Skip to main content

Wax on wax off: Here are the best methods for cleaning battery acid and corrosion

how to clean up battery acid 38783934  two orange alkaline batteries macro on white
The average homeowner or hobbyist is likely to encounter broken or corroded batteries at some point, whether it’s while trying to repair a particularly well-used remote control or changing out a car battery to save a little money.

Leaking battery acid is harmful — it damages surrounding materials while also posing physical risks to those trying to clean it up. Furthermore, it’s tricky to remove, especially with traditional cleaning methods which may not prove especially effective. So, instead of grabbing a rag and trying to clean it up on your own, take a minute to check out our guide on the best methods for cleaning up  battery acid problem the smart way.

Battery acid is dangerous: Wear protective clothing

It’s not referred to as an acid for nothing – it burns and we’re not simply talking about your skin. For the average corroded AA battery, you should at least equip yourself with rubber gloves and long sleeves. Larger batteries pose greater dangers: Use goggles to cover your eyes, tie your hair back if necessary, and cover your mouth with a basic allergy mask. You’d be surprised how easy it is to get battery acid in your eyes and mouth, especially when repairing or replacing punctured and shattered batteries. Since we’re talking about permanent physical damage here, take some time to effectively gear up.

This advice applies to your environment, too. For small battery projects, put down a few sheets of newspaper before starting to work. For larger projects, we advise setting up a safe zone to work in.

Do a preliminary cleaning

First, dispose of the battery if necessary. Place corroded batteries in a plastic or trash bag where they won’t have the ability to spread corrosion onto anything else. Then, set them aside to concentrate fully on cleaning. Unfortunately, heavily corroded batteries may not come out easily or (at worst) could be permanently stuck. Typically, prying them out with a screwdriver or paint scraper tends to work — you see now why goggles are important safety equipment when broken batteries can go flying.

Start with a towel or a few paper towels and clean up what you can. Your goal here is to uncover damage created by the battery acid, while also cleaning away the grime and dust obscuring your real work. Don’t use any cloth you want to save for other purposes — this is proper rag work and you’ll want to throw any rags away once finished. Don’t try to wipe away any battery acid or residue yet, just get a good view of what’s going on. Remember even dried white flakes could still possess dangerous acidic qualities.

Apply the proper cleaning agent

Let’s get technical: “Battery acid” is a misnomer. The average consumer battery in your remote or wireless mouse is actually alkaline, due to the potassium hydroxide. It still burns but it’s all the way on the other end of the pH scale. This means you’ll need to use an acid to neutralize any residue or remaining electrolyte solution. But when you move up to lead batteries and other larger batteries, the electrolyte solution typically consists of true sulfuric acid or similar chemicals, which requires a different approach. We’ll break it down:

Alkaline batteries: For typical AA and AAA batteries, you’ll need an acid solution to break down residue or spills. Luckily, you have just what you need in your kitchen. Grab your white vinegar first or your bottle of lemon juice if you’re short on vinegar. Dab a few drops on the residue and wait for it to work — it’s normal for a chemical reaction like fizzing to occur. If this happens, simply wait for it to die down. Additionally, you’ll want to avoid soaking the area all at once, so apply the acid slowly.

Acidic batteries: Here, the traditional solution of baking soda and water is much more effective. Mix a tablespoon of baking soda into a cup of water and stir. Use hot water so the baking soda dissolves more effectively. After the baking soda fully dissolves, pour the solution in short trickles around the affected area. When dealing with large batteries, it’s far better to use too much of the solution than too little. Apply liberally, wait for the fizzing to stop, then apply more. You want to neutralize as much of the acid as possible.

Large projects: If you are dealing with a battery acid spill in a professional or lab-related capacity, you’ll want to use professional products instead. The Ramsey Group has some useful commercial products for these purposes, including Fizz pHree, Acid Adsorber, and neutralizing pillows for big spills. Pay attention to OSHA and lab requirements, too.

Wipe away all residue

Once the neutralizing agent finishes its work, it’s time to clean away all remaining residue. Conduct this step in two stages for the best results on tough, caked-on acid residue.

  1. Soft clean: Start with throw-away towels and smaller cleaners like Q-tips. Clean up the gummy mess left behind by the cleaning agent in layers, seeing what’s left and what needs more work.
  2. Rougher clean: You may find patches of acid residue that won’t come off with gentle means. Keep a scouring pad, steel wool, and toothbrush handy if it looks like you’ll need some extra elbow grease. Remember to apply more cleaning agent from time to time as necessary. Once finished, switch back to soft materials, add some water, and clean everything up until it looks like new.

