Reviving old batteries – how to recondition batteries?

Reconditionin batteries can save you a few bucks and you will also save the environment at the same time

You can find a lot of websites on the internet that falsely claim that it is easy to restore any type of battery and battery reconditioning is without doubt a thing, that can be done by anyone. However, they can’t provide any information or any effective method about how to recondition batteries.

Moreover, there is also a lot of skeptical information that it is not possible to restore a dead battery. With all this compromising information it is difficult to find out the truth.

Because you are here, reading this article, I assume that you already seen this type of information that I mentioned before. I hope that your enthusiasm of restoring batteries isn’t gone? Don’t worry, I will help you to find the real situation with batteries recondition!

Benefits of battery reconditioning are obvious – you will save some money (even a decent amount if talking about car batteries), while also saving earth, as it costs a lot of natural resources to manufacture batteries and supply the demand.  

Because I am number one fan of the earth and want to make as less harm as possible (or maybe I just want to save a few bucks by not buying new batteries, who knows), I made a research to find out is it really possible to recondition a battery.

Not all batteries can be revived

Sad news here for you, not all batteries can be ressurected from the dead. There are no miracles, and there is no secret method of how to recondition batteries.

BUT. The truth about the batteries reconditioning is somewhere in the middle. It depends what do you call reconditioning. If we are talking about reviving battery that was left discharged for a long period of time, it can be done. But if we are talking about an old battery that was used repeatedly, nothing is timeless.

There are so many different battery types, that it is stupid to state that it is not possible to restore any batteries, or that all batteries can be revived. Some batteries can be reconditioned, but with other types, when it is dead, it is dead.

There are near hundred different types of batteries , so this fact alone illustrates that there is no one universal truth, when answering a question about restoration of batteries.

The fact itself can be iliustrated when understanding how many different type of batteries are there. You can even make batteries from dead frogs, lemon or potato. By the way, I don’t advise you trying to recondition frog batteries 😊.

The picture below will help you to understand the most common types of batteries:

There are primary cell (non-rechargeable) and secondary cell (rechargable) batteries

As you can see, batteries can be organized into two categories: non-rechargeable and rechargeable.

Into non-rechargeable batteries category falls alkaline batteries that are widely used in household gadgets like MP3 players, digital cameras, toys, flashlights, wall clocks. There are also rechargeable alkaline batteries, but these are not that popular as NiMh batteries (a type of rechargable batteries).  Another energy source, lithium batteries, are also used in portable gadgets, kitchen gadgets like electronic scales, etc.

Rechargeable batteries are the ones, who can be recharged many times, so these batteries are used in majority of electronic devices or in the electric vehicles (like Tesla cars). Pros of the rechargable batteries are obvious – it would be too expensive to use non-rechargeable ones in smartphones, laptops or cars.  

Car batteries obviously falls into the category of secondary cell (rechargable batteries). These batteries produce high current needed for car starter to start an engine. Majority of the vehicles still uses lead-acid batteries, that were invented in 1859. That’s right! Batteries that are used in todays vehicles were introduced 160 years ago. That’s a really mind blowing fact.

Another widely used portable energy source is Lithium-Ion batteries. These batteries supply energy to most of the electronic devices like smartphones and laptops. As I already mentioned, even electric cars like Tesla Model 3 or Nissan leaf uses li-ion batteries.

NiMH (nickel metal hydride battery) have the same size as alkaline batteries, can be found in AA/AAA size, so it can be used everywhere, where alkaline batteries fits. That means majority of home electronic items uses these batteries.

So, what batteries can be reconditioned?

Let’s talk about every type of the batteries that I mentioned. While for some I found some methods how to recondition batteries, there are also types of batteries that can’t be restored. You might think that it is not possible to recondinion non rechargable batteries, but after making a research I found out that it is possible.

Alkaline: I can cheer you up, even though usual alkaline batteries are primary cells and are not supposed to be recharged, it can still be recharged and used by the help of special charger.

Revived batteries won’t hold that much energy that the new ones, but it’s still better to restore them than throw it as a waste.  

And I am talking here about the non-rechargeable batteries that are widely used, quite popular and you probably have a lot of them used in common gadgets or tools (flashlights, kid toys, etc.). These are most common with the sizes of AA/AAA.

Caution: do not try recharging them with regular charger. It can explode. And sadly, I can assure this from my own experience ☹. I wrote an article about how alkaline batteries could be reused (and how I accidentally exploded my own batteries).

Lithium: lithium batteries can be used in hand watches, electronic gadgets, small scales etc.  I am not talking about the lithium-ion batteries, that most smartphones or laptops uses, but about the smaller batteries that are also known as button cell batteries.

Technically it is possible to recharge those. However, if you would try charging them, it can be dangerous (it might explode). Lithium itself is highly flammable. 

Also, don’t try using the cell batteries charger because they are devoted for lithium-ion batteries, not for the regular lithium ones.

Even though it is possible to recharge them physically, lithium batteries won’t hold the same amount of energy that the new ones. Comparing to the new batteries, reconditioned lithium batteries will hold about 20% of the original energy amount. It is not worth the risk especially when there are no special chargers for them.

