Beware Alkaline Cells

Wurkkos

idleprocess

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In my experience, leakage of alkaline cells is rare, and almost never catastrophic.
In my experience, leakage is sufficiently common to be a real concern and has been catastrophic approximately a third of the time. Devices like radios with open battery bays less so - you have easy access to remove cells and clean contacts. Flashlights and devices with tubular bays much more so - even if you can remove the cells access to the far end is difficult and the corrosion may have damaged components since volume is at a premium.
 
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Lynx_Arc

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Well said.
The problem I see is I've seen dozens of threads of people wanting help to clean up alkaleakage and in the days that Mag Lites ruled 3-4 times a year we would get a thread asking for help with stuck alkaleaks in them. I've had minor leaks easily cleaned with no long term issues and leaks that were more pronounced that damaged battery contacts that I have to on occasion clean again and again to keep devices working. People pay a lot of money for deoxit to deal with alkaleakage damage and I don't like to use them in devices that any leakage would be difficult to deal with like devices you slide several batteries in a line that if the bottom one leaks you can't get to that contact with great difficulty.

Those who are lucky (for now) to have never experienced a destructive leak yet need to be warned that the odds are stacking up against that continuing for each alkaleak purchase.

Oh and to add to this I threw away an incan 2AA mag lite that the batteries swelled up in it I forgot about it. I tried every idea to try and rescue it as it did have a 3x5MM LED drop in and a rear tail clicky on it that I did keep but since I no longer have a mini mag incan for them they now sit in a drawer. I also found another mini mag 2AA left by my roommate when he moved out that also had stuck alkaleaks in it. I was able to remove the batteries but it destroyed the contacts in the head of it with corrosion so it got tossed a year ahead of the other one later found likewise.
 

bykfixer

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Oh I figured my "pro" alkaline battery stance would go over about as well as an ad for a steak joint in a vegetarian thread, but bottom line is I rarely experience leaking alkaline's.

Years ago? Certainly so, but since I joined cpf its a rarity. Any leaks at all? Yup, but as I type this it's been less than a dozen events in hundreds of lights including Maglite products.

Battery drain? Now that's a different issue I wrassle with right regular so most of the lights I keep empty are for that, not the fear of battery leak.
 

xxo

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I've had a ton of leaky duracell AAA/AA's recently - all years before their expiration date. The only ones that I have had leak that much are Chinese defiants from home depot, but all alkalines leak, so I won't use them in anything I am not willing to risk being destroyed.
 

aznsx

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I haven’t seen much leaking. It’s the terrible performance and environmental concerns I don’t like

Well, alkaline are no longer recycled in PHX. They aren't even accepted at recycling / HAZwaste sites - I checked recently. I guess there's a difference of opinion out there. I'm an 'OK' sparky on a good day, but a worthless (bio)chemist on my best day. I have no valid opinion. All I do know is that I have devices which the manufacturer will not support the use of any chemistry other than alkaline in, as I stated earlier, so I will be using some for the foreseeable future - even if I'm not thrilled at the prospect.
 
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aznsx

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I'm sure someone here knows more about batts than I do - like just about anyone reading this! I didn't major in batts, and honestly wasn't ever as interested in them as most other components; really taking them for granted all these years and treating them like little black-box components with data sheets - particularly smaller ones / 'dry cell' types. I know nothing, but thought I'd throw some questions out on the table.

Is the fundamental root cause (or causes) of the alkaline leaking essentially in the electrochemical realm, or is it rather in the physical / mechanical realm?

If the latter (physical / mechanical), is fate somewhat determined by either material / construction shortcomings / imperfections or things like manufacturing process deficiencies such as maintenance of sufficiently tight tolerances and high quality tooling and machine adjustment? If so, that would suggest a greater likelihood of variations in quality between different manufacturers, not to mention increased likelihood of 'bad lots'.

If the former (electrochemical), is it possible that there are electrochemical processes / reactions involved which render the cell more predisposed to leak over time - and if so, is it possible that such electrochemical processes / reactions are materially impacted by use pattern (or lack thereof)?

To that last part, I've noted it seems that people who use alkalines more / more often may experience less leakage incidence &/or lower levels of leakage when it does occur than perhaps those who use them less, and specifically, less often. If the root is electrochemical, does use pattern such as load level, duration / duty cycle, idle time, etc. make them more or less prone to leakage?

I'm aware of the marketing claims for 'shelf life', but let's put those claims aside completely and treat them as invalid for purposes of this discussion. If sitting around no-load degrades them, perhaps it only exacerbates the problem to ever keep a 'stash' of them as 'backup', with the preferred approach being to buy and keep only a little more than one anticipates using in the near term.

Perhaps the percentage which leak while in service do so because they're used less frequently, but perhaps it's also a combined effect of also having sat 'no load' for an extended period prior to being put in service in the first place. Could that be the case?

