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Compare Batteries and Battery Life Questions




Battery Life
Compare Batteries - Which Batteries Last Longest
Battery Life Questions: Which Batteries Last Longer?

Depending on what you use the battery for greatly determines how long the battery will last. Some Alkaline batteries are designed to provide large amounts of power like cameras & flashlights, while others are designed to last an extremely long period of time for products like smoke detectors & watch batteries.

Important Article Read: Which Alkaline battery last The Longest Duracell, Energizer or Rayovac?

Discharge curve for Leclanche batteries

Here are some conservative power ratings for good quality alkaline-manganese

dioxide batteries available at the local grocery store.


Battery Type Typical Flashlight mAh Drain Capacity (mAh) Designed For
Typical Drain (mA)
D 1 Amp or
1000 mAh / runs for 24 hours
12000 200
C 1 Amp or
1000 mAh / runs for 24 hours
6000 100
AA 1 Amp or
1000 mAh / runs for 24 hours
2000 50
AAA 1 Amp or
1000 mAh / runs for 1 hours
1000 10
9 Volt 1 Amp or
1000 mAh / runs for 50 Min. hours
500 15
6 Volt Lantern 1 Amp or
1000 mAh / runs for 11 hours
11000 300


long lasting batteries The battery capacity will be better with lower drain currents. To determine the battery life, divide the capacity by the actual load current to get the hours of life. A circuit that draws 10 ma powered by a 9 volt rectangular battery will operate about 50 hours: 500 mAh /10 mA = 50 hours The cell voltage of alkaline cells steadily drops with usage from 1.54 volts to about 1 volt when discharged. The voltage is near 1.25 volts at the 50% discharge point. Alkaline cells exhibit a slightly increased capacity when warmed and the capacity drops significantly at temperatures below freezing. Mercury and silver oxide batteries have nearly twice the capacity as alkaline batteries of the same size but the current ratings are significantly lower. Alkaline batteries also have good shelf life making them ideal for home-made electronic projects. Rechargeable batteries have less capacity than primary cells as shown in the following chart. This chart shows the capacity as a percentage of the capacity of an alkaline battery with the same dimensions.


Why are lithium batteries better than all other batteries?


Battery Type % Capacity
Lead-acid 35
Nickel-cadmium 30
Silver-zinc 85


A new type of rechargeable alkaline battery is coming on the market at the time of this writing and may offer better price/performance than ni-cads. Ni-cad cells have a nominal voltage of 1.2 volts and are usually charged at 1/10 the amp-hour rating. The recharging takes longer than 10 hours as this charging rate might imply due to charging inefficiency. Full charging usually taking at least 14 hours. Special ni-cad cells can tolerate charging rates approaching the amp-hour rating but special chargers that cut back the charging current when the battery becomes warm are required. Lead-acid cells have a nominal voltage of 2 volts and may be charged at a high rate, typically above the amp-hour rate. The charger may be a simple current-limited voltage source supplying 2.33 volts per cell at room temperature with a -4 mv/ °C temperature coefficient.


Video: How Batteries Are Made?




Rechargeable batteries have a lower capacity than disposable alkaline batteries.

This really depends on what you are using the batteries for.  For most high drain electronic devices, like digital cameras, rechargeable batteries will continue to work much longer than alkaline batteries. In fact in devices like digital cameras, NiMH batteries will run on a single charge for 3-4 times as long as they would on an alkaline battery.

Heavy Duty, Super Heavy Duty, High Capacity, Quick Charger, Rapid Charger, Ultra, Long Life, etc.

Since there are no real industry standards, many terms used by battery manufacturers have become misleading marketing hype.

"Heavy Duty" batteries are often the least powerful batteries you can buy and some "quick chargers" can take as long as seven hours to recharge a set of batteries!

bright camping led lantern

I believe these terms didn’t start out as misleading. For example the term Heavy Duty battery was used to refer to Zinc chloride batteries which had about 50% more capacity than traditional carbon zinc batteries. But that was 50 years ago! Calling zinc chloride batteries heavy duty became misleading once alkaline batteries with 300% more capacity than zinc chloride batteries became available.

