Storing Household Batteries for the Long Term

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household batteriesAs we were sitting around with friends a few weeks ago, the subject of household batteries came up.  My husband said “Gaye, we really need to stock up on batteries”.

Ha ha I responded and took him to my storage area (which he is not allowed to touch or it will get messed up and disorganized) and pointed to a large stash of AAs, AAAs, D-sized, C-size and the often overlooked 9-volt batteries.  (And why do people forget to stock up on those)?  I also pointed to a year’s supply of hearing aid batteries.

Following that, the topic turned to battery storage and while I am not an expert on all things electrical, it made sense to me that batteries should be stored at room temperature – not to hot and not to cold.  There is always a wise guy around though, an someone brought up keeping batteries in the freezer.

I didn’t have a clue but I did check that said no no – batteries should not be frozen (or refrigerated for that matter).  Still, I wanted, some first-hand anecdotal feedback on the matter so I asked Ron Brown, a retired industrial engineer and my go-to person when it comes to this kind of stuff.

Rather coincidentally, he had recently performed a battery test using standard run of the mill flashlights and run-of-the-mill carbon zinc batteries.  Here are the results of his test.

Flashlight Batteries – To Refrigerate or Not to Refrigerate

I had a childhood friend that, when he needed flashlight batteries, got them from his mother who retrieved them from the refrigerator. Later, when I mentioned this to a college roommate, I was informed that HIS grandmother went a step further. She kept unused batteries in the freezer.

As preppers, we should probably all know the answer. Can we extend the shelf life of flashlight batteries by refrigerating or freezing them? What do you think?

One thing is certain. If you freeze or refrigerate batteries, you must let them thaw for a couple of days and come up to room temperature before using them. Your car battery, for example, might crank on your hard-starting car for 15 minutes in the summer before dying but only two or three minutes in the winter. Cold saps a batteries’ strength dramatically.

But that’s in use. In storage, cold will slow electrical activity (leakage, in the case of batteries) and, in theory, stop the battery from running down. Or slow the battery from running down. Nothing will stop it completely. “All energy systems run downhill,” as they say.

As a child, comparing the performance of my flashlight to my friend’s flashlight (equipped with refrigerated batteries), I never saw much of a difference. But what if I conducted a controlled experiment? Would refrigeration make a measurable difference?

So, a while back I went to the store and bought six “D” batteries. They were neither dollar-store cheapies nor expensive alkaline batteries. They were Eveready-brand carbon-zinc batteries. I marked the date on the packages and put two in the freezer, two in the refrigerator, and two in the cupboard over the kitchen stove. Because of cooking heat, the last two were slightly above room temperature, both summer and winter, for the duration.

flashlight battery test (2)       flashlight battery test (3)

After two years, eight months and three days, I decided it was testing time. So I laid all the batteries on the dining room table for two days to thaw out and equalize in temperature. As regards the batteries stored above the kitchen stove, I really thought that they would die after just a couple of hours.

I tested them all simultaneously, side by side. I used three Rayovac-brand flashlights, all purchased at the same time, all equipped with standard bulbs (not LED, not Krypton). The flashlights were carefully labeled as to which batteries they contained.

The first thing that impressed me – amazed me, really – was how long the batteries lasted. When first started, they all appeared to give off the same amount of light; they were of equivalent brightness. After SIX HOURS they had all dimmed and needed replacement. SIX HOURS of continuous burning after 2.5 years of storage! I had expected two or three hours.

At the end of six hours they were all burning with equivalent brightness but had all dimmed. I would have been somewhat reluctant to have gone to the mailbox or out to the barn with any of them.

At the end of eight hours, they were all down to glowworm status. At this point the room-temperature batteries gave only a pinpoint of light and the refrigerated/frozen batteries a brighter glow.

BUT, as a practical matter, they all reached the end of their useful life at the same time (six hours) at which point they had equivalent brightness. You could have switched the labels around on the flashlights and no-one would have been the wiser.

I concluded that attempting to extend battery shelf-life by refrigeration was, and is, a waste of time. And that’s worth knowing, is it not? This was not, and is not, armchair theory. This was a real test with real batteries. If you repeat the test, you can expect the same results. Call it the “scientific method” in action.

Checking this out further

One thing that surprised me abut this test is that the refrigerated batteries lasted just as long in real use as the room temperature (or better) batteries.  I am still wrapping my head around that one since doesn’t an automobile battery discharge itself more quickly in the dead of winter than the heat of summer.  Perhaps that is my imagination.

