One of most prolific advice sites on the Internet, Snopes.com, relates in its very popular “Old Wives’ Tales” that storing batteries in the refrigerator, contrary to popular belief, is a bad idea. Arguing with popular media is not easy, but publishing facts is a rather weighty responsibility, and I’d like to set the record straight. This is not some minor issue, because misinformation here is causing a great deal of pointless environmental fallout.
To rely on battery companies for unbiased advice about how to maximize battery shelf life is naive. I have now read five “expert articles” on this subject and all have used company claims as their major evidence. In fact, all of chemical science tells us that shelf life will be greatly extended by refrigeration — when done properly. I estimate that keeping batteries in the refrigerator should wildly extend shelf life. For companies to argue that “self discharge” of alkaline batteries at 1% per month is slow enough not to need refrigeration, is to forget that we need 0.6 volts to saturate a transistor. This means that even under ideal conditions, and relying on the battery companies’ own claims, alkaline batteries may be unable to drive most electronic devices after five years. More practically speaking, we see that when 1.5-volt batteries go down to about 1.1 volts they must be replaced. That’s only two years, by this measure.
How much money would the battery companies lose if consumers new they could make them last 70 years instead of only 5? Theoretically, lowering the temperature of a battery 40 degrees F could increase their shelf life 16 times. But if we can make costly, environmentally problematic batteries last even twice as long, we should do it.
Here are some tips I follow:
- Freezing can definitely disrupt batteries both physically and chemically, one valid concern stated in the articles. This is because liquids expand when frozen, and the chemical contents of batteries are gelatinous. Keep batteries in the door, farthest from areas of the refrigerator prone to freezing.
- Although refrigerators are natural dehydrators, the temperature changes can cause condensation. Keep all batteries well-wrapped in plastic.
- Don’t expect batteries to operate at full steam right out of the fridge. Cooling slows the chemical reaction that creates electricity. If they don’t seem to work, let them sit for half an hour to come to room temperature. “Reduced performance when cold” was the only viable claim of the several that the battery companies make, easily overcome with this simple solution.
- Cold objects accumulate condensed moisture from the air as they warm up, the other valid concern stated in these otherwise dubious articles. But if you install immediately, assuming your device has a battery cover, ambient moisture should have difficulty entering and accumulating on the contacts where it counts. If you leave them out on the counter to warm up, wipe carefully before installing. Better might be to let them warm up in a plastic bag. But I would just put them in and use them, as I have for decades.
Because Snopes.com, How-to Geek, and other presumably impartial sites have become amplifiers for corporate misinformation, the entire world is now afraid to refrigerate their batteries. That’s unfortunate. I’ve posted corrections, but maybe you can help me get this out. Until impartial labs test these ideas, don’t believe everything you read!