Somewhere in that there may possibly be a valid point, but if so I don't know where it is! I know absolutely nothing, but can only speculate. There's likely some good science / failure analysis out there on this failure mode, but I've not found time to find / read it. Maybe someone can contribute…..?

As has been discussed, these things are going to be with us for a while, like it or not, probably long after I'm gone, and most will need to use at least some of them for at least some applications. Yes, I have my L91s & L92s, use them for some apps, keep a small stash of them around, and am very thankful to have them. Most of us already use Eneloops for most everything we can, but they are simply not a perfect fit for every application, and that's unlikely to change soon. Given that, it sure would be useful to understand the enemy a little better - which is always useful in life!
 

bykfixer

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To the best of my knowledge az, as the chemical reaction occurs there is a build up of "gases" that eventually cause the case of the battery to "pop" resulting in the 'goo' that leaves the inside as a paste then hardens to a solid.

It can happen when the battery is taxed such as a powerful draw of the eletricity, seepage over time due to weak spots in the casing, heat like inside a glove box, cold too. Perhaps other reasons also.

Now I do not know if other chemestries don't "pop" the case because they don't cause the internal pressure to build or not. I do remember the term 'thermal runaway' was used to explain why vape device batteries explode. Some vape devices were/are capable of drawing dozens of amps very quickly. Those ones that the user looks to be on fire.
 

vicv

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Alkaline batteries release hydrogen gas which ruptures the case and causes the electrolyte to leak out which is corrosive. Other chemistries don't do that.
Vape batteries are just like the 18650s we use. Identical actually to an imr as that is what they are. Or an inbuilt pouch cell of a similar chemistry. Generally those users are not as careful as us and they abuse their batteries which is where their problems come from
 

aznsx

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To the best of my knowledge az, as the chemical reaction occurs there is a build up of "gases" that eventually cause the case of the battery to "pop" resulting in the 'goo' that leaves the inside as a paste then hardens to a solid.

It can happen when the battery is taxed such as a powerful draw of the eletricity, seepage over time due to weak spots in the casing, heat like inside a glove box, cold too. Perhaps other reasons also.

Now I do not know if other chemestries don't "pop" the case because they don't cause the internal pressure to build or not. I do remember the term 'thermal runaway' was used to explain why vape device batteries explode. Some vape devices were/are capable of drawing dozens of amps very quickly. Those ones that the user looks to be on fire.

Thanks. To be continued...

When a failure is inevitable, then I'll do what I can to reduce the failure rate, and where possible, mitigate its impact. 'Doing nothing' in response to failures is not an option in my world.

I believe the only single brand of alkaline cells I've ever heard anyone speak favorably of at all is Rayovacs. The next time I grit my teeth and buy some alkalines, it will be those. 1) They could possibly be better, and 2) I have no reason not to.
 

jtr1962

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As has been discussed, these things are going to be with us for a while, like it or not, probably long after I'm gone, and most will need to use at least some of them for at least some applications. Yes, I have my L91s & L92s, use them for some apps, keep a small stash of them around, and am very thankful to have them. Most of us already use Eneloops for most everything we can, but they are simply not a perfect fit for every application, and that's unlikely to change soon. Given that, it sure would be useful to understand the enemy a little better - which is always useful in life!
At this point possibly the only viable use left for alkalines (and lithium primaries) is very low drain devices. Even there LSD NiMH can typically take their place. If any higher drain device can't work with rechargeables, it's due to a poor design, not because of any inherent reason. I always try to look at manuals before getting something. If it says only use with alkaline or lithium primaries I just move on to something else.

As for leakage, that's been an issue more for the past 15 or 20 years than before. When you design for a price point, you get more failures. Before NiMH, and especially before LSD NiMH, alkalines were the only viable choice for lots of things. Sure, you had NiCd, but they were about 1/3 the capacity, and pretty expensive. They also had a propensity for developing either dead shorts or high internal impedance. For that matter, in real terms alkaline cost more back then than they do now, but at the time they got away with charging these prices simply because they had the market. At the higher prices they could make the batteries more robust. I have a Radio Shack indoor/outdoor thermometer still running on an alkaline dated October 1, 1993. Meanwhile, whenever I find newer devices where I forgot the remove the batteries, almost invariably they leaked. The leaks are due to designing for a low price point, nothing more. If the patent expires on the energizer lithium primaries and you see generic versions, those will probably leak also. The Energizer lithiums don't leak simply because the higher price they can charge for them due to the patents means they can afford more robust construction.
 

snakebite

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rayovac had a long run of leakers about 15 years ago.
like 99% chance of leakage after short usage and even still in the package.
that was a big fiasco.
a client i repaired specialized equipment for had 2 $5000 control units totally destroyed by ravovacs.
as in the leads eaten off a 300 pin asic.
the client had to sue to get the warranty honored.
 

snakebite

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duracell strikes again!
a neighbor was going to toss a honeywell cob worklight with 2 week old aa duracells burst in it.all 3 had the - end exploded.
not caring about the aa holder box i dremeled it out,installed a 3p group of 18650 from a laptop pack,and added a tp4056 board.
now its worth using.
alkaleaks permanently banned!
 

