How to Store Batteries for the Long Term

How much do you know about long-term storage for household batteries?  Until I started prepping, I did not have a clue.  Even after I started to prep, I was unsure, although it did make sense to store batteries at room temperature, not too hot and not too cold.  Still, when the topic came up while out with friends, some wise guy mentioned keeping batteries in the freezer and I was lost.

Shortly after that, I check snopes.com and learned no, batteries should not be refrigerated or frozen.  Snopes is not always correct so I decided to ask my pal Ron Brown for his opinion.  Ron is a retired industrial engineer and my go-to person when it comes to this kind of thing.

How to Store Batteries for the Long Term | Backdoor Survival

Rather coincidentally, he told me he had already 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 testing.  You might be surprised.  Or not.

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 stored them in the refrigerator. Later, when I mentioned this to a college roommate, I was informed that HIS grandmother went a step further. She used the freezer for battery storage.

As preppers, we should probably all know the answer to this question: Can we extend the shelf life of a flashlight by storing batteries in the refrigerator or freezer? 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 battery life 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.

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. In regards to 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 about this test was that refrigerated batteries lasted just as long in real use as the room temperature (or better) batteries.  I am still wrapping my head around that since doesn’t an automobile battery discharge itself more quickly in the dead of winter than the heat of summer.  Perhaps it is my imagination, perhaps it has to do with chemical reactions in a sealed-lead acid battery. (Sealed-lead acid is what you find in a car battery).

Also, the idea of condensation and chemical reactions 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 website 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.

and

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.

At the end of the day, I do concur with Ron.  Refrigerating household batteries is a waste of both time and refrigerator space.

On a similar note, as much as it makes sense to store household batteries for emergency preparedness purposes, nothing beats using rechargeables. 

My favorites are the  but I also have had good luck with the Amazon Basics brand here. What I like about these batteries is they can remain fully charged and ready for an extended period of time without discharging themselves.

Because I tend to forget to charge up my drawer full of batteries, this is a huge plus.  I can plug in my charger and have a marathon charging session and I am good to go for a long, long time.

What About The Other Battery Types?

It’s worth noting that the experiment could be repeated with different types of batteries. For example:

  • Nickel-cadmium batteries, nickel-metal hydride (nimh batteries) or other nickel-based batteries  These are usually rechargeable batteries, but will they hold a charge longer under different scenarios?
  • Lithium-ion batteries (also known as li-ion batteries). These lithium batteries are usually rechargeable batteries, but the same thought process can be applied to estimate how long you would last without a battery charger.
  • Deep cycle batteries. These batteries have a higher voltage and are used in vehicles. They are built to discharge deeply, using most of their capacity like most cycle batteries.
  • Alkaline batteries. Would the temperature fluctuation change the chemical reactions in alkaline batteries that give them so much power? Is there a difference between non-rechargeable batteries and chargeable batteries?

If you test them, let me know!

The Final Word

It was fun to get all of the benefits of the battery storage test with none of the work. I know I’ll be reserving my fridge space for distilled water and provisions. My thanks go 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.

Of course, those of you that have been around for awhile are familiar with Ron and his 5-part Propane for Preppers Series as well as his series of books on Non-Electric Lighting.  He really knows his stuff!

Bargain Bin:  Today I present a few lighting and battery options.  A lot of people don’t realize that prices of certain batteries are cheaper at Amazon than Costco.  I don’t know how they do it.  A good example is the Maxell CR2032 lithium batteries.  I paid almost $5 for a pack of two locally, making a pack of 5 for less than $3 an amazing deal.

Preppers Holiday Gift Guide | Backdoor Survival

Amprobe BAT-250 Battery Tester:  I do not know anyone that is sorry they purchased or gifted an inexpensive battery tester.  Mine sits in my desk drawer and is used 3 or 4 times a week.  This newer version is an upgrade from the BAT-200 and well worth the additional dollar in cost.  I  especially like the redesigned side cradle that holds batteries securely in place during testing – no more erratic battery readings from movement off contacts.

Panasonic Eneloop AA Pre-Charged Rechargeable Batteries:  These days, I use Eneloops as much as possible.  They hold a charge forever, or so it seems, and work well in flashlights and small electronics. I also use the Amazon Basics brand and will purchase those if the price is less.  I have done a lot of reading and, to the best of my knowledge, they are an Eneloop twin, branded by Amazon.

Ultra Bright LED Lantern – Collapsible:  I admit to now owning 3 of these collapsible lanterns. It uses 30 different LEDS and is powered by 3 AA batteries, including rechargeables.  Instead of a switch, you turn it on by extending the lantern from its collapsed condition.  With a lifetime warranty and over 8,000 close to perfect ratings, I can see why this is popular.  Currently $9.99 with free Prime shipping.

BYBLight TML-T6: This flashlight is extremely bright, casts wide angle and, when zoomed, a very focused beam.  I swear that if there were a rattlesnake out in the desert outside my back yard this flashlight would find it.  It’s a sturdy thing with an aluminum casing that is not at all heavy.  It has 5 built-in modes including the standard high, medium, low plus a strobe and SOS mode. It includes a rechargeable battery and a charger plus an adapter to hold AAA batteries.

Just to see it stacks up with my other favorites, here is a photo showing the differences in size and form factor.

BYB Flashlight 250

Cyalume SnapLight Green Light Sticks: These are fantastic.  Each lightweight stick glows for 12 hours. They are well priced and hold up well, even when packed around in a pocket or handbag.  For more information about glow sticks and chemical lighting, read 10 Reasons to Add Glow Sticks to Your Survival Kit.