A similar situation happened with battery chargers. Originally NiCd battery chargers took anywhere from 12-24 hours to recharge NiCd cells. Later, chargers that could recharge NiCd cells in half that time were introduced. Unfortunately, calling these chargers "quick chargers" was a real disservice to the rechargeable battery industry. Anyone that purchased NiCd cells and a "Quick charger" only to realize later that a quick charge took seven hours must have been very disappointed. (I know I was.)

The good news is that it’s now possible to buy a battery charger that can recharge batteries in less than two hours, and in some cases even as fast as one hour?

Battery capacity ratings are meaningless when used to compare different types of batteries or to compare the capacity of batteries powering different types of devices.

This means that you may not be able to predict how long your electronic device will run just by looking at the capacity rating of a battery. For example AA alkaline batteries typically have a capacity rating of over 2,500 mAh and AA NiMH batteries have rated capacities of only 1,200 to 1,900 mAh. But when it comes to actually powering an electronic device like a digital camera, the NiMH batteries will often run the device for three or four times a long.

(for an explanation see Battery FAQ, Why do my alkaline batteries run out so fast?)

Even comparing the capacity ratings of similar types of batteries won’t often work since different manufacturers often measure battery capacity in slightly different ways.


Putting batteries in the freezer or refrigerator doesn't prolong their life 

Alkaline batteries stored at "room temperature" self discharge at a rate of less than two percent per year.  So normally refrigerating or freezing them will only help maintain their charge by a tiny amount.  Hardly worth the effort of chilling them.  However, if alkaline batteries are stored at higher temperatures they will start to lose capacity much quicker.  At 85 degrees F they only lose about 5% per year, but at 100 degrees they lose 25% per year.  So if you live in a very hot climate or are storing your batteries in a very hot location, it may be worthwhile for you to store your alkaline batteries in a refrigerator instead.

NiMH and NiCd batteries self discharge at a MUCH faster rate than alkaline batteries.  In fact, at "room temperature" (about 70 degrees F) NiMH and NiCD batteries will self discharge a few percent PER DAY.  Storing them at lower temperatures will slow their self discharge rate dramatically.  NiMH batteries stored at freezing will retain over 90% of their charge for  full month. So it might make sense to store them in a freezer.  If you do, it's best to bring them back to room temperature before using them. Even if you don't freeze your NiMH batteries after charging them, you should store them in a cool place to minimize their self discharge.

It's best to recharge batteries slowly.

(Not true. See next item).


Quick charging NiMH batteries will reduce their life.

CHEAP BULK BATTERIES AT WHOLESALE PRICES For practical purposes with batteries that are designed to be quick charged, for example, Sanyo, GP, POWERhaus, that is not true. It is important to use a battery charger that has been specifically designed to rapid charge NiMH cells. Actually there is a much greater likely hood of reducing the life of a NiMH battery by using an "overnight" charger than by using a smart fast charger.  Overnight chargers rely on the fact that you will unplug them after a number of hours.  If you forget to unplug them they can continue to charge the batteries longer than they should.  Overcharging WILL reduce the life of batteries. [From a strictly technical sense, a battery that is always slow charged will likely last a little longer than one that is always rapid charged.  However, the difference is so small that it is not likely to be noticeable for most  users.

A battery with a capacity of 2,800 mAh can deliver a current of 2,800 mA for an hour.

Assigning capacities to batteries can be very tricky, that's probably why you don't see capacity ratings marked on most alkaline batteries.  When powering high drain electronic devices like digital cameras, computer peripherals, or portable music players, an alkaline battery will only deliver a small fraction of its rated capacity.  A NiMH or NiCd battery is likely to deliver much closer to its rated capacity when it's powering high drain devices. This means that a NiMH battery with a rated capacity of 1800 mAh can take many more photos than an alkaline battery with a rated capacity of 2,800 mAh.


