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Are you tempted by discount store batteries?

Disposable battery prices vary a huge amount. Plump for a big brand and a four-pack could set you back over £5. Walk into a discount store and a packet of 12 could be yours for just £1. But are you tempted by them?

The sheer volume of battery for my money never fails to catch my eye. It makes me question how long they’ll last, if I’d notice the difference between them, if it’s a brand I’m familiar with, and whether I’m really making a saving in the long run.

Do you buy cheap multipacks of batteries? Or do you stick to brands you know and trust?

Tested discount batteries

When using your TV remote or kitchen clock most disposable batteries seem perfectly adequate. But to truly distinguish the Best Buys from the Don’t Buys, we test batteries under some of the most draining conditions so you’ll know what to expect when you buy them.

When we last tested disposable batteries we found big differences in their lifetimes. The poorest-performing AA battery lasted just 1 hour and 22 minutes under our toughest test conditions – such as powering a digital radio. However, the best AA batteries can last up to three times longer in the same conditions. That’ll give you nearly three hours more radio talk-time before you need think about reaching for new batteries.

Batteries from discount stores

Last year the Which? Convo community shared their tips for where to buy batteries for less, including online-only sources and discount shops. So, this time, we’ve sent discount store batteries to our lab to find out how they match up with the big brands.

We’ll be revealing the results in a few months time. In the meantime, I’d like to know whether you buy discount store batteries and, if so, what you think of them? Do you ever use different batteries in different devices? If you don’t, would anything tempt you to give them a go?

Do you buy discount-store batteries?

Yes – sometimes (51%, 612 Votes)

No – never. I don’t trust them (21%, 250 Votes)

Yes – always (15%, 181 Votes)

No – but I’m tempted (14%, 166 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,209

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Most of the disposable batteries I use are in applications where little power is needed, where they will last months if not years.

I prefer to use rechargeable batteries in products that use more power. Now that cameras and other small electricals contain lithium battery packs, I am using AA and AAA batteries much less than I did a few years ago.

I avoid buying cheap batteries in case they leak and cause damage. Having said that, I’ve had more problem with leaking Duracells than any other battery, though thankfully they are better than they were in the 80s and 90s.

spooks says:
6 October 2014

I have used both from the local pound shop and normally buy lithium AA batteries for my camera. When they run out from using in the camera I save them and then put them in my mouse for the computer. In the camera they can last a couple of months (I do take a lot of photos), then in the mouse can last another month.

Anyway the poundshop ones were Kodak .. I got 16 for a quid. When I put them in the camera I was caught out .. they didn’t even last a day … I used them in my mouse and they lasted about a month before I had to change them.

Thanks for sharing, spooks. That’s a useful tip to try batteries in lower draining products before throwing them away.

JohnP says:
6 October 2014

Interesting topic – here are my personal DOs and DON’Ts

Unless it is for a clock or similar very low drain device such as a remote controller, I never ever buy Zinc-Chloride cells. They are comparatively very low capacity, and I suspect prone to leakage once expired. Leakage WILL damage the unit in which they are fitted. These are the 12 or more for a quid at your pound-shop.

Alkaline cells, even from the pound-shop, are far better value – even though you get half as many. I suggested to an old mate that he should swap to these for his hand held games machine and he was gob-smacked.

Because I don’t sleep well at night I am often plugged in to my personal DAB radio. DAB radios are notoriously greedy! Alkalines give me two or three nights of listening. More now that I have discovered a source of Duracell Pro-Cell.

As you say, leakage from zinc chloride batteries causes damage, and the same applies to zinc carbon batteries. On the other hand leakage from alkaline cells is usually much less of a problem. Having said that, I have an LED torch where the switch was destroyed by a leaking alkaline battery. The other one of the pair was as good as new.

I buy significant quantities of Alkaline Duracell Procell from an eBay supplier for about 25p each (AA or AAA) and if I have the opportunity Alkaline AA & AAA from IKEA for about 10p each, both have come out well in reviews (not Which). These are all for use in donated items my local chairty shop sells.
We used to get the pound and discount shop packs but found the failure rates appalling.

I used to use use a lot of Duracell Procells at work, mainly AA size. They did not seem to last any longer than ordinary Duracells but I have never seen a Procell leak, even when discharged.

