Learn about the underlying issues involving cheap batteries, the consequences this can have for your equipment, and what to do should a leak occur inside your instrument.


 

Here at Test Meter Group, we pride ourselves on accurate calibrations and professional repairs, with our skilled team able to calibrate, repair, and service a diverse range of instruments from a multitude of manufacturers. With a wealth of experience in the calibration service, our team has been presented with many product-related issues, which are often easily fixed and sent back to the customer. However, one issue that often sees a device rendered unrepairable is battery leakage, which is surprisingly an extremely prevalent issue. In this article, we will explore the most frequent reasons for this leakage, how to avoid it, and what you should do should you notice a leak inside your instrument.

As an authorised repair centre for a range of manufacturers, our team has seen a diverse range of issues with instruments, with the majority of these problems able to be rectified. However, battery leakage often renders a tool unfixable, meaning that taking precautions to prevent this is a smart practice for anyone who owns battery-operated products. Typically, these issues stem from the use of cheap batteries which, when left in the instrument for an extended period of time, could cause damage. Once placed in a unit, batteries release a small current drain which, over time, will facilitate small chemical reactions within the battery. These reactions produce hydrogen gas, which leads to the battery case swelling and consequently splitting, releasing small amounts of the battery's electrolyte into the instrument.

This image shows a battery that has leaked, which is a common sight for our repair team

Once a battery leak has reached the battery tray, more often than not, the instrument is unrepairable

Once this has happened, the leakage could enter into the Printed Circuit Board (PCB), which causes irreversible damage. This could also impact the steel battery terminals, which can corrode and present a green colour, meaning they are past a point of economical repair. The electrolyte that is released from a split battery contains the alkaline potassium hydroxide, which will turn into potassium carbonate when in contact with carbon dioxide. Potassium carbonate is relatively harmless to touch, but potassium hydroxide, which is initially released, can cause skin burns and should not be touched with bare skin under any circumstances. However, this does not automatically mean that your instrument can not be cleaned, as with the right precautions, this can be performed at home. So, if a leaking battery compromises your instrument, what can you do to try and prevent further and potentially irreversible damage?

 

How to clean a battery leak?

Damage from leakage onto a Printed Circuit Board

If you are lucky enough to catch the leakage in the early stages, steps can be taken to try and clean the battery compartment. First things first, ensure you have a strong pair of latex or nitrile gloves to prevent unnecessary contact with the spillage. Next, the alkaline, which in this case is the potassium hydroxide, should be neutralised. This can be done with white vinegar or lemon juice, which brings the PH of the substance down to a controlled level. Once this has been done, the affected area should be cleaned with isopropyl alcohol. Always ensure that you wash your hands thoroughly after cleaning, as this process could cause burns or irritation.

The best way to prevent a leak

So, what are the best practices to avoid battery leakage and a potentially ruined instrument? First and foremost, it is important to use batteries that protect the tool they are being used in. Purchasing recognised and reliable brands greatly reduces the risk of battery leakage. Another good practice to employ is to check for any signs of leakage regularly. If a reliable set of batteries is being utilised, the chances are that there will be no leakage present, but checking will ensure that you avoid any unexpected expenses should a small leak have started.

In conclusion, the use of cheap and unreliable batteries causes a host of problems for instrument owners, and can compromise the usability and lifespan of expensive and important tools. Should a leak start, early identification of this issue and safe clean-up practices could save the user precious time and money, by allowing them to get on top of the issue. If your instrument has been damaged by battery leakage, or if you have any enquiries about our services, do not hesitate to get in touch with our calibration department on 0113 248 9966.