If you are into tech, you can watch this video that shows how can button cell batteries be recharged with the Arduino microcontroller

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XHJ2Up3U9AQ

Lead-acid: lead-acid batteries are often used in vehicles, but it doesn’t mean that it is used only in motor vehicles. You can also find smaller packs of batteries, that are called SLA (sealed lead-acid). SLA can be used for any purpose, for example, supplying energy to robots, battery operated toy vehicles, or for any electronics project.   

Is it possible to revive an SLA battery? Short answer is if it is really dead, then you can’t do anything about it. Well, technically it is possible to restore them, but it is not cost-effective and can’t be done at home.

But there are some ways to give the battery a short breath (like when using Epsom salt).

However, if the battery is “dead” because you left the light of the car on for the night, I have some good news for you. In such cases battery can be restored. I made a research about different methods for restoring cars’ battery,

Lithium-ion: you can’t open it as a lead-acid batteries and fill Epsom salt as with the lead-acid batteries, but you can still extend the lifecycle of Lithium-ion battery. For some of the batteries special chargers might do the work.

These batteries age even when they are not used, so if you keep it unused for a few years, it will hold less power than before. While NiMH or lead-acid batteries can be reconditioned, you can’t say it about lithium-ion. 

Of course, there are different methods, some involves freezing the battery. They can help awaken the sleeping li-ion battery (it falls asleep when stays discharged for a longer period of time). You can read about it here.

NiMH: these batteries can also be revived. The trick is to run a deep charge cycles which will restore the lost potential of the battery. Usually special chargers are being used for this purpose, but there are also different charging methods. Some of them take less time but still are effective. More about it here.

When batteries can’t be reconditioned?

Obviously, nothing is eternal. The same is with the batteries. If you are using the same battery repeatedly, after some time, the only choice will be to throw it away, because it won’t hold the energy same amount of energy it used to. You won’t find any methods of how to recondition batteries, if the batettery is really dead.

When the battery is used over and over again, the time will come when it just won’t work perfectly (it will hold much less energy that it used to). The reason for different battery types are slightly different, but in short, battery will die when the chemical reaction, that produces electricity completes.

To illustrate this process, I will use the example of how lead-acid battery works.

Explanation about how lead-acid battery works

I am definitely not an expert in how the lead-acid battery works, and honestly I don’t understand everything about all the chemical reactions that happens inside lead-acid batteries, but I will do my best to explain you what I understand myself.

There you can see an inside view of the car battery. Lead-acid battery is made from 6 individual cells. Every cell produces 2.1 volts, all of them combined makes total of 12.6 volts. In every section there are positive and negative lead plates. All the plates are immersed in a sulfuric acid solution.

The chemical reaction happens inside the lead plates and acid inside the battery, which creates electrons. This is how energy is being created. So, the energy produces during the chemical reaction.

However, after a while active material depletes and positive lead plates expands. Many reasons could be the cause of death of the battery. The electrodes could be broken, bad chemistry could be happening between components, physical damage. And changing all the plates is unpractical.

The thing about battery is, that when frequently used, corrosion between plates will happen. In this situation battery can be reconditioned by changing the acid. In my article about car batteries that I mentioned before, I explain how to do it.

AA/AAA batteries (NiMH or NiCd) aren’t also immortal. In many cases, various methods that involves recharging can help resurrecting the battery, but the time will come, when it won’t help. Every discharge cycle shortens lifespan of a battery.

What to do with the batteries that cannot be reconditioned?

If you did your best to restore a battery, tried different methods but it still has no signs of life, you can’t do much about it. Just move on, buddy ☹. You probably should search for a new one.

There is no reason to keep the old batteries (especially the car batteries, which take additional space in your garage and has no practical use). Making something out of dead batteries like a sculpture also is a bad idea. Eventually they leak chemicals and do harm. Art of batteries is just not worth it.

The only choice is to get rid of them. Just don’t dispose them as any regular waste, because they contain hard metals and toxic substances. It might reach a water and make a harm to the environment, and potentially to people.

The best way to prolong the lifespan of batteries is to take care of them properly

As with anything in life, the best way to solve a problem is to prevent it happening. If you take car of your batteries it will last much longer. It means charging them when it is necessary to do it, and not when the battery discharges for example, only 10 %.

You also shouldn’t let the batteries to become completely discharged. Especially when talking about car batteries, discharging can even kill it.

If you learn how to recondition batteries, you will save some extra money

If your batteries shows no signs of life, doesn‘t mean they are dead. In many cases, battery can be restored, and its lifetime could be expended. By understanding when the battery is really dead and when it can be restored is very important. Most of the times there is no need to get rid of the batteries, because it can be revived. With different methods it is simple how to recondition a battery even at home.

If you are really interested into reviving the old batteries, I suggest you reading my other, more specific articles about how to recondition batteries, that I mentioned in this article . You can find information about reviving the most popular battery types. If you know how to recondition a battery, you can always save a few bucks. There are effective methods how to do it, and they don’t demand special skills or a lot of time.

I also advise you not to experiment by using not suitable chargers or trying to charge the batteries that can’t be charged. Also, be careful when dealing with any type of batteries, don’t forget that it is explosive material. And make sure you use a special equipment if dealing with lead-acid batteries. Stay safe!

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