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What Causes Battery Terminal Corrosion (and How to Avoid It)?

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Battery terminal corrosion is an all-too-common problem. But what causes it? And how can it be avoided? We’re taking a closer look at what you need to know about battery corrosion, avoiding it, and cleaning up when it strikes.

What Causes Battery Terminal Corrosion?

Corrosion is a problem that occurs with lead-acid batteries when the volatile chemicals or gases inside a battery escape and come into contact with the highly-conductive metal of the battery terminal. The batteries can release gases filled with hydrogen, sulfur, and acids that damage nearby battery terminals if not vented properly.

battery warning gasses label
Note the danger labels on lead-acid batteries. The corrosive gasses are bad for metals and your lungs. Make sure they are well ventilated.

There are a wide variety of reasons this might happen. For example, an owner might add too much water during battery maintenance, causing battery acid to escape. Overcharging is another frequent culprit for corrosion, especially when the damage appears limited to the battery’s positive terminal. Generally speaking, anything that exposes your battery terminals to reactive materials (including bad weather) can lead to battery corrosion. 

This corrosion is an outward sign of the chemical dangers of these batteries. If you see corrosion your batteries are emitting very dangerous gasses. Luckily, high-quality lithium batteries like our Battle Born line do not emit any gasses and will not corrode terminals. This is just one of the reasons our batteries are so much safer than old lead-acid technology.

What Happens If Battery Terminals Corrode? 

Battery terminal corrosion generally impedes the flow of power from the battery to the device using it. This less-efficient power transfer means you’ll likely notice decreased power output from your batteries. In cases of extreme corrosion, the battery may not provide enough energy, meaning your device or vehicle may not start. 

battery terminal with corrosion

If you are attempting to draw a lot of current through corroded terminals they may also begin to overheat. This can damage cables and the batteries. This is because the corrosion increases resistance in the connections.

What Does Battery Corrosion Look Like?

Battery corrosion can appear in a few different ways. Most often, you’ll see a buildup of flaky or crumbly material around the battery terminal. This material is typically white, light blue, greenish, gray, or brown. The color will vary depending on the exact type of battery.

battery corrosion metal

Does Battery Corrosion Mean a Bad Battery?

Not necessarily. Battery terminal corrosion can certainly signify that your battery isn’t operating correctly. This is often the case with older batteries beginning to fail. But in other cases, like several of the ones mentioned previously, user error may play a role.

Corrosion is a normal condition of many lead-acid batteries when used in deep cycling applications like RV, Boat, or off-grid power. This is because long discharges and recharges cause the release of gasses. Because of this lead-acid batteries are not a good choice for deep cycling applications. Lithium is a far superior, safer, and less dangerous choice for these uses.

Does Battery Corrosion Ruin Electronics?

Unfortunately, this can be the case. A little bit of leaking battery acid probably won’t require much other than a cleaning or, at worst, battery terminal replacement. However, major leaks can send the corrosive substances and gasses deep into your device, destroying sensitive electronics. Therefore, it’s crucial to prevent battery corrosion in expensive or especially delicate electronics. 

If you are using lead-acid batteries, make sure they are well ventilated and not near electronic components.

corroded battery tray
The metal of this battery tray is even corroded. Any electronics in the battery cabinet can get corroded.

How Do You Fix a Corroded Battery Terminal? 

There are many different products out there that can remove battery terminal corrosion. You can often find them at auto part stores, online, and elsewhere. But many people instead opt for an at-home corrosion removal favorite that they can do themselves. 

cleaning battery corrosion
A baking soda water solution will clean up corroded terminals. It will not, however, prevent damage.

First, disconnect and remove the battery. Then cover your corroded terminals in baking soda. Next, pour some water over the battery terminals and let chemistry work its magic to remove the corrosive residue. In some cases, the corrosion damage may be so severe that you need to replace the terminal itself. In less severe cases, this at-home remedy can often do the trick. 

Keep in mind that cleaning the terminals will not repair any damage that the gasses caused. If the gasses severely eat the metal, then the terminals may need to be replaced.

You can also slow battery corrosion by spraying a sticky oil on the battery terminals. Special products exist to slow corrosion. These products work but make a mess of the batteries and cover them in a thick greasy substance that will stain your clothes. These products work by coating the metals in an oil that does not react with the corrosive gasses from the batteries.

oil on battery terminals
This terminal is covered in preventative grease. This works but is very messy.

Avoid Battery Terminal Corrosion by Switching to Lithium

The simplest way to prevent battery corrosion is to use a type of battery that doesn’t corrode under any circumstances — lithium. This more modern battery technology comes with numerous benefits for those willing to make the switch.

No Dangerous Battery Acid Leaks

Many typical lead-acid batteries are designed to be opened or at least vented. They have to be in order for the chemical reactions to release gasses that are the results of charging. But lithium batteries are permanently sealed, eliminating the risk of harmful leaks. Barring serious damage, the chemicals that power your lithium battery will stay safely inside.

Clean Battery Terminals
These batteries have been installed for 5 years and are as clean as when they were installed

No Acidic Fumes

The important differences in battery chemistry between traditional batteries and lithium ones also mean there’s no need to vent fumes. Fumes can be dangerous and corrosive on their own, even when you don’t have battery terminal corrosion to contend with. The sealed nature of lithium batteries means you should never need to vent or release fumes.

No Maintenance

Maintenance is just part of life when using standard lead-acid batteries. You have to top them off every few weeks or months to ensure they continue to operate as expected. With a lithium-ion battery, there’s no maintenance required at any point in your ownership. Once you’ve installed the battery, you’re generally hands-off other than charging.

Many More Benefits

Lithium batteries have so much more to offer than just protection from corrosion and no maintenance. They last substantially longer than traditional batteries, meaning more years between replacements. They’re also much lighter than comparable lead-acid batteries, allowing users to either cut weight or add battery capacity while maintaining the same weight. They also work well at most temperatures, and you can discharge them more fully, eliminating two major weaknesses of traditional batteries. 

Battle Born Battery with Clean Terminal
Want clean battery terminals? Use high-quality noncorrosive batteries.

Say Goodbye to Battery Corrosion

Corrosion can seem a little scary at first. It’s normal to worry about your batteries and the things they power, not to mention the potential hazard of coming into contact with battery acid. But by keeping this information in mind, you should be able to avoid most battery terminal corrosion and know how to deal with it should it strike. You can even say goodbye to worries about battery corrosion for good by making the switch to powerful, modern lithium batteries.

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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