Anytime you are dealing with a battery, there is danger of having to deal with leaking. And the more expensive the devices that you put the battery in, the bigger the problem that is. That raises the question: what batteries don’t leak?
When I was a kid, the major brands of batteries all guaranteed they didn’t leak. And if one did, you could mail it in, and they would prepare or replace it. I actually took them up on it when I was 10 or 11 years old. I mailed them a toy with a leaky battery, and they sent me a letter with a check. I don’t remember which battery maker it was, but I do remember the letter saying that generally, only dead batteries leak.
Based on what I’ve seen, and the stories I’ve heard from others, that may not be the most accurate statement. It seems more accurate to say dead batteries are more likely to leak.
And I can also tell you that if you leave a battery sitting long enough, the brand doesn’t matter. The chemistry matters, but the brand doesn’t.
Lithium batteries are extremely unlikely to leak, and I also understand that nickel metal hydride batteries are very unlikely to leak. But when you’re talking alkaline or nickel cadmium, that’s a different story.
What brands of battery don’t leak?
I’ve certainly heard plenty of complaints about Duracell batteries, and I’ve heard people call them “duraleaks,” but there’s not really any way to know if that is because they leak more often, or because they sell so many batteries. I have also heard complaints about Ray-o-vac. But guess who owns Ray-o-vac? Energizer. The days of independent battery makers like Hipwell are long gone.
So if Ray-o-vac batteries are prone to leak, it stands to reason that energizer batteries would probably have the same flaw. Ray-o-vac batteries are cheaper, and therefore, probably are a bit cheaper to make, but there are only so many ways to make an alkaline battery.
And for what it is worth, Varta, the brand of nickel cadmium battery you so commonly find inside vintage computers spewing their guts all over the board and ruining traces and chubs, is owned by Energizer.
Avoiding leaky batteries
Rather than swearing off certain brands, you are much better off changing technology. Rather than buying alkaline batteries, by rechargeable nickel metal hydride batteries. I’ve been using Eneloop batteries for well over a decade, without a problem. Even the first batteries I bought one they were a Sanyo brand still work. Panasonic bought Sanyo a good decade ago. Even when I’ve run Eneloop batteries flat and forgotten about them, only to rediscover them years later, I haven’t had a problem. No leaks, and when I charged the batteries back up, they come right back to life.
Nickel metal hydride batteries are expensive, especially when you buy a premium brand like Eneloop, but in the long run, you save a lot of money with them. And they are much better for the environment.
In my vintage computers, I use lithium batteries. They last 10 years or more, and I’ve never had one of those leak. Even the lithium battery in my Compaq that I bought in 1994. Incredibly, that battery still had a charge when I got that computer back out in 2018. It went flat soon after, but it didn’t leak. Many motherboards that had leaky rechargeables also have headers to accept an IBM 5170 battery so you may be able to put lithium batteries in them without modifying the board.
Laptops, phones tablets, and power tools once used NiMh without problems, but have since moved on to newer technologies like lithium-ion because they are smaller and lighter, which allows for smaller devices or longer runtime. Those are also not prone to leakage, as you’ve probably noticed.