How to make your batteries last longer

Photo courtesy of
Photo courtesy of

From the AAs in your flashlight to the Lithium ion in your laptop, batteries… tend to run out. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do all in your power to milk those precious power cells for all they’re worth. A few minutes of maneuvers, beyond just shutting off and plugging in, can mean a difference of hours or even years for your indispensable gadget. Here’s how to save your batteries.

Mom was right (again). Keeping batteries in a Ziploc bag in the refrigerator will extend their shelf-life. But warm them to room temperature before use. We’re talking about the Alkaline and zinc-carbon variety—the Duracells and Energizers you know and love. Electropaedia tells us that an unused battery will live 11 years at 95 degrees Fahrenheit, but can survive 37 years at 59 degrees (which the site states as optimal operational temperature). And if you’re out with your batteries on a cold day, keep them warm in your pocket before use.

From here on in, we’ll be referring to Lithium ion batteries—what probably run your cell phone, laptop and most other modern gadgets you own. First off,  if you’re not planning on using the device any time soon, it’s best to take out the battery. But storage can be tricky—Battery University recommends keeping rechargeables at 40 percent full, in a cool place. The good professors also instruct us to recharge as often as possible, but to let the battery fully discharge about one time in 30.

But the kicker: do not over-charge. From Peabody-winning videographers to teens selling cell phones, everyone agrees that over-charging your batt will kill its capacity. One reason is the “gassing” effect, where over-charging leads to increased pressure, which will temporarily increase performance but drastically shorten lifespan. Most chargers have lights or some kind of alert when the battery is full. Pay attention—most batteries will only need a couple hours to refill. Which means: don’t plug your cell phone in overnight. Instead, try plugging it in between waking up and walking out the door.

We can't all have solar-powered laptops.
We can't all have solar-powered laptops.

During Use
Take a look at these tips for maximizing your iPhone battery life that are a good lesson for your hardware in general. Most recommendations come in the form of software tweaks—lowering brightness, turning off unused features (WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS) and disabling dormant ports (USB, VGA, PCM). Laptops have programmable power settings—i.e. “on the subway,” “at the cafe” and 5 minutes’ adjustments will gain you hours of run-time. One thing to look for is opportunity to “hibernate” as opposed to “standby” for a computer.

Really homing in computers here, these ideas are centered around giving your machine less to think about. Defragging (having your computer sort out the files on its hard drive) helps with this, as does adding extra RAM (2GB or more, ideally). If you plan on accessing a CD or DVD, consider transferring the data to your computer instead, as the CD/DVD drive sucks power.

On the hardware end, Intel recommends cleaning your battery terminals every two months. Once fully discharged, wipe the metal contacts with a high-proof rubbing alcohol, let dry, then replace. Also, clean air vents and keep dust from collecting on your machine—this will keep temperature lower and the juice flowing longer. Our friends at Batt U. have given us one final bit of wisdom: your laptop has a small, non-rechargable battery inside it. That’s why you don’t lose your work when your battery fails. As silly as it sounds, keep your laptop plugged in whenever possible. A computer will live one to two years unplugged, but five to seven years plugged into the wall. For extra battery brownie points, detach your main battery (if you can) while attached to A/C power to avoid over-charging.

Batteries are complicated, fickle creatures, and the helpful resources out there are endless. We hope this starts you on the road to maximum power.


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