Duracell have a technical spec sheet on their website showing a graph of remaining voltage versus time for several drain rates. The Duracell ProPlus AA batteries (now re-branded “Industrial by Duracell”) appear to be nothing more than Duracell Plus except for them being marketed at business buyers.

But Procells are far cheaper than normal Duracells.

I have read that some of the batteries sold cheaply are counterfeit versions of well known brands. Perhaps batteries designed for non-domestic use are less likely to be counterfeit because the general public would be unfamiliar with the products.

Sorry a little off topic, but I made an order on batteriesplus.co.uk and received nothing but luckily I cancelled the credit card and moved quickly after searching and reading about the company online.

What scares and shocks me is that my order was 31 Dec 2011 and it seems the site is still up. Beware.

To this day I am extra careful when searching for batteries online, this site looks very legit and is very convincing.

[This comment has been edited to align with our T&Cs. Thanks, mods.]

I buy zinc-carbon bateries for my doorbell, rechargeables for my radio and camera, and alkaline for everything else. For example, I wouldn’t want to use rechargeables in my torch for two reasons. First, their lower voltage of 1.2V makes my torch dimmer; and secondly, they die out suddenly, which is not good for a torch. The radio, however, is not a problem if it suddenly cuts out as it’s not so vital. I but my alkaline batteries mostly from eBay, where I can get Duracell or other top brands very cheaply. Although I haven’t compared them side-by-side, subjectively they seem to last as long as the same types bought from a shop at 4-5 times the cost. They also seem to have just as long an expiry date. The discount batteries in pound shops, with less well-known brands, seem to last less but are still better value even if you do have to change them more often.

Electronic gadgets often have a battery level indicator that works fine with ordinary batteries. The lower voltage of rechargeable batteries and their relatively constant voltage until nearly exhausted makes the level indicator fairly useless.

I have replaced all my torches with LED versions, which run for ages on ordinary batteries.

I use Lithiums in items I use infrequently like my travel razor and in critical items like my walking headtorch and the emergency torch in the house !

I’ve changed to mainly rechargeable batteries and keep a couple of each (AA-AAA) charged up in case I get caught out. The main reason for this is using disposable batteries works out more expensive in the long run especially with the poor quality of pound shop purchases. If you judged the main products from the makers of these ( Panasonic, Hitachi etc) you would have a load of Which DON’T BUYS!! The initial outlay for a dual battery charger and decent rechargeable batteries, ie Energizer is quickly recouped if you use a lot of batteries for remotes,keyboards,mice and gaming equipment etc, otherwise stick to disposable ones and pray they don’t damage the item they’re fitted to!

I buy Costco Kirkland batteries, but have found they can tend to leak. Still looking for a leak free battery

I have never seen a lithium battery leak and they retain their charge for a long time, so I would choose them for expensive products or ones that are used infrequently, such as a camera kept in the car to take photos after an accident.

Batteries that are used soon after purchase on reasonably high drain products don’t seem to leak often, which will be why the problem does not show up in the Which? tests. In that sort of application I prefer to use rechargeables because they are much more economical.

I use rechargeable batteries almost exclusively. Very few things will refuse to run on them. Sure they do need recharging more often than a good primary cell needs replacing, but in such things as the remotes and clocks (recharge every time change) it is no real problem. High power items such as digital radios could in fact run longer as rechargeables (NiMh) have a better discharge curve.

fossilfeaturesfareham says:
10 October 2014

I have recently been introduced to “Energizer Ultimate Lithium”AA and AAA and find they really do last 3 to 10 times longer than cheaper alkalines. The extra life more than makes up for the price differential.
When they do finish, they die suddenly so have spares. Never seen any leakage.

For clock and remotes we use the kodak batteries from pound shop. They do seem to need changing on a fairly regular basis but then the batteries are less than 10p each compared to buying say duracell. We haven’t noticed any leakages, though we did on a duracell battery we replaced with the kodac.

For my camera I always use rechargeable AA batteries from energiser etc with high mah. However I found with infrequent use the batteries did not hold their charge very well. I now use eneloope (rechargeable) batteries which are much better at holding their charge..

Caroline says:
11 October 2014

I use rechargeables whenever I can. I have bought mains adapters for things like DAB radios where possible. However I have found that 9v rechargeable batteries hardly last any time unless they are in very low drain items and I wouldn’t use rechargeables in things like a smoke alarm.