MPOWERD Luci EMRG Inflatable Solar Lantern:  This is the original Luci EMRG Solar lantern. I have put mine through its paces and it is one tough cookie.  It has weathered both a wind storm and rain storm while hanging outdoors for a month.  Lightweight, waterproof and shatterproof, Luci EMRG provides ultra-bright, reliable light to guide your way indoors and out, through blackouts or extreme weather conditions. Plus, solar batteries and solar panels are a renewable energy source, so you can’t go wrong there.

Luci EMRG 250_18

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  1. Due to the chemical processes that take place in a lead acid automotive batteries they don’t work well in extreme cold.Also engines don’t crank as easily in cold weather. Not a good combination. In the winter in Indiana I would take my battery in the warm house at night so my car would start in the morning.
    From what I have read the Lithium Ion batteries like in your cell phone or your Prius aren’t as cold sensitive as lead acid but they are somewhat more self destructive.(Samsung s7 note recall)

  2. Man! I wish he had doe the test with Alkaline batteries. I don’t know anyone that uses carbon/zinc anymore unless they came with the flashlight. Alkaline so have a totally different chemistry.

    1. Zinc-carbon (General Purpose) and zinc-chloride (Heavy Duty) batteries hark back to the World War II era. They are still used today. The Dollar Stores are full of them. Alkaline batteries were introduced in the 1960’s; they cost more and last longer. The conclusion that freezing or refrigeration is not worthwhile applies to alkaline batteries as well as the earlier types. You can, of course, always perform your own tests.

      HOWEVER, with that having been said, rechargeable batteries DO benefit from freezing. “At room temperature, NiMH and Nicad batteries begin to lose power within a few days of being charged. But they’ll retain 90% for several months if kept in the freezer. Just don’t neglect to warm them up to room temperature before using them.” — from “The New 2000-Hour Flashlight” by yours truly; Foreword by Gaye Levy; only 99 cents on Kindle from Amazon; also in paperback; wadda bargain . . .

  3. I think I’d like to vote for you as the “Most Practical and Informative Survival Blogger”!

    You have the best articles and suggestions. Keep up the good work and best wishes for your interstate move – not the easiest thing to do.

    1. I agree with Barbara! The more use the better …for here. We put batteries to work around here quite often…especially in the winter…Spring…Fall…., when power, more than likely fails…and sometimes Summer. 😉

  4. I had heard that about refrigerating batteries but had never done it because around here the batteries disappear at an amazing rate! I actually have to hide them away and dole them out as needed. Lol Oh the joys of living with grandkids. Thanks for the info.

  5. A decade ago I bought packages of Ni-Cd batteries when the Ni-MH came out, and they hold a charge forever. A pair of D cells I kept in a LED flashlight, which got used infrequently, lasted over 2 years before I had to recharge them. In fact, I left it on overnight to drain them completely, and it took ten hours.

  6. Thanks for another informative article. I would add only one thought. I would not let the load tester have the final say so in regard to if a battery is good or bad. Also in some applications a battery is put under a significantly large load and quits working but will still function fine under a smaller load. It is helpful to own a few junky, cheap, not to bright LED flashlights that don’t require too much current to kill those half dead batteries.

  7. In the last 4 days I’ve (& Beloved) been paring down our supplies and REALLY getting them organized so there isn’t anymore “Well, I put it in a safe place, or in one of the bags, and now I can’t find it”. Also questioning our battery supply & the devices which need certain batteries (most are AA), and once again Gaye writes an article pertaining the very thing we’ve focusd on. I do believe you’re a mind reader, Gaye. Thank you for being so on top of things right when we need additional verification. We do trust your opinion. Yall Be Blessed & Be Safe..

  8. Gaye, IF it’s not too much trouble, OR causes you any expense, could you add an UP button to your site? I read your articles then read all the way to the end of the comments several times. I also bookmark the majority so I don’t lose any of the good stuff I’ll need over & over. An UP button would save time in scrolling or pulling the page to the top again, and again, and again… I know, I know..Sounds like laziness, doesn’t it?! I don’t know about anyone else, but I usually have 10 or more tabs open at once and find the ‘speediness’ of an UP or To the Top button so helpful.

    1. The redesigned site is currently in its testing phase so I will need to wait until the next round of changes to see if this can be done. Thanks the the suggestion.

  9. I know you push the rechargeables, but the Duracell and even Kirkland (house brand) batteries at Costco (AAA,AA,C, D, 9V) all now come with “shelf life dating” of over a decade. Hard to beat that at whatever temperature.

    1. I store both kinds because Duracell or whatever brand alkaline batteries are just convenient for everyday use and I don’t have to worry about the nephews throwing out my rechargeables once drained. But post SHTF the rechargeables rule. My enerloops can be recharged 2100 times. So if I charge them every other day they will still be good after 11 years of use and recharging. The alkaline batteries are only good once….for room in my prepping stores the enerloops are the best deal. Although I have enough alkaline batteries that I could barter with them for other goods….

  10. It’s great to know how to store batteries long term. We want to buy them in bulk to keep in our emergency packs. It’s good to know that using the fridge doesn’t really make a huge difference. I’ll remember that.

  11. I really like your warning to avoid storing your batteries in the fridge. My brother is planning on moving out on his own soon, and he has a lot of electronics that require batteries. I will be sure to tell him that if he buys any replacement batteries, he should avoid storing them in the fridge. http://sheltonbatterylv.com/

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