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I have always known via common knowledge that batteries drain quicker when it's cold. I've been told it's best to keep them in an inner pocket close to body heat when outdoors (e.g., batteries for headlamps or cameras when one is hiking in the cold night). And I've witnessed this behavior myself as well as it did seem like my batteries drained quicker. Adding on to this, I've also heard that it can help to "prewarm" batteries.

Yet the other day, I also learned that a good method to preserve charge on batteries is to refrigerate them!

These two statements seem directly contradictory? Can someone explain to me how they're both true? For example: is it that when not being used in a device, a charge is best retained in cold conditions, but once in a device, cold makes batteries drain quicker (so the difference is being in use/in a device)? (With the add on that prewarming helps, hence the common advice to keep it close to body heat, since it's presuming that these will be batteries soon to be used?)

Or is it possibly that the two statements are for different types of batteries?

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    $\begingroup$ Hi. You have any cold, hard evidence for the things you assert? ('common knowledge' doesn't qualify) $\endgroup$
    – Gert
    Feb 3, 2021 at 2:00
  • $\begingroup$ Keeping newly purchased batteries in the frig was possibly useful for the now-ancient battery types prior to rechargeables and prior to alkalines. Refrigeration is of no use at all for most modern batteries, including all rechargeables that I know of. $\endgroup$ Feb 3, 2021 at 14:08
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    $\begingroup$ It's more the maximum discharge rate that's limited in cold batteries than the decrease in total energy available. $\endgroup$ Feb 3, 2021 at 14:10
  • $\begingroup$ As @CarlWitthoft notes, the problem with cold batteries is getting them to produce their normal current because the chemical reactions are slower when it is cold. Your device reads this lower current as an indication that the battery is losing its charge. This same slowing of the reactions may help them keep longer by reducing parasitic losses, but is less of an issue now than with the older battery chemistries. $\endgroup$
    – Jon Custer
    Feb 3, 2021 at 14:35
  • $\begingroup$ @JonCuster oh interesting, so you're saying that it's a misnomer to say that batteries drain quicker when cold, it's that when it's cold it's harder for the reaction to fire. Hence, why it is simultaneously true that 1) refrigerate batteries to maintain charge, 2) prewarm before use, 3) then use in warmer conditions to ensure the reactions are always working. Is that all correct? $\endgroup$
    – james
    Feb 3, 2021 at 18:20

1 Answer 1

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I have always known via common knowledge that batteries drain quicker when it's cold...

Yes, because lowering the ambient temperature causes chemical reactions to proceed more slowly, so a battery used at a low temperature produces less current than at a higher temperature. As cold batteries run down they quickly reach the point where they cannot deliver enough current to keep up with the demand.

Yet the other day, I also learned that a good method to preserve charge on batteries is to refrigerate them! ...These two statements seem directly contradictory? Can someone explain to me how they're both true?

Yes, because refrigerating them slows down unproductive chemical reactions when the battery is not in use. But the statements aren’t contradictory because even when when the battery is not in use, chemical reactions can still occur using up chemical energy. By refrigerating the batteries the consumption of chemical energy while the battery is not being used slows down.

Hope this helps.

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  • $\begingroup$ @ Bob D Great answer $\endgroup$
    – John Darby
    Feb 4, 2021 at 3:18

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