The Inside Buzz on Batteries

By Mary Hunt

February 17, 2021 4 min read

Little things mean a lot — like the two words "batteries included." Just knowing they're in there somewhere means less hassle and one less thing to buy. But face it. The initial powering-up of a battery-operated device is a minor concern. It's the cost of keeping it going for years to come that should be considered.

The commercials are compelling, but can they be trusted? Does a copper top really make a difference? Is Energizer the heavy artillery of battery power? Is heavy-duty superior to alkaline? Are el-cheapo, generic batteries evidence that you get what you pay for? Is heavy-duty superior to alkaline?


Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports Magazine, concluded that when it comes to single-use batteries, the alkaline and lithium varieties are by far the best performers. Even the most expensive heavy-duty battery cannot compete with the cheapest alkaline or lithium.

So, the conclusion is clear: Buy alkaline, which is cheaper than lithium, and buy according to price, not by brand. Go for the store or generic brands, and when you find them on sale, stock up.

Retailers such as Costco, Target and Walmart don't own their own battery factories. They contract with the biggies such as Rayovac, Eveready and Duracell. Private-label batteries are typically the exact same product as the national brands; only the label and the price are different.


Alkaline batteries have a life of about five years. However, they lose power slightly when not in use. That is why you should always look for the latest "best if used by" date code.


It's not exactly a myth that storing batteries in the refrigerator will preserve their energy, but it's close. Tests indicate chilled batteries have only a slight, if any, increase in life expectancy over batteries stored at room temperature — no more than 10%.


Even the best rechargeable NiCad batteries do not perform as long on a single charge as the same number of single-use alkaline. However, for power-hungry items such as CD players, games and other items that get lots of use, rechargeables make a lot of sense because they can be recharged hundreds of times.

Rechargeable NiCads are not recommended for low-drain devices or passive applications such as smoke detectors and alarm clocks.

Rechargeable alkaline batteries, which are less expensive than NiCads, lose significant capacity with each recharge and have a life expectancy of only about 25 recharges.

Safety tip: Experts say we should install fresh batteries in smoke detectors and security systems every six months. But don't throw the old batteries out. They likely have lots of life remaining, especially if they are alkaline, and will work well in your remote control, pager, toys and flashlights.


All batteries should be recycled to keep them out of the landfills. Home Depot stores have collection bins. Or check with your county government about other collection facilities in your area.

Mary invites you to visit her at, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at, "Ask Mary." Tips can be submitted at This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of, a frugal living blog, and the author of the book "Debt-Proof Living."

Photo credit: PublicDomainPictures at Pixabay

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