Frequently Asked Questions about  AA and AAA cell batteries


  1. Is it normal for my digital camera to use so many alkaline batteries?

  2. Why do my alkaline batteries run down so quickly when used in a digital camera (or other electronic device)?

  3. Do "Ultra" or "Advanced Formula" alkaline batteries last any longer than standard alkalines?

  4. Can NiMH batteries be substituted for 1.5 volt alkaline batteries even though they are only 1.2 volts?

  5. Which are better, NiCd batteries or NiMH batteries?

  6. Do NiCd batteries really have a memory effect?

  7. Do NiMH batteries have memory effect?

  8. Does rapid charging reduce the life of batteries?

  9. What is the shelf life of a NiMH battery? 

  10. How many times can rechargeable batteries be recharged?

  11. Does putting batteries in the freezer or refrigerator make them last longer?

  12. What about using rechargeable or renewable alkalines?

  13. What does mAh stand for?

  14. Can I substitute a higher mAh battery for a lower one?


1. Is it normal for my digital camera to use so many alkaline batteries?

Unfortunately, it is. Digital cameras use alkaline batteries at a shockingly fast rate.  (For an explanation why, see the following question). If you are using lots of alkaline batteries for your electronic devices you'll probably want to switch to rechargeable NiMH batteries ASAP. Not only will the NiMH batteries power a digital camera (or most other electronic devices) much longer than alkaline batteries will, but they are much less expensive to use. BACK TO QUESTIONS


2. Why do my alkaline batteries run down so quickly when used in a digital camera (or other electronic device)?

Alkaline batteries were not designed to meet the very high power demands of today's electronic devices.  Alkaline batteries have a high rated capacity, but they can only deliver their full capacity if the power is used slowly. (See chart).   Electronic devices such as digital cameras place a high power drain on batteries, so it is much better to use rechargeable NiMH or NiCd batteries for these type of devices.   Lithium batteries also work well in high drain applications but they are expensive and are not designed to be recharged. BACK TO QUESTIONS


3. Do Ultra or Advanced Formula alkaline batteries last any longer than standard alkaline batteries?

Yes, for high drain applications Duracell Ultra and Energizer Advanced Formula batteries do last longer than standard alkalines.  Unfortunately, they only last about 30% longer.  So instead of lasting for say 15-25 images they might last for 20-40.  That's a little better but it's still pretty poor, especially considering that these new style alkalines cost as much as $1.50 each. Rechargeable NIMH or NiCds are the better choice for high drain applications. They last much longer on a single charge and don't have to be discarded after a single use. BACK TO QUESTIONS


4. Can NiMH batteries be substituted for alkaline batteries even though they are only 1.2 volts?

Yes, for most high drain electronic applications NiMH batteries are ideal substitutes and you needn't worry about the apparent voltage differences.  Even though alkaline batteries are rated at a nominal 1.5 volts, they only deliver 1.5 volts when they are fully charged.  As they begin to discharge the voltage of alkaline batteries continuously drops.  In fact, over the course of their discharge, alkaline batteries actually average about 1.2 volts.  That's very close to the 1.2 volts of a NiMH battery . The main difference is that an alkaline battery starts at 1.5 volts and gradually drops to less than 1.0 volts.  NiMH batteries stay at about 1.2 volts for most of their discharge cycle. BACK TO QUESTIONS


There are a couple of cases where there actual voltage difference may be important to you.  In the case of a device like a radio, where a higher voltage can mean a stronger signal, a fresh alkaline battery may be more desirable -but more expensive-  than a rechargeable NiMH battery.  This is also true for a flashlight, which will be brighter with the initial higher voltage of alkaline cells.  These minor difference may not be important to you and are probably offset by the much lower cost of operating NiMH batteries.  And keep in mind that the alkaline battery only has a higher voltage when it is fully charged.  Once it gets to 50% capacity or less, it will be delivering a lower voltage than a NiMH battery. BACK TO QUESTIONS


The one time when the voltage differences of the two is important is in the case of a device checks the voltage of a battery to estimate the amount of charge left on the battery.  Because the voltage of an alkaline battery drops at a very predictable rate it's possible to estimate the amount of capacity left in an alkaline battery based solely on its voltage.  (1.5 volts - fully charged, 1.25 volts - 50% charged, 1.0 volts - almost fully discharged). But a NiMH (or NiCd) battery stays at about 1.2 volts until it is nearly completely discharged.  This makes it almost impossible to know the amount of capacity left based on its voltage alone.  (When a device that's using NiMH batteries indicates the battery is low, it's time to change the batteries now)! BACK TO QUESTIONS