Also, the idea of condensation would seem to be a detrimental factor when it comes to cold storage.  Here is what Energizer has to say:

“Storage in a refrigerator or freezer is not required or recommended for batteries produced today. Cold temperature storage can in fact harm batteries if condensation results in corroded contacts or label or seal damage due to extreme temperature storage. To maximize performance and shelf life, store batteries at normal room temperatures (68°F to 78°F or 20°C to 25°C) with moderated humidity levels (35 to 65% RH).”

The Energizer web site included some other tips.

When stored at room temperature (i.e. 70°F/ 21°C), cylindrical alkaline batteries have a shelf life of 5 to 10 years and cylindrical carbon zinc 3 to 5 years. Lithium Cylindrical types can be stored from 10 to 15 years. Prolonged storage at elevated temperatures will shorten storage life.


A battery tester (loaded voltmeter) is a simple and effective way to determine if a battery is “good” or “bad”. Most testers place an appropriate load on the batteries and then read the voltage.  A voltmeter without a load can give very misleading information and is not recommended for this purpose. Note that testers are typically not capable of providing reliable run time estimates.

Now just like week I had watched my brother test the batteries in my Kaito radio with such a gizmo.  That got me thinking that I should get an inexpensive tester myself (see this TEKTON Battery, Bulb and Fuse Tester for $7).

Covering All of the Battery Bases

As much as it makes sense to store batteries for emergency preparedness purposes, nothing beats using rechargeables.  My favorites are the Sanyo eneloop’s (about two dollars each, sold in packs of 4 or 8) because they hold a charge forever.  That means that they can sit all charged up and ready for an extended period of time without discharging themselves.  For me, this is a huge plus.

Sanyo eneloop        Sanyo eneloop_1

The other thing that should be in your survival kit is a solar battery charger.  They aren’t expensive and give you a bit of backup power just in case you need it.

The Final Word

It was fun for me to get all of the benefits of the battery storage test with none of the work. My thanks goes to Ron for his willingness to share his work with my readers.  He seems to have this intuitive sense of knowing the answers to my questions before I even ask.  Pretty cool.

Finally, no article about lighting for preppers would be complete without mentioning chemical lighting.  Light sticks are inexpensive, easy to use, and safe for children to use as well.  Consider adding some to your kit and storing some in bedside drawers, automobile glove boxes and anywhere else you may get caught unexpectedly in the dark.

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!


Bargain Bin:  Today I present a few lighting and battery options.  A lot of people don’t realize that price for certain batteries is cheaper at Amazon than at Costco.  I don’t know how they do it.  A good example are the Maxell CR2032 lithium batteries.  I paid almost $5 for a pack of two locally. Amazing.

Solar 11-in-1 Battery Charger:  This is a universal charger that does what it is supposed to do. It uses sunlight to generate a current that charges pairs of batteries in sizes AAA, AA, C, or D and works great with my favorite eneloop batteries.

Sanyo Eneloop 1500 Super Power Pack:  This kit has it all, including 12 AA, 4 AAA, 2 C and D Spacers, a 4 position charger and storage case.  This is the kit that I own.

Sanyo eneloop 8 Pack AA Rechargeable Batteries:  Just the batteries.  Any by the way, they charge up just fine with a standard battery charge – it does not have to be a Sanyo.  Can you tell I love these guys?

Chemical Light Sticks:  Pick you size (length) and pick your color.  Just be aware that if color does not matter, some colors are cheaper than others.  Be sure to read Lighting Your Way With Chemical Lighting.

Shop the Emergency Essentials Monthly Specials: The monthly specials at Emergency Essentials feature discounts of up to 35% off sometimes a bit more. Even if you are not ready to buy, take a look at their robust list of Food Storage Recipes – yours for the taking.