Check the damage

Take a look at the damage the battery acid exacts on its surrounding materials, components, and floors. Sometimes it’s nothing to worry about but you may need to replace circuits or tubes which may have become damaged. Fabric and wood may also pit or stain via battery acid but there’s not much to do to avoid this except clean the damaged areas. For concrete, consider using a cement filler designed for patch repairs to conceal any damage.

Dispose of batteries properly

Battery disposal rules vary by region. We don’t want you to get into trouble, so if you have batteries — especially large batteries — take a look at the rules and see what to do. It’s usually sufficient to drop off batteries at specific stores, landfill sites, and other areas for proper disposal.

Editors' Recommendations

Tyler Lacoma
Former Digital Trends Contributor
If it can be streamed, voice-activated, made better with an app, or beaten by mashing buttons, Tyler's into it. When he's not…
Digital Trends’ Top Tech of CES 2023 Awards
Best of CES 2023 Awards Our Top Tech from the Show Feature

Let there be no doubt: CES isn’t just alive in 2023; it’s thriving. Take one glance at the taxi gridlock outside the Las Vegas Convention Center and it’s evident that two quiet COVID years didn’t kill the world’s desire for an overcrowded in-person tech extravaganza -- they just built up a ravenous demand.

From VR to AI, eVTOLs and QD-OLED, the acronyms were flying and fresh technologies populated every corner of the show floor, and even the parking lot. So naturally, we poked, prodded, and tried on everything we could. They weren’t all revolutionary. But they didn’t have to be. We’ve watched enough waves of “game-changing” technologies that never quite arrive to know that sometimes it’s the little tweaks that really count.

Read more
Digital Trends’ Tech For Change CES 2023 Awards
Digital Trends CES 2023 Tech For Change Award Winners Feature

CES is more than just a neon-drenched show-and-tell session for the world’s biggest tech manufacturers. More and more, it’s also a place where companies showcase innovations that could truly make the world a better place — and at CES 2023, this type of tech was on full display. We saw everything from accessibility-minded PS5 controllers to pedal-powered smart desks. But of all the amazing innovations on display this year, these three impressed us the most:

Samsung's Relumino Mode
Across the globe, roughly 300 million people suffer from moderate to severe vision loss, and generally speaking, most TVs don’t take that into account. So in an effort to make television more accessible and enjoyable for those millions of people suffering from impaired vision, Samsung is adding a new picture mode to many of its new TVs.
[CES 2023] Relumino Mode: Innovation for every need | Samsung
Relumino Mode, as it’s called, works by adding a bunch of different visual filters to the picture simultaneously. Outlines of people and objects on screen are highlighted, the contrast and brightness of the overall picture are cranked up, and extra sharpness is applied to everything. The resulting video would likely look strange to people with normal vision, but for folks with low vision, it should look clearer and closer to "normal" than it otherwise would.
Excitingly, since Relumino Mode is ultimately just a clever software trick, this technology could theoretically be pushed out via a software update and installed on millions of existing Samsung TVs -- not just new and recently purchased ones.

Read more
AI turned Breaking Bad into an anime — and it’s terrifying
Split image of Breaking Bad anime characters.

These days, it seems like there's nothing AI programs can't do. Thanks to advancements in artificial intelligence, deepfakes have done digital "face-offs" with Hollywood celebrities in films and TV shows, VFX artists can de-age actors almost instantly, and ChatGPT has learned how to write big-budget screenplays in the blink of an eye. Pretty soon, AI will probably decide who wins at the Oscars.

Within the past year, AI has also been used to generate beautiful works of art in seconds, creating a viral new trend and causing a boon for fan artists everywhere. TikTok user @cyborgism recently broke the internet by posting a clip featuring many AI-generated pictures of Breaking Bad. The theme here is that the characters are depicted as anime characters straight out of the 1980s, and the result is concerning to say the least. Depending on your viewpoint, Breaking Bad AI (my unofficial name for it) shows how technology can either threaten the integrity of original works of art or nurture artistic expression.
What if AI created Breaking Bad as a 1980s anime?
Playing over Metro Boomin's rap remix of the famous "I am the one who knocks" monologue, the video features images of the cast that range from shockingly realistic to full-on exaggerated. The clip currently has over 65,000 likes on TikTok alone, and many other users have shared their thoughts on the art. One user wrote, "Regardless of the repercussions on the entertainment industry, I can't wait for AI to be advanced enough to animate the whole show like this."

Read more