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uk_caver

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In my experience, leakage of alkaline cells is rare, and almost never catastrophic. I've had leaks, yes, but they are extremely infrequent, and a few minutes of cleanup is generally all it takes to recover. I use lithiums in devices where temperature, weight, or battery life outweigh cost concerns. Everything else gets alkalines, and it's almost never a problem.

If alkaline batteries leaked as often as CPF members profess, they would not be the dominant battery technology.
Possibly lights are particularly susceptible to damage from leaking cells, as people (especially people with a lot of lights) may have lights which are rarely used, and left with cells inside for a long time?
I used to make LED dive light inserts for friends, and I recently came across an old SL4 dive light I'd used as a test host to check the fit of the inserts, and found that cells had leaked and corroded metal contacts in places I couldn't clean (and somehow managed to leak through the bezel), wrecking the light. (I'd used Duracells as I don't have any NiMH C cells.)
On finding that, I dug out a Sabrelight I'd also used as a test host, and again found leaking cells, but luckily that was fixable, as the metal contact strip is removable for cleaning.
I've also had to use a woodscrew, hammer and pliers to remove jammed, leaking AAs from a friend's mini Maglite (which was used as a backup light, so hardly ever used, and consequently not needing regular cell replacement), and (IIRC) only just managed to get that working again.
Another friend's backup hiking headtorch wrecked from leaking cells, with a PCB so corroded that repair wasn't possible - likely not just because there had been a leak, but because the leak was likely quite old, so there was plenty of time for corrosion damage to occur.
User error, certainly, but it's easy to do if something is put away with the expectation of using it again soon, and then forgotten about.
In many other uses, alkalines are likely to get replaced before they get old enough to be more leak-prone, leaking may well be noticed relatively quickly, and in a lot of equipment, contacts are relatively easy to access and clean compared to quite a few lights, so that could be one reason comments here don't necessarily reflect the average experience of the typical alkaline user.
 

TechGuru

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duracell strikes again!
a neighbor was going to toss a honeywell cob worklight with 2 week old aa duracells burst in it.all 3 had the - end exploded.
not caring about the aa holder box i dremeled it out,installed a 3p group of 18650 from a laptop pack,and added a tp4056 board.
now its worth using.
alkaleaks permanently banned!

Why not use a USB-C port? Will probably last longer.
 

raggie33

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they cant be that bad. i think we just see more storys about them leaking is becuase every human on earth has alkilines .more people useing them mean more storys of flaws.
 

uk_caver

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As someone who uses both, but uses NiMH far more than alkaline, I have seen the occasional NiMH (usually someone else's) go a little crusty on the end, but (unlike alkalines) I've never seen one, however old, leak to the point of upchucking its contents all over the device it is inside and wrecking it.
I doubt there are many people who have a per-cell personal history of NiMH leaking anywhere near as often, or causing as much damage, as alkalines.
And that's per-cell, not per-charge-cycle, which is maybe a more appropriate comparison for non-light-duty uses.

Sure, if you use alkaline cells such that they need regular replacement, much leaking risk can be avoided, but in those uses, alkalines make no economic sense for most people.
I can understand my *parents* not wanting to be bothered with charging cells (they were teenagers during WWII), but it does mystify me when people who charge their phones or laptops multiple times per week have issues with charging NiMHs. (Is it really just down to "look at the bunny - buy more Duracells"?)

Possibly I'm *slightly* biased at the moment.
Just this week I heard a disturbingly loud bang about a foot from my less-good ear (thanks *so* much, lightning), and had a brief period of scrabbling around the mess on my workbench trying to make sure that the various Li_ion phones, powerbanks, etc weren't about to set fire to anything.
It turned out out it was just a part-used in-date alkaline PP3 (with its terminals securely taped over) where a cell had decided to spontaneously explode.
 

Coolwhite

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No way I am buying expensive lights then putting alkaline batteries in them that may be prone to leaking under certain conditions, just not worth it.
I use lithium primaries in my lights which are mostly cr123 anyway, yes they cost a lot but cheaper than replacing lights.
Some lights alkalines are unavoidable like the mag d cells that I use as lanterns in power outages, but those ones I open every couple of months to eyeball the cells so if they are going to leak then at least I may catch it before they destroy the light.
Bottom line if I buy a malkoff mdcAA, it's getting a Lithium energizer cell.
 
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