Does Cold Weather Hurt Batteries

You’re not alone if you’ve ever noticed that your phone battery drains faster in the cold, or that your car is a little slower to start when the mercury falls to below-freezing temperatures. Devices that use AA, AAA and other batteries are also impacted by chilly temps. 

Why don’t batteries work as well in the cold? Are certain types of batteries better than others for cold conditions? Is there anything you can do to make your batteries perform better when temperatures plummet? We’re here to answer all your questions about using batteries in cold weather. 

Why Does Cold Affect Battery Performance?

The reason cold temperatures impact battery performance has to do with how batteries work. Simply put, batteries create power through a chemical reaction. When a connection is made between the positive and negative terminals of a battery, it triggers a series of reactions between the chemical components inside the battery, which generates electrical current. 

Cold temperatures slow down the chemical reactions that create current, which reduces the battery’s performance, lifespan, or both. The lower the temperature gets, the slower the reaction becomes, and the more significantly performance is reduced. 

Best Types of AA and AAA Batteries for Cold Conditions

All batteries are affected by the cold. If you’re looking for a battery that will perform equally well at any temperature, you won’t find it. That being said, not all batteries are impacted by cold to the same extent, and some are better than others under cold conditions. Here’s what you need to know about how different types of AA and AA batteries stack up in the cold (and the same holds true for C and D cell batteries). 

Alkaline Batteries vs. Lithium Batteries

When it comes to primary batteries—the types of batteries that are only used once, also known as single-use or disposable batteries—the two most widely used options today are alkaline batteries and lithium batteries. There’s a clear winner between these two types of batteries under cold conditions: lithium. 

Alkaline batteries are among the types of batteries that are most severely affected by cold weather. Unlike lithium batteries, alkaline batteries contain a water-based electrolyte, which means that slower chemical reactions and reduced ion mobility start to take place as soon as temperatures near the freezing mark. 

At temperatures below 32°F or 0°C, the voltage that an alkaline battery can deliver will drop significantly, and its lifespan will be greatly reduced. Some alkaline batteries will regain some of their “charge” if you bring them back up to room temperature after using them below freezing, but some will be dead (or nearly dead) after being used in very cold conditions. In extreme cold, some alkaline batteries can also burst or leak. 

Lithium primary batteries will also see their performance reduced in the cold, but the difference is not as severe. For typical lithium batteries, the lower end of the optimal temperature range is roughly 14°F or -10°C, though lithium batteries will still function at even lower temperatures, and the precise range varies by manufacturer. 

Primary Batteries vs. Rechargeable Batteries

Rechargeable batteries are also an option in low temperatures. The two most common types rechargeable batteries are nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries and lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries. The advantage of using rechargeable batteries in cold weather is that even if their performance and capacity are reduced, they can still be recharged and reused many times. 

Both NiMH and lithium ion batteries are vastly superior to alkaline batteries in cold conditions. But in a head-to-head comparison, lithium-ion is the clear winner. A typical NiMH battery can function at temperatures as low as -4°F (-20°C) but performance and capacity will be diminished below freezing. Some lithium ion batteries can function at temperatures as low as -22°F (-30°C) though discharge rate will be significantly reduced. 

Can You Recharge Batteries in the Cold?

There is one disadvantage of rechargeable batteries in cold weather, and that is that they should never be  recharged at low temperatures. Both NiMH and lithium ion batteries must be recharged at a temperature that is above freezing. So if you need batteries for a situation in which you do not have the ability to recharge in a warm place, you’re better off using primary (single-use) lithium batteries. 

Are 9V Batteries Good for Cold Weather?

In terms of performance and lifespan, 9-volt batteries react similarly to AA and AAA batteries in cold weather (A single 9V battery actually contains six individual AAAA cells that each provide 1.5V of voltage). Modern 9V batteries are available in all the same chemical compositions as AA and AAA batteries, and they perform comparably in cold weather, making lithium and lithium-ion 9V batteries the best options. 

Car Batteries for Cold Weather

So far we’ve mostly talked about household batteries, but car batteries are also affected by cold weather. Though they are much larger than the batteries we use in flashlights and remote controls, they are functionally about the same as any rechargeable battery. That being the case, they are just as prone to reduced capacity, diminished voltage and being drained more quickly in cold weather. 

Lead acid batteries are the type of battery used in the majority of vehicles. Lead acid batteries start to lose capacity when temperatures fall below freezing, and continue to do so as temperatures plummet, but a new, high-quality lead acid battery can still perform at temperatures as low as -22°F (-30°C). There are actually two types of lead acid batteries—flooded lead acid batteries and sealed lead acid batteries—of which the latter are considered better in cold weather. 

Alternative car batteries include absorbed glass mat (AGM) batteries, which are considered more durable and reliable in cold weather and are less likely to be impacted by extreme cold. Perhaps the best of all are lithium car batteries, which are used in almost all modern electric vehicles. 

Battery Tips for Cold Weather

There are many situations in which you need to rely on your batteries in cold weather. Whether you’re taking a winter drive or going on a skiing, climbing or camping trip in cold weather, these are some tips to keep your batteries working in the cold. 

  • Store batteries in their original packaging in a cool, dry place where temperatures stay above freezing. 
  • When spending time outdoors in cold weather, keep devices that use batteries close to your body, inside your jacket and other insulating layers of clothing. For larger, bulkier devices, take the batteries out when not in use and keep them in an insulated inner pocket.
  • If you’re camping during winter, keep batteries inside your sleeping bag at night.
  • Replace alkaline batteries with lithium batteries, which are less susceptible to the cold.
  • Warm up your batteries before use. If your AA or AAA batteries die or lose capacity from the cold, you can often revive them by warming them up (rolling them between your palms usually works). Avoid exposing batteries to excessive heat, which can damage them.
  • Keep your car parked in a garage if possible during the winter months. 
  • Keep your car battery charged fully and drive it often to keep it charged and prevent the battery from dying. 
  • Insulate your batteries or battery packs with thermal tape, a battery blanket or other form of battery insulation.