries and recycle them properly.

  2. Dip cotton swabs or the toothbrush in vinegar or lemon juice. 

  3. Scrub the corrosion with the swab or toothbrush to remove as much as possible.

  4. For remaining corrosion, mix a small amount of water with baking soda. Put this mixture on your swab or toothbrush and scrub again. 

  5. Use a damp cotton swab to wipe away residual baking soda. 

  6. Let the device dry completely before inserting new batteries.

If some of the battery leakage does make contact with your skin, flush the affected area with water. 

Fortunately, most batteries never leak, especially if they’re packaged and stored correctly. If one should leak, though, now you know how to handle it!

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