5. Which are better, NiCd batteries or NiMH batteries?

For most electronic devices it is better to use NiMH batteries than NiCd batteries.  NiCd batteries use Cadmium, a highly toxic heavy metal, that can damage the environment if not disposed of properly. (They should be recycled not discarded).  NiMH batteries usually have a higher capacity than NiCd batteries of the same size.  Some people argue that NiCd batteries deliver faster discharge rates than NiMH batteries.  While this may be true under certain circumstances, the difference is not relevant when considering power sources for electronic devices like digital cameras or portable music players. (If you are choosing a battery to drive a high torque power screwdriver, then NiCds can outperform NiMH).  NiMH batteries require more sophisticated chargers than those typically us CHEAP BULK BATTERIES AT WHOLESALE PRICES ed for NiCd batteries.  But smart chargers designed especially for NiMH batteries are now readily available. BACK TO QUESTIONS


6. Do NiCd batteries really have a memory effect?

Answering this question is a sure way to start a flame war on the internet.  The simple answer is: Technically speaking NiCd batteries do not have a memory effect.  However, they do suffer from a voltage depletion or voltage depression phenomenon that most people call the memory effect.  So practically speaking, NiCd batteries do suffer from a memory effect, even if it is not technically correct to call it that.  There is a lot of disagreement in the battery industry over what actually cause voltage depression.  The phenomenon itself is very real.  If a NiCd battery is repeatedly charged after it has only been partially discharged it will develop a lower voltage and a lower capacity. Fortunately, this effect is reversible by conditioning NiCds. Conditioning is simply fully discharging the battery (down to about 1.0 V per cell) after charging it.  If a full discharge followed by a charge cycle is done several times, a battery suffering from voltage depletion (voltage depression, memory effect, or whatever you would like to call it) should be restored back to it's normal voltage and capacity.


If you use NiCd batteries you should be aware that most the problems experienced by NiCd battery users are not due to a "memory effect" but are due to overcharging or improper storage.  Overcharging is usually caused by  poorly designed first generation battery chargers.  These chargers continue to deliver current to the batteries even after the batteries are full charged.  "5- hour" and "8-hour" timer type chargers can damage NiCd or NiMH batteries if they are frequently used to charge batteries that are only partially discharged. 

The other common cause of damage to NiCd and NiMH batteries is leaving them in a device like a flashlight left "ON" after the battery has run down. Electronic devices normally switch themselves off once the battery is discharged.  But other devices like flashlights, cassette players, and many toys, will continue to put a small load (drain) on a battery even after the battery is run down.  Eventually (after a few weeks) this drain on a discharged battery will cause the polarity of the battery to reverse (the plus end actually becomes minus and vice versa).  Once this happens the battery will not take a charge again. Battery makers recommend that rechargeable batteries be removed from any devices that will not be used for several weeks or longer.

The big difference between voltage depletion, the so called "memory effect" and damage caused by overcharging or improper storage, is that reduced capacity due to overcharging is not reversible.  BACK TO QUESTIONS

7. Do NiMH batteries have memory effect?

Technically, NiMH batteries do not have a "memory effect", but strictly speaking neither do NiCds.  However NiMH batteries can experience voltage depletion, also called voltage depression, similar to that of NiCd batteries, but the effect is normally  less noticeable.  To completely eliminate the possibility of NiMH batteries suffering any voltage depletion effect  manufacturers recommend an OCCASIONAL, complete discharge of NiMH batteries followed by a full recharge. NiMH batteries can also be damaged by overcharge and improper storage (see the NiCd section immediately above this one). Most users of NiMH batteries don't have to be concerned with this voltage depletion effect.  But if you use a device say a flashlight, radio, or digital camera for only a short time every day and then charge the batteries every night, you will need to let the NiMH (or NiCd) batteries run down occasionally. BACK TO QUESTIONS

8. Does rapid charging reduce the life of batteries?

Not significantly.  So long as it is done using a properly designed smart charger, most NiMH batteries can be recharged in about an hour without any damage or significant reduction in their life. However, NiMH batteries must only be rapid charged with a charger specifically designed for charging NiMH batteries.  Chargers designed to rapidly charge NiCd batteries can overcharge NiMH batteries.  While it may be true that rapid charging NiMH batteries can reduce battery life by a small amount (probably less than 10%), this should be more than offset by the inconvenience of always slow charging batteries.BACK TO QUESTIONS



9. What is the shelf life of a NiMH battery? 

You probably mean to ask: What is the self discharge rate of a NiMH battery?  The rate of self discharge for any battery depends on the temperature at which it's stored at.  Stored at 70 degrees F (20 C) NiMH batteries will lose up to 40% of their charge within a month.  If they are stored at a higher temperature, they will self discharge at an even higher rate. Stored at a lower temperature they self discharge at a lower rate (Self discharge chart available soon). BACK TO QUESTIONS


