Battery Corrosion: Dangers, Prevention and Safe Disposal

Have you ever found the battery compartment of a remote control or flashlight packed with crystallized corrosion? While battery corrosion is relatively uncommon, it does happen. Corrosion is most common among alkaline and sealed-lead acid batteries, but even nickel and lithium-ion batteries will corrode under the right circumstances. How do you prevent battery corrosion, and more importantly, is corrosion dangerous? Let us answer your questions about corrosion, prevention and proper disposal so that you can get the most out of your electronics and the batteries that power them.

How Dangerous is Battery Corrosion?

While touching battery corrosion isn't life threatening, it does present a potential health hazard. Potassium hydroxide makes up most of the corrosion typically found on alkaline batteries. With other types of batteries, the corrosion is a lead salt, such as lead sulfate. Handling these compounds can cause skin irritation, and if it gets into your eyes, it can cause lasting damage.

When handling corroded batteries, always take preventative measures. If you must touch the corrosion, wear latex gloves and avoid touching your face until you've washed your hands thoroughly. You may also consider wearing safety glasses, especially if you need to use aggressive measures while cleaning corrosion out of a battery compartment.

Take Steps to Minimize the Risk of Battery Corrosion

The two most common things that cause corrosion are neglect and improper handling. Here are a few ways to prevent battery corrosion:

  • Clean battery contacts every few months with an eraser or soft cloth.
  • Keep batteries and battery-powered equipment at room temperature – not in a hot car or in the refrigerator.
  • Make sure your batteries stay dry. If the battery casing becomes rusty, it could start to leak.
  • Never charge non-rechargeable batteries; this is one of the easiest ways to make a battery leak or start to corrode.
  • Dead batteries are more likely to corrode – remove them from your devices promptly and recycle them properly.

Sometimes corrosion is the result of using different battery types in the same device. Most people assume that since all AA batteries look the same – alkaline and rechargeable batteries, like nickel cadmium and nickel metal hydride – it is acceptable to use any combination batteries. The problem is that rechargeable batteries like nickel metal hydride and nickel cadmium have different chemical compositions from alkaline batteries, which can lead to a corrosion-causing chemical reaction.

The Right Way to Dispose of Batteries

Depending on the laws in your state, there are only a few legal ways to dispose of your batteries. Don't simply throw your spent batteries in the garbage. Batteries contain heavy metals and other compounds that will seep out of the landfill, polluting ground water, nearby crops and more.

There are several places you can look for information about battery recycling in your area, including:

  • Your city or state's environmental department for a listing of battery recycling locations.
  • Local retailers that sell batteries. Many retailers offer free in-store battery recycling stations
  • Call2Recycle's website for a comprehensive list of recycling stations near you.

Our battery recycling page has a number of resources available as well. If you have concerns about how to properly dispose of batteries, be sure to stop there!

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