Frugal Living 

Batteries Don’t Dischange Equally

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Batteries!My good friend Dave recently emailed me something fascinating about how he goes through batteries like crazy. He has a daughter and many of her toys are battery powered, not to mention remotes and a host of other battery powered devices and appliances. The other week he managed to mix up some “good” batteries with fully discharged ones and, rather than recycle the entire bunch, he opted to test them… and discovered something very surprising:

I was thinking of you recently when I discovered a super easy way to be frugal… I have discovered that batteries (AA, AAA, C, D) in devices don’t all discharge at the same rate – I bought a battery tester a couple of weeks ago because I had accidentally mixed a whole bunch of batteries that were both good and “bad”. I thought that I had about 10 bad batteries out of the 20 I tested (10 were completely unused) but in reality, of the 10 that were “bad”, only 2 were fully discharged. The other 8 were still between full and half charged and as long as I removed the “dead” batteries, I could still use all the other batteries I had that I had origially planned on recycling.

For most folks, it probably wouldn’t matter all that much (ever little bit helps though) – how often do you change the batteries in your remote controls, etc? However, as a parent of a 2 year old, I use batteries like they were going out of style – I’m pretty sure every toy she owns makes some sort of noise or lights up and I go through batteries by the truckload. As it turns out, I tested batteries from several of her toys and as a general rule, only one or two of the batteries had an charge lost and the rest were almost full.

To take it one step further, and to the point of probably being a cheapskate, I’ve started pulling batteries out of some of the battery “recycle” bins they have here at work and I’ve found the same thing – almost all of them are almost fully charged still and only a few have been completely dead. I get past the cheapskate part by thinking that I’m saving the environment one battery at a time (even though they are in theory going to be recycled).

I bought my charger at Radio Shack for like $8 and I’ve seem them online as cheap as $4-5, and so far it’s been a great investment…

While saving money is great, it’s even better than you are using batteries to their fullest extent. Batteries are notoriously caustic little buggers, so if you can use them up 100% (or as much as possible) before you recycle them, it’s much much better for us all. My wireless mouse’s batteries just went “dead” and when I checked the rechargeable batteries, only one was fully discharged (the other was near 100%!). I wouldn’t be surprised if there were more “pairs” of batteries being discharged one battery at a time.

(When it comes time to dispose of them, be sure to recycle them – Bestbuy takes batteries at a kiosk in their entryway)

(Photo: tomblois)

{ 22 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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22 Responses to “Batteries Don’t Dischange Equally”

  1. cubiclegeoff says:

    I always suspected this but never felt like trying to figure out if it was true. Good to know though, since things like remotes definitely don’t need as much battery power as electronic toys, and so you can just switch them. However, your stash of not useful for most things, but useful for some, may become overwhelming and you won’t use all of them.

  2. Brandon says:

    I have heard rumor that you should not mix batteries with a low amount of charge with fresh ones, something about inconsistent voltages. I am not sure if it is true, but it is something to research before following this path completely.

    Of course, if the one battery is at 100%…

  3. Dave says:

    Great Article! 🙂

  4. MoneyNing says:

    I always wondered why anything baby related don’t just come with a plug because they literally “eat” batteries.

    But then lately, I’ve started to use non-electronic toys for my 1 year old because I want her to learn how to play with toys instead of having the toys just do its thing with my baby watching it.

    A side benefit is a drastically reduced my battery expense!

    • cubiclegeoff says:

      I prefer wooden toys and non-electric toys. But we didn’t by most of the toys for our kid so we’re stuck with the noises, lights, and dead batteries.

      • ziglet19 says:

        We actually have bought almost none of the toys my son has, people love to give baby presents. The toys we’ve bought have been wooden cars and a set of stacking cups – no batteries required for those! Both we do have a lot of light-up, noisy toys that we’ve received as gifts.

    • Strebkr says:

      Plug in sounds like a great idea, but as a parent the whole “its out of batteries, we will have to get somemore” line works every time to that toy thats a little too loud and annoying.

  5. skylog says:

    interesting. i made the switch to rechargeable batteries a few years ago and could not be happier. i do not have a great need for batteries, but they take care of all of my needs. i have noticed, however, that usually when i recharge them, they are equally depleted.

    that said, i can only imagine how many batteries were mistakenly tossed away due to this. what waste.

  6. daenyll says:

    I’ve used rechargeable AA for a long time, to save money and the hassle of having to go out and replace dead ones. The cynic in me almost wants to wonder at the “designed flaw” that would lead to this excessive battery turn over as they discharge inequally, but I don’t bother with single use

  7. lostAnnfound says:

    This sounds like a good idea. I know my wireless mouse goes through AA batteries like they’re going out of style. I wonder how many I have put in the recycle bin for the yearly city pickup that have actually still been good.

    • Strebkr says:

      A wireless mouse is a perfect candidate for rechargeable batteries. You can pick up a slow charger and two batteries for $10 bucks at a Wal-Mart or staples type place. Try it out. You will be surprised.

  8. indio says:

    I cascade down my batteries as they die out. When the camera or electric toothbrush is dead, I put the batteries into my TV remote. They still work because the remote needs very little power. I have a big pile of batteries that are supposedly dead and save them up for those low power devices, like clocks or stud finders.

  9. zapeta says:

    Its strange that one battery of the pair discharges more than the other. As a kid my parents had a battery tester but these days I just throw the “dead” ones away. I wonder how many I’ve thrown away that are still good…

  10. Marilyn says:

    Fascinating. Excellent column.

    I too use rechargeable batteries but I’m disturbed to hear that they also don’t discharge at the same rate.

  11. govenar says:

    Here’s a couple links that give reasons to not mix batteries with different charges:

  12. Strebkr says:

    Every year or so I’ll pick up a pack or two of new AA batteries. If you label them with the date you can keep them in pairs to know which are newer. I use the newest ones in ‘critical’ things like digital camera, flash, etc. After so long they get relegated into the kids bin of batteries which go into high use toys, flashlights around the house, after that they go into the non critical things like remotes, thermometers. I have some that are over 6 years old and they still get the job done.

  13. ziglet19 says:

    Wow, good to know, I really plan on getting a tester. As a fairly recent new parent, I have been flabbergasted at the amount of batteries we’ve burned through. We’ve probably used more batteries in the past year than we have in the previous five years before that combined! Batteries were one cost I didn’t account for when trying to determine what our post-baby budget would look like.

  14. Traciatim says:

    Do people really use non-rechargable batteries these days? With HiMH, Low Self Discharge NiMH, and NiZN rechargeable why is there any need at all to use one time use batteries?

    • Strebkr says:

      I do still keep a few packs of normal batteries around. They have a very very long shelf life compared to rechargeable batteries. Really they are just there for ’emergencies’ when I really need a battery, but don’t have a set charged up.

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