10. How many times can a rechargeable battery be recharged?

I normally answer that question by simply saying "hundreds". The reason I can't be more precise is because this is a more complex question to answer than it might seem.  The number of times a battery can be recharged depends on how the battery is used.  An analogy that is sometimes used is to compare a rechargeable battery  to a loaf of bread.  Suppose someone asked, how many slices can be cut from a loaf of unsliced bread?  The answer, of course, depends on how thick or thin the bread is sliced. If the slices are very thin it can be cut into more slices.  The same is true for recharging a battery. Every time a rechargeable battery goes through a charge and discharge cycle it loses a tiny bit of capacity.   BACK TO QUESTIONS


If the battery is completely discharged before it is recharged, that takes a bigger "slice" of the battery's capacity, if it is only partially discharged a  before recharging, it uses up a smaller "slice". A NiMH battery can be charged and discharged hundreds of times, but whether that means 200 times or 800 times has a lot to do with how big of a "slice" you take each time.  BACK TO QUESTIONS


11. Does putting batteries in the freezer or refrigerator make them last longer?

It depends on which type of batteries and at what temperature you normally store them. 

Alkaline batteries stored at "room temperature" will retain 90% of their power for years without refrigeration. Under normal circumstances, refrigerating or freezing alkaline batteries will extend their life by less than 5%. (see Battery Myths)


NiMH and Nicad batteries, start to lose power when stored for only a few days at room temperature. But they will retain a 90% charge for several months if you keep them in the freezer after they are fully charged. If you do decide to store your charged NiMH cells in the freezer or refrigerator, make sure you keep them in tightly sealed bags so they stay dry. And you should also let them return to room temperature before using them. BACK TO QUESTIONS


12. Does rapid charging reduce the life of batteries?

cheap AA Bulk Batteries at Wholesale No.  So long as it is done using a properly designed, smart charger, most NiMH batteries can be recharged in about an hour without any damage or reduction in their life. However, NiMH batteries must be rapid charged with a charger specifically designed for charging NiMH batteries.  Charges designed to charge NiCd batteries can overcharge NiMH batteries.  Even a standard or slow NiCd charger can damage NiMH batteries. BACK TO QUESTIONS


13. What about rechargeable or renewable alkaline batteries?

Rechargeable alkalines work well for some uses but, they are not a good alternative for use in digital cameras.  They typically have an even lower capacity than standard alkaline batteries.  This means that if a standard alkaline only lasts for a few exposures, a rechargeable alkaline will last for even fewer!  BACK TO QUESTIONS


14. What does mAh stand for?

mAh stands for milli Ampere hour or milli Amp hour.  It is a measure of a battery's energy storage capacity.  If you think of a battery as a small fuel storage tank, which in a sense it is, mAh a measure of how much "fuel" the battery holds.  (This is roughly comparable to using gallons to measure how much fuel a gas tank can hold.  The more gallons of capacity,  the more fuel the tank can hold.) With a battery the higher the mAh rating the more electrical energy it can store. BACK TO QUESTIONS



While it is useful to think of mAh as being the rough equivalent to gallons, the analogy is not a perfect one.  Different types of batteries use different methods to measure mAh so comparing the mAh rating of one type of battery, say an alkaline battery to another say an NiMH battery, is not always meaningful.  However, in general, the mAh rating of a battery is a quick  way to compare the relative energy storing capacity of one battery to another battery of the same type.  BACK TO QUESTIONS long lasting batteries


15. Can I substitute a higher mAh battery for a lower one?

If the batteries are of the same type, i.e. both are NiMH or both are Lithium-ion, then you can use a higher capacity (i.e. higher mAh) battery instead of the lower one.  The reverse is also true. Using a higher mAh rated battery will allow the device to run longer on a charge.  So a camera should take more pictures and a music player can play more songs.


Keep in mind that it will take a little longer to charge a higher capacity battery. (Staying with the fuel tank analogy from above, it would also take longer to fill a 20 gallon gas tank than a 12 gallon tank).  BACK TO QUESTIONS


More Rechargeable Battery Questions Index


California Energy Commission Independent Battery Test


The True Inventor of The Radio






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