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The Dangers of Battery Acid

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In lead-acid batteries, acid, as the name suggests, is one of the most important parts of keeping the battery operating but it can also cause serious injury or death. Battery acid is a crucial but little-understood part of a lead-acid battery-powered electrical system. Let’s shine a light on this vital substance and take a look at the future of battery tech that is doing away with this danger.

What Is Battery Acid Made Of?

Battery acid for automotive or marine batteries is typically a diluted sulfuric acid solution (H2SO4). Most will use a concentration of 30-50% acid mixed with 50-70% distilled water. Manufacturers use sulfuric acid because it works particularly well for the chemical reaction required to create electricity with lead.

The chemical reaction that is happening is Pb + PbO2 +2H2SO4 → 2PbSO4 + 2H2O. All the hydrogens in this reaction are what become the acid. As the battery gets charged, the acid becomes stronger, and as it discharges it becomes more inert.

Danger Battery Acid warnings on a battery

When Would You Come Into Contact With Battery Acid?

Any time you are around or using lead-acid batteries you might find yourself in contact with battery acid. It’s most common for those who use flooded lead-acid batteries, the cheapest and oldest style of automotive, RV, and marine power. These must be periodically opened up and topped off with water to ensure the acid remains at the proper level for optimal function. 

AGM battery users may also come into contact with acid. While AGM batteries are sealed and don’t require top-offs like flooded lead-acid ones, they still contain harmful chemicals. If they’re punctured or damaged, this acid can leak out. The same risk is, of course, present for traditional flooded lead-acid batteries, too. 

spilled battery acid on a battery
Under those caps on your lead acid battery is a dangerous mixture that can burn and poison you.

The Dangers of Battery Acid

Make no mistake about it; battery acid can be harmful to your health in ways both minor and potentially severe. Here are some of the biggest hazards to be aware of.

Breathing in Lead

Sulfuric acid is nasty stuff, even when diluted to the levels used in a battery. Fumes from batteries contain traces of lead and other harsh chemicals, which can sometimes cause significant breathing discomfort in the short term. In the long run, exposure to these chemicals within the airways can cause tooth decay, increase the risk of certain types of cancer, and are known to cause early cognitive decline.  

Severe Skin Damage

Spilling battery acid onto your skin or otherwise exposing your body to it is another potentially serious hazard. Exposure will result in chemical burns, which cause significant and permanent skin damage. Even worse, contact with the eyes can lead to severe eye issues and blindness. With skin exposure, it’s crucial to clean and treat the area as quickly as possible as damage will continue as long as acid is present.

Acid Burn warning symbol

Internal Damage

If battery acid is dangerous enough to permanently burn your skin, imagine what it can do to the sensitive systems inside your body. Ingesting battery acid will lead to difficulty breathing, severe pain, burns to the mouth and throat, fever, and other issues. In addition, damage can continue for days or even weeks after ingesting acid, potentially leading to infections or the need to remove damaged parts of the stomach or digestive tract.

Environmental Harm

Unfortunately, many batteries are improperly disposed of every year, sending a significant amount of harmful chemicals into the environment. All of the hazards battery acid presents to humans are also present in different ways for the environment.

Animals will generally face similar symptoms to humans, damaging their lungs, digestive tracts, and skin. It can also affect plant growth.

batteries and various trash dumped in water
Unfortunately too many lead-acid batteries end up here.

Safety Precautions When Around Battery Acid 

So what are the best ways to make sure you don’t end up in the emergency room while dealing with battery acid? Here are some commonsense safety tips to help you avoid those kinds of situations. 

Wear Protective Clothing

An easy way to prevent skin damage from spilled or splashed battery acid (along with fumes) is to simply keep your skin covered. At a minimum, wear long sleeves, long pants, and closed-toe shoes when working with batteries. You can also take advantage of special items of clothing designed to prevent skin damage from chemicals. Finally, don’t forget your eyes — protective clothing includes goggles or safety glasses. 

goggles and gloves clip art

Work in a Well-Ventilated Area

Keeping fumes at bay can be as simple as working outdoors or in an area with good ventilation. Most consumer batteries don’t put out much in the way of fumes to begin with. They’ll typically only present problems in poorly-ventilated spaces. Keeping good air circulation will ensure you’re breathing fresh air with minimal amounts of harmful battery acid fumes.  

Use Batteries for Their Intended Purposes

You’ll have very little opportunity to come into contact with battery acid in most cases. That is, if you’re using the batteries for what they’re designed for, you should be safe. Don’t try to draw too much energy or use them to power things they shouldn’t power. Also never install lead-acid batteries in living spaces or without proper ventilation. The vapors they produce are harmful, even if you cannot smell them, and can even be explosive.

dirty lead acid batteries

Keep Batteries Away From Children

Batteries aren’t toys. For the many reasons listed above and more, they can be dangerous in the hands of children who may not understand the hazards they present. Keeping batteries away from kids is paramount to avoiding severe or potentially deadly accidents. 

How to Dispose of Old Lead-Acid Batteries

Your obligation to keep battery acid from doing damage doesn’t end when you’re through using the battery. It’s crucial to dispose of used batteries properly to keep dangerous contaminants from entering the environment. Leave this to the professionals.

Many auto parts retailers and battery stores will recycle your old battery for you, often for free. Your town, county, or state may also have special sites or events for accepting hazardous materials like old batteries. In any case, the number one thing you should not do is simply throw them in with your regular trash, as easy as it may seem. 

Upgrade to the Safer, Acid-Free Battery Option: Lithium

Following the simple steps required to stay safe isn’t difficult, but it’s also not entirely necessary anymore thanks to modern battery technology that uses lithium instead. These devices don’t use traditional battery acid and are also essentially maintenance-free. There’s no need to expose yourself to the chemicals that power the battery when it’s lithium.

Here at Battle Born, we build lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) batteries that are lighter, can fully discharge, charge quicker, and last much much longer than the dangerous lead acid.

In addition, our batteries do not produce any harmful vapors and can be installed in living spaces. Safety is one of the major reasons people choose Battle Born.

Battle Born Batteries in a compartment
No acid, corrosion, fumes or burn potential here and these batteries would need 3 times more lead-acid to equal their energy!

Safety Matters When It Comes to Battery Acid

Batteries used in cars, RVs, boats, and other applications are, by and large, very safe when used correctly. But you still must take proper care when you come into contact with battery acid. Keep these vital tips in mind, and you’ll avoid the possible hazards. 

Want To Learn More About Electrical Systems and Lithium Batteries?

We know that building or upgrading an electrical system can be overwhelming, so we’re here to help. Our Reno, Nevada-based sales and customer service team is standing by at (855) 292-2831 to take your questions!

Also, join us on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube to learn more about how lithium battery systems can power your lifestyle, see how others have built their systems, and gain the confidence to get out there and stay out there.

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