The goal with these recipes is to help you rotate and take advantage of your food storage on a daily basis – not a bad idea if I do say so myself. One other thing. The recipes can be printed or saved in a PDF so they can be saved on your hard drive.

ice cream (Custom)Specials this month includes Freeze Dried Ground Beef, Mountain House Cinnamon Apple Dices, Neapolitan Ice Cream Slices and a six piece Entree Variety Combo. This combo pack includes MH Lasagna with Meat Sauce, MH Beef Stew, MH Chicken A La King, MH Turkey Tetrazzini, Sweet and Sour Noodles with Beef and Spiral Pasta Primavera. The price for all six is $144.99 about a 30% discount.

preparwise logo (mine) (Custom)Now I know there are a lot of diehard Emergency Essentials fans out there but I also want to ask you to consider Legacy food products from Preparewise. Not only are they 100% GMO free, but they are lower in sodium, have fewer artificial ingredients and just taste good. More on that later – just wanted to give you a heads up and a link if you want to give them a try.

Oh, and by the way, shipping is always 100% free. One of my favorites is the Legacy Foods “Beans & Rice Enchilada” meal.

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Storing Household Batteries for the Long Term — 10 Comments

  1. Excellent information. Thanks. It’s a good idea to have devices (radios, etc.) that use the commonly available battery sizes. Batteries may be a good barter item, too.
    As for alternative light sources, you might want to try UV PaqLites at because these light sources don’t need batteries and are readily recharged in daylight. Their cards, sheets and tubes make good night lights and trail markers, inside or outside.

  2. It’s useful real-world experiments like these that I do appreciate. I used to store batteries in the fridge with the expectation that it would prolong battery life but recently came to the conclusion that it does not and, besides, I needed my fridge space. 🙂 Thanks, Survival Woman, for doing something I’ve been meaning to do myself.

  3. Gaye,
    great topic. I too have been thinking about batteries, and didn’t really want to spend a firtune on regular batteries. I met a woman yesterday in town who had recently signed up for your newsletter. She had ready yout article in the san juan islander. I didnt get her name, but have sern her around town before. I told her I knew you and thought you posed the info in a way that didnt overwhelm people. it was nice to know someone local is doing the same as us. Thanks for what you do.

  4. Your flashlight test was valid for 6 batteries at room temp – presumably around 68 – 70 degrees F. And it appears that cold storage didn’t harm their life. But you then question why it seems a car battery doesn’t crank as long in winter if your test results showed no difference, even though you had already stated that using one cold will kill it more quickly.

    The reason is that your car battery in winter isn’t sitting at 70 degrees. It’s maybe 25 or so F, give or take what – 15 degrees for most of the US. So do your flashlight test again, but use the batteries straight out of the freezer and fridge, and then compare them to the ‘warm’ ones. That way you should see a result similar to your car battery in winter.

    • Actually, a car battery acts different because it works on a totally different chemistry than the Ni-cad or alkaline cells. It is designed to supply hundreds of amps rather than milli (1/1000) amps. In addition, the load in a car, that is turning an engine over rapidly, is tough in the summer, but at very cold temps, the engine load substantially increases due to thicker, more viscous oil and grease in a hundred different locations throughout the engine. As to taking the batteries out of the freezer, either leave them sealed in the package until warm or else wrap them in a paper towel or something until room temp to keep the humidity off them. The very cold surface will immediately condense moisture all over the battery surface, which is a good electrical conductor (remember “never plug something in while standing in a puddle”). Until the battery dries, it is shorting itself out through the moisture from terminal to terminal, effectively shortening its useful life.The same is true if for some reason the batteries get frosted up while in the freezer.

      • John,
        What you said about the more viscous fluids etc making it hard for the battery to start the car in cold weather is only a small part of the problem.

        The actual problem is that the battery, from its first use, slowly begins to lose its ability to maintain the amperage needed to start the car in bad weather like it did when it was new. Thats why you can buy a new battery in the winter the problem disappears. Notice the label on the battery that says XXX cold cranking amps. You can take a battery that wont start your car and measure the voltage and it will probably say 12 volts but its the amperage that needs to be checked.

        That’s why the batteries come with a warranty which guaranties output, volts and amps, for 3 to 5 years. You can see the amperage loss even in the summertime by the dimness of your headlights at night with an old battery. Failure to change the battery can result in damage to your alternator which is more expensive to replace than a battery.

    • Lithium batteries are supposed to be good down to -30 degrees. Non lithium batteries tend to go dormant in the 30 degree range.

  5. Thanks for this. Cold temperatures slow down the rate of chemical reactions, which is why car batteries, especially old ones, have a hard time in the winter. I assumed it the same thing with smaller batteries. Although, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Car battery technology hasn’t changed much in the last 60 years while I’m sure that can’t be said for other batteries.

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