When I do need to buy non-rechargeables I get Sony Heavy Duty Carbon Zinc batteries from Poundland and have found them to be excellent and better than a lot of full price ones.

Interesting you should say that rechargeable 9V batteries don’t last long. These are usually 8.4V batteries made from 7 cells, rather than the usual 6 that alkaline 9V batteries are made of. So each cell is thinner in order to fit the battery size, and therefore has less capacity. On the plus side, it’s nearer to the true 9V of alkalines.

Steve Wager says:
11 October 2014

I’ve had *major* leakage from *all* of the own brand alkali batteries I’ve ever bought for use in torches/flashlights. The damage can be so bad that the batteries are completely jammed in and the torch scrap, as the leakage is alkaline and corrodes away aluminium. How Which? could possibly test this I can’t imagine, but it has happened consistently, given enough time.

No problems with Duracell or Energizer.

I agree that Energizer batteries don’t tend to leak but I have had hundreds of leaking Duracells. In the 80s when postage was cheap I used to send them back and receive replacements. I even went as far as to suggest a new slogan: ‘Duracell – No ordinary battery looks like it or leaks like it’. 🙂

Part of the problem is that I use non-rechargeable batteries mainly in low-drain applications, where they should last a few years. I usually find that only one has leaked and the other one(s) are still in good order, so they have not been exhausted. I know not to mix old and new batteries or different types.

I mentioned the leakage problem in an earlier Conversation and sent Which? a photo of two AA Duracells that had leaked. Which? tests focus on medium and high drain use, so is unlikely to reveal the problem of leakage, but I’m fairly sure that everyone working for Which? will have experienced leaking batteries and the problems that Steve and I are all too familiar with.

The remote control of my Sony CRT TV contains the original Sony zinc carbon AA batteries, with a “best before” date of 11/2000. They still haven’t leaked and are still working ok.

Thanks Sarah. I see the problem of leakage as a quality control issue on the basis that I have often seen leakage with only a single cell of a pair or set. The others have been in good condition and I have been able to use them in cheap items such as small torches, rather than remote controls that would be expensive to replace.

Fortunately leakage from alkaline cells is usually not serious and can be cleaned up, provided that the battery connections are accessible.

Though I have been very critical of Duracell batteries because of leakage, most of them have been fine and not leaked, even well after the date printed on them, which I understand is there to help avoid us buying old stock. Looking around my house the oldest I have is a couple of Duracell D size in a door bell. They are made in Belgium and do not show a date, so maybe they are at least fifteen years old. There’s no sign of leakage, but I will replace them soon because they are nearly exhausted.

Judy Weleminsky says:
11 October 2014

bought a very cheap ‘Panasonic’ CR2302 3v battery off the internet for a Salter kitchen scale. The scale didn’t work properly with the battery and it lost charge very quickly. I have to assume they were fakes?

John W says:
12 October 2014

I went to Maplin to buy the recommended extralonglife+ batteries yesterday and they were priced at £5.99 for 4 not £3.99. Same price for the AAA’s?

Like most people who use cheap batteries, they’re fine for clocks, remotes, timers, etc.
A friend of mine who was a guitarist also used cheap batteries for the radio transmitter to his amp because they were more predicable. Expensive batteries might last several hours, but with a big “but”. He found he would be on stage, and his Duracell PP9 would fade to low power in a matter of seconds, very unpredicably. No good half way through a one hour set in front of thousands. So he bought a box of “cheapies” from a wholesaler and used a new one for each set. As a DJ, I found cheapies were predicable enough, as I rarely spoke for more than a few seconds, and put a new one in for weddings!
I have also used cheapies for photography as a backup, in case my rechargeables fade quicker than expected. At least if there’s a really important shot, you’ve covered your back for a comparatively low cost.

Steve Wager says:
13 October 2014

I couldn’t disagree more with wavechange, who writes: “Fortunately leakage from alkaline cells is usually not serious”. In the scheme of life, the universe and everything, it isn’t serious, but in the scheme of a scrap Maglite it is. (I can send a picture if you’re really serious about it not being serious 😉 ). I can’t yet tell you what brand of battery it is/was because I haven’t yet tacked the problem of getting it out, and the flashlight is scrap because there’s hole in it where the leaking alkali has corroded away the aluminium casing. I’m planning on trying some citric acid, so that it can at least have a decent burial.

