How to Clean Battery Corrosion and Build Up

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4-06-2019, 01:00
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Updated: November 1, 2018 Corrosion and build up on battery terminals can keep your car from starting, or cause your digital camera to fail when you want to take a shot of a special moment. No matter what kind of battery you have, your terminals can become corroded and poor conductors of electricity. Read on for tips on how to clean them up.

Cleaning Corrosion and Build Up in Car Batteries

  1. Remove the battery cables from the battery terminals. Loosen the nut on each cable clamp. Remove the cable clamp from the negative terminal, marked with a "-", followed by the clamp from the positive terminal, marked with a "+". Reverse the procedure when replacing them.
    • Cables can be difficult to remove. You may have to wiggle and lift it upward until the clamp comes off the terminal post. If there is excess corrosion, you may also need a pair of locking pliers.
  2. Examine the cables and clamps for excess wear or corrosion. If you find this to be the case, you should replace them.
  3. Check the battery case for cracks and the terminals for damage. If you find either, replace the battery.
  4. Secure the loose cables so that they don't accidentally flop on to the terminals.
  5. Pour baking soda directly onto the posts.
  6. Use a damp or wet toothbrush to scrub the baking soda into the terminal posts and cable clamps.
  7. If this isn't doing much, use a battery terminal cleaner brush. You can also use a plain wool pad to shine up the insides as well.
  8. Dry everything off with a clean rag.
  9. Apply grease or petroleum jelly onto the posts. This will slow down the formation of corrosive deposits.
  10. Replace the positive clamp and then the negative clamp. Use a proper sized wrench to tighten them down.
  11. Replace the rubber boot or plastic shield that covers the plastic terminal. If you don't have one, any local auto parts store should carry it.

Alkaline Batteries

  1. Check for the corrosion and follow the corresponding directions.
    • Mild corrosion: On the traditional shiny terminals, this usually shows up as a dark dull spot.
    • Build up: In extreme cases, you may see a crusty build-up. If the build-up is significant, the solution is a bit more tricky.

Tips

  • If the battery has been unused for a long period of time, carefully inspect the surface for any leakage.
  • Likewise, vinegar is a mild acid, and will neutralize alkaline battery leakage, but not car battery leakage.
  • Baking soda, since it is a mild base, will neutralize the pH of leakage from acidic batteries, such as car batteries. Baking soda will not react with or neutralize leakage from alkaline batteries.
  • People often refer to the fluid in a battery as "acid," but alkaline batteries, which are typically used in household electronics, are not acidic. Instead, alkaline batteries contain a caustic base called potassium hydroxide.
  • When using baking soda or vinegar on battery leakage, note that acid-base reactions are exothermic and can generate significant amounts of heat. These are mild acids and bases here, but it's still best to play it safe by proceeding slowly. So apply these materials precisely and sparingly to prevent heat build-up.

Warnings

  • As with anything involving monkeying around with delicate circuitry using water, acids, and bases, this can cause damage to the device. But with careful cleaning and proper caution, the risks of such are fairly low.
  • If any of the baking soda/vinegar mixture gets into the electronics compartment, you're probably best off opening up the case and cleaning off its traces and leads, or else reassembling the device and taking it to a professional.
  • Using the baking soda (on acid batteries) or vinegar (on alkaline batteries) will create water and salt. Either of those two by-products can cause a short circuit if left in the battery compartment or on any of the electronics. Be sure to wipe and dry all affected areas thoroughly afterwards. Do not immerse the device in the solution unless you can detach the battery holder entirely from the rest of the device to do so. This may include marking and desoldering/re-soldering leads and removing some screws.
  • Do not attempt to use an acid or base to neutralize the pH of any battery fluid that is in contact with your skin or eyes. Since acid-base reactions are exothermic, the heat from the reaction could worsen your burns.
  • Battery fluid is caustic! Any discoloration or powdery build-up should be treated as crystallized battery fluid and cleaned only with proper care. This includes hand and eye protection, although wearing gloves and not cleaning too vigorously will get you through fine in most situations.
  • If any battery fluid gets into your eyes or on your mucous membranes, including your nose, immediately wash the affected body part under a water faucet. Flush it continuously under warm water for at least 15 minutes.

Things You'll Need

  • For mild corrosion:
    • A small amount of vinegar (white vinegar is the cheapest)
    • An applicator (You don't need anything fancy. A lint-free cloth will work fine if the terminals are easy to get to. A Q-tip works nicely for ones that are harder to reach.)
    • Fine sandpaper and/or baking soda (for more extreme cases)
  • For build up:
    • Vinegar
    • Rubber gloves
    • Lint-free cloth(s)
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