Thursday, October 18, 2012

Battery Problems

I had the occasion recently to need a flashlight.  The one that was most available was the Maglite that I keep under my bed where I can easily reach it if it's needed in a hurry.  Retrieving the flashlight I pushed the on/off switch and nothing happened!  Removing the end cap I peered into the battery chamber and was disgusted to see a large accumulation of corrosion.  It was so bad that I couldn't even get the batteries out!  The Maglite was ruined.  Well, this got me started on a search for all of my other lights to check them out before I ruined any more.  By the time I was done I found two others that were in bad shape.

And then I got thinking about all of the other electronic equipment that I own that is powered by one sort of battery or another - cameras, GPS receivers, compasses and headlamps for example.  What kind of condition were they in?  What started as a need for a light turned into an all-day campaigned to checkout all of my gear.  Like a lot of people I suspect, I had fallen out of the habit of removing the batteries from my electronic equipment when I wasn't going to be using it for a while.  In the end I ended up damaging three flashlights, one point-and-shoot camera that I hadn't used in a couple of years and a calculator!

Looking into the "leaky battery" syndrome a bit further I found out that it's not a good idea to mix brands of batteries.  It doesn't appear that one brand is any less likely to leak than another.  Leave them in a flashlight long enough and eventually they all leak.  Following that thread a bit further the manufactures recommend not mixing batteries with unknown charges remaining in them.  Despite spending several hours rummaging around on the internet I could not find any practical way to clean the battery compartment well enough to completely eliminate the corrosion problem.  This is especially true of most flashlights - it is impossible to clean the bulb end of the battery tube.



  1. this has happened to me and the idea is a sound one !!

  2. [ Posted by Cullen ]

    Hi, Peter. I've had that happen and also hate the feeling of ruining electronic goods.

    I use dry cotton swabs to clear the excess potassium hydroxide (leaked from the batteries) from those hard-to-reach coils. After that, I dip a new swab in vinegar and then give the device another round. I then use another swab with water on it to get the vinegar out. If it's really messy, put on some gloves and protective goggles, if you have them, since losing your eye to a leaked battery is not a champion's cocktail tale.

    If the flashlight looks pretty gone, there's no further harm in half-filling the battery compartment with vinegar and then scrubbing it with a narrow baby-bottle brush. Maybe soak a few minutes before going at it. (Just don't use the brush with baby bottles in the future...)

    If a battery is glued in there from the leak, I have heard that pouring Coke into the flashlight will eventually dislodge it, but I haven't tried it.

    And that's all I've learned about leaking batteries.

  3. I found a great trick to keeping batteries in the actual device but keeping leaking from happening over long periods of inactivity. I cut a small round of thin plastic (the cheap tupperware you get with lunch meat is a good thickness) and place it in between the battery and connector to stop the phantom flow of electricity that circulates even when you aren't using the device. Just remove the plastic piece when you are ready to turn it on! I haven't had an issue since starting this.