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Leaking batteries: 3 simple steps to handle them safely

Leaking batteries: 3 simple steps to handle them safely

We have all had it happen to us. You check the batteries of your remote control or talking teddy bear and are met with a mess: white residue sticking to the batteries. If your batteries have been sitting in a device for too long, they are sure to leak.

How come batteries start to leak? 

It is mainly alkaline batteries and zinc carbon batteries that are likely to leak. This is due to the way in which they generate energy. The battery is a sort of house in which a chemical reaction takes place. Simply put, the reaction is caused by two different types of metal (+ and -) reacting to each other and generating electricity if they are connected to a device. The two types of metal don’t come directly into contact with each other, but work via a liquid conductor or “electrolyte” with which the battery is filled. It is the electrolyte that can start to leak and form white crystals on the outside of the battery.

How does that happen? When a battery is left without power for too long, or it is left empty for too long in a device, a gas forms in the battery. If the pressure of the gas becomes too great, the protective layer of the battery breaks (a deliberate choice made by the manufacturer to avoid an explosion inside the battery). This is how the electrolyte gets out and how you end up with a leaking battery.

If a toy or a device will not be used for a while, it is best to remove the batteries and store them separately.

How to recognise a leaking battery

To recognise a leaking battery, you can rely on your sense of smell and sight.

  •   You can smell a chemical smell when you open the device and expose the batteries. An undamaged battery has no smell, so as soon as you smell something, you know that you’re dealing witha leaking battery.
  • You can see a liquid or a dried white goo. This is the electrolyte that has leaked from the battery's protective layer due to increased pressure.
lekkende batterijen

What do you do with a leaking battery? Three simple tips!

Here we go: you discover leaking batteries in a device. This is what you do:

  1. First, take a few precautions:
    • Put on gloves and an apron.The chemicals may irritate your skin and stain your clothing. This can be prevented by taking these precautions. If you don’t wear gloves, you should wash your hands afterwards.
    • Ensure that the room you are working in is well ventilated.
    • Work out of reach and sight of curious children or pets.
  2. Remove leaking batteries:
    • Remove the leaking batteries from their compartments (preferably wearing gloves)
      This will not be as easy as in normal circumstances, but they should come out.
    • Put the leaking batteries in a clear plastic bag.
      This way it is clearly visible that the batteries are damaged and that they should be handled with care.
    • Immediately put the bag in a secure place.
      Out of reach of children or pets.
    • Bring the bag as soon as possible to a Bebat collection point.There are more than 24,000 collection points in Belgium. So you are sure to find one in your neighbourhood. Search here for the nearest collection point.
  3. Clean your device after removing the leaking batteries:
    • Lemon juice or vinegar.
      Dip (still wearing your gloves) a cotton swab or cloth in lemon juice or vinegar and use it to gently wipe off the white residue from the device. A tip for the real DIYer: order a fibreglass cleaning pen online to do this job.
    • Don't rush and don't scrub.
      The white crystals react to the acidic fluid and will come off after some time. Wipe it gently with an old toothbrush or a cloth until your device is entirely clean. Don't scrub too hard, as you could damage your device.

      Be careful! In some cases, the circuit board of your device may be damaged and will no longer work. In that case, you should take your device to a Recupel collection point and the battery to a Bebat collection point. 

Leaking batteries in your device? This is how you clean it:

What if a leaking battery touches your mouth or skin?

If the conductive fluid from a battery comes into contact with skin, it can cause burns or irritation. The liquid is also poisonous and must certainly not come near the mouth.

Have you nonetheless accidentally had skin or mouth contact with a leaking battery? Here is what you need to do:

  • Liquid from leaking batteries on the skin: rinse immediately with running water. Are there any visible burns? Please contact your doctor.
  • Leaking batteries in the mouth: rinse the mouth abundantly with water and contact the anti-poison centre. Is the conductive fluid still in liquid form during contact? It’s best to immediately go to the hospital or a doctor.
  • Ingested battery: do not eat or drink anything, try not to vomit and go straight to the emergency room for an X-ray. Let  the doctor know which type of battery it is.
  • Pregnancy and contact with a leaking battery: If you have had superficial skin contact with a leaking battery, there is usually no cause for concern. Wash the liquid off immediately with plenty of water. If you have swallowed the liquid, do contact your doctor immediately.

How can you prevent batteries from leaking in the future?

Take these precautions to avoid leaking batteries in the future (link in dutch):

  • Use the same brand of batteries for a single device
  • Replace all batteries in a device at the same time
  • Are you not going to use the device for a while? Remove their batteries
  • Insert batteries correctly in a new device with the negative end first, then the positive end; when removing them, reverse the order.
  • Return your used batteries to a Bebat collection point as soon as possible
  • Store batteries in a dry place at room temperature

Do batteries that don’t leak exist? Find out here (link in dutch).

How do you return a leaking battery?

You can simply dispose of leaking batteries at a Bebat collection point. For safety reasons, put them in a separate bag. 

Is it a large battery? Then take it to the recycling centre.

SOS leaking battery? That's easily resolved!

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