Steve – I’m trying to raise awareness of the problem of battery leakage, both here and in the other Conversations about batteries. I said that leakage from batteries is USUALLY not serious. Sometimes it is. As I have mentioned elsewhere, I have recently had the same problem as you, except that leaking electrolyte damaged the switch in the end cap as well as the aluminium casing, so I did not even attempt to remove the batteries jammed in the torch. I have had more expensive products damaged occasionally, but in most cases of leakage, cleaning the contacts in the battery compartment has fixed the problem.

In the US, Duracell provides a warranty for product damage caused by battery leakage. From their website: “Should any device be damaged due to a battery defect, we will repair or replace it at our option. Leaking battery and damaged device must be provided as proof of claim. Duracell may deny claims of damage caused by misuse or modification of the batteries or device.” I have not seen this on the UK website.

I hope Sarah does not mind us discussing leakage. It is relevant to the cost of using battery-operated items.

It is interesting to compare the Duracell US guarantee: http://www.duracell.com/en-us/guarantee

with their UK ‘guarantee’, which focuses on environmental issues rather than product quality: http://www.duracell.co.uk/en-gb/battery-care-and-disposal/duracell-battery-guarantee

JulianHicks says:
16 October 2014

Given this topic is about disposable batteries, we should be excluding comments and comparisons with rechargeable ones! That given, there are only three types [ie formulations] in the typical AA and AAA sizes but Duracell have done much to ‘muddy the water’ to get people to buy their expensive ‘Gold & Black’ retail versions.

Type 1) ‘Zinc’ : the cheap ones that don’t last long
Type 2) ‘Alkaline’ : the ones that Duracell brought to market but are made by lots of other manufacturers now.
Type 3) ‘Lithium’ : the expensive ones that are only made by two or three manufacturers.

In terms of ‘life’, for very broad approximations, they are 1, 10, 30

Duracell’s advertising over the years has been meaningless and confusing; when they compare Duracell with ‘other batteries’ they are comparing with Zinc. ALL alkaline batteries outlast zinc batteries by a large margin.

So that brings us to pricing; Duracell advertise, I’m not aware of anyone else who does. Buying a card packaged set of four on a friday night in a petrol station will cost you over £1 per battery. If you buy their ‘trade’ version, labelled differently to protect their ‘gold and blacks’, and you’ll pay 40p.

Should you wish to seek a appropriate competitor, GP batteries, for instance, you can get a box of 40 for £9.99 – 25p each.

I defy anyone to measure the differences between different alkaline batteries in real use where their life differs depending on usage.

You’re clearly not going to get good long life batteries at 12 per pound in a pound shop!!

JulianHicks wrote “I defy anyone to measure the differences between different alkaline batteries in real use where their life differs depending on usage.”

Which? tests show these differences. 🙂 I will agree that in low power use such as an infrequently used remote control, there may be no difference whatsoever.

David Butler says:
4 November 2015

I have recently had Duracells leak in all sorts of equipment from domestic TV remote and flashlight to a very expensive data logger (>£1,000). The data logger needed a PCB repair because the leakage had found its way onto the PCB and corroded some copper tracks. We now don’t use Duracell (the industrial version) at work or the standard retail version at home. Never had this problem in the past so it seems something has changed in the way Duracells are manufactured. I am so annoyed with Duracell that I would probably never buy them again. Incidentally we have also had Energisers leak. We now use Ansmann AA alkalines at work. They seem a lot better but only time will tell if this is true.

Hi David – I have not had any problems recently, but have had plenty of hassle with leakage over the years.

For low drain items such as remote controls you are probably stuck with alkaline cells. I find it helps to use fresh ones and ‘use them up’ on higher drain equipment when they are approaching the date printed on them.

With the data logger it might be worth looking at rechargeables. The pre-charged versions don’t lose their charge in the way that earlier NiMH cells did and I have yet to suffer any major leakage from rechargeables.

With expensive Sennheiser personal wireless microphones I either removed the batteries after use or stored them upright so that leakage would not affect the electronics.

Expensive battery-operated equipment should really have a separate battery compartment to offer protection against leakage.