Disposable batteries are often the longest-lasting option for low-drain electronic devices. They may also be required on some devices.
We often suggest purchasing rechargeable AA and AAA batteries as they are much cheaper than traditional disposable batteries. But there are several situations where disposable batteries are preferable. In fact, some devices require disposable batteries.
rechargeable vs. Disposable: What’s the difference?
In terms of basic usability, rechargeable and disposable AA batteries are not that different. They are the same shape and size, and offer a similar capacity. Therefore, most people use these products interchangeably.
But on a chemical level, disposable batteries are very different from rechargeable batteries. And the idea is pretty straightforward: Alkaline batteries can’t be charged, but lithium-ion batteries can. And of course, alkaline batteries tend to leak when left unattended. (Lithium-ion batteries can also leak, but only when they’re faulty or abused.)
Still, the most important difference (at least for this article) is the self-discharge rate of alkaline and lithium-ion batteries.
Self-discharge describes how a battery drains on its own, even when sitting on a shelf or in a drawer. Alkaline batteries only lose about 3% of their charge per year, so they have a fairly low self-discharge rate. But lithium-ion batteries self-drain at a rate of 5% each month (and in many cases, I would consider that a conservative estimate). An alkaline battery can hold its charge for nearly a decade, but a rechargeable AA can run out after a year or less.
I must also mention disposable lithium batteries. The main selling point of lithium batteries is that they are quite temperature resistant and can hold a high voltage right up to the point where they are depleted (alkaline batteries start to “fade” as they are depleted, which can cause problems in some electronic devices). lithium batteries they are not the same such as lithium ion batteries. And while we’ll primarily be talking about disposable alkaline batteries in this article, we’ll occasionally mention disposable lithium options.
Low consumption devices last longer with disposable AA
Just a few decades ago, the vast majority of battery-powered electronic devices used disposable alkaline batteries. And it was an expensive headache: Power-hungry devices like portable game consoles or CD players could drain a set of batteries after just a few hours.
These power-hungry electronic devices are now powered by built-in rechargeable batteries. It’s a serious convenience, and it’s an even bigger money saver.
But some newer electronic devices, specifically low-power devices like clocks and TV remote controls, still use disposable AA and AAA batteries. And this is for good reason: disposable alkaline batteries have a much lower self-discharge rate than their lithium-ion equivalents. If a product needs to last several months on battery power, disposable batteries are often the best option, as they are capable of staying put without losing charge.
And, in some cases, you may choose to use disposable batteries in your power-hungry devices. Maybe you pick up your old Game Boy only a few times a month, for example. If you expect the Game Boy to still have a charge after sitting down, disposable batteries are your best bet. (Note that alkaline batteries will leak if left unattended for too long.)
Just to be clear, disposable and rechargeable AAs tend to have similar capacities. If you put them both in a device that consumes a lot of power, like a Game Boy, they will die at the same time. It is the low self-discharge rate of disposable batteries that makes them ideal for low consumption electronic devices.
And this is really a matter of preference; If you want to avoid buying new batteries, or if you’re concerned about the environmental impact of disposable batteries, go ahead and use rechargeable AA or AAA batteries in your low-drain devices. But you can’t use rechargeable batteries in everything.
Some products do not work with rechargeable AA
If a product runs on disposable batteries, you shouldn’t have a problem with rechargeable batteries. But this isn’t always the case: rechargeable AAs and AAAs tend to be a bit larger than their disposable counterparts, so they may not fit in some devices.
Most notably, some products are designed to only They work with certain AA or AAA batteries. And this is usually to ensure that the product works as intended.
Take Blink’s battery-powered smart cameras, for example. These cameras must withstand extreme temperatures and should ideally run for several months on a charge. They also require a specific voltage, which alkaline batteries cannot sustain near the end of their life. So Blink only allows you to use disposables lithium batteries with their cameras.
You’ll find this kind of requirement on a number of products, especially battery-powered outdoor equipment. That being said, you shouldn’t stop thinking that disposable lithium batteries are the most important thing. It turns out that they are very useful in some situations.
Smoke detectors and other emergency devices
Unless otherwise specified by the manufacturer, you must equip all smoke alarms with alkaline Batteries Manufacturers advise against rechargeable batteries, as they have a rapid self-discharge rate. Disposable lithium batteries are also a poor choice in smoke alarms; remember, disposable lithium batteries maintain a specific voltage until depleted, so they may not trigger the low battery warning on smoke alarms.
Some smoke alarms use built-in lithium ion batteries. These alarms need to be replaced when they start to die. And again, you should follow the instructions for a smoke alarm to make sure you’re using it correctly.
Other emergency devices in your home, including flashlights and radios, should also use disposable batteries (alkaline or lithium are fine). These electronics need to sit around for months, and during a real emergency, you may not have time to recharge a bunch of AA or AAA batteries.
Do not mix and match batteries
If a device requires multiple AA or AAA batteries, use an identical set of batteries. You should never mix alkaline, lithium ion or lithium batteries. Doing so can reduce the performance of the device and, more importantly, can damage the batteries. I’m sure it can handle a leaking alkaline battery, but a damaged lithium ion battery is an absolute fire hazard.
But what if you don’t care about security? Well, all batteries have different capacities and self-discharge rates. At the very least, mixing and matching is wasteful and inconvenient. If you are left with a rechargeable battery and a disposable battery in a TV remote, the rechargeable one will run out first, leaving you with a half-empty alkaline battery (which you’ll probably throw away).
Even if you use disposable alkaline batteries, pay attention to what you are doing. Do not mix new batteries with used batteries; this is wasteful, of course, but it can also damage the batteries, since their voltage will fluctuate as they are depleted.