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Which is better to buy: Rechargeable or Regular Batteries?

Updated on June 14, 2012

As some of you may or may not know, the wife and I are expecting our first little one very shortly. So far part of the parenting process has been buying toys, and gizmos for him that will eventually need to be filled with tons and tons of batteries. Even though the price of mega packs of batteries has become surprisingly affordable, we wondered if there was simply a better way. Now we aren't tree huggers or anything, but we also like the idea that we could be saving the planet a bit as well.

So what is the actual difference in batteries any way? Lets explore the overall battery options:

  • Heavy Duty - These are usually the cheapest batteries you can find and also hold the last amount of charge. They are generally not rechargeable, and they drain very fast. The good news is that they are very affordable, but this means you go through more of them.
  • Alkaline - These are the general workhorses of kiddie toys and remote controls. They last longer than the Heavy Duty varieties but are generally more expensive. You can however usually find good deals on large multi-packs. Again they are generally not rechargeable.
  • Lithium - At the top of the disposable battery food chain, these usually are the most expensive variety. They are commonly used in very high drain applications, such as cameras and high demand electronics. These are not rechargeable but generally hold charges for a long time.
  • NiCad - Nickle Cadmium - Finally a rechargeable battery for the list! NiCad batteries were the most common rechargeable batteries and can still be found at some stores. They are the lest expensive but they have a few drawbacks. For starters, they drain very quickly, and tend to have a "memory" effect. In order to get the best of them, you need to completely drain them and recharge them every time. Many of the remote controlled cars use these types of batteries.
  • NiMh - Nickle Metal Hydride - These batteries are the standard for rechargeable now a days. The price of NiMh has come down so much, that NiCad batteries have generally been pushed out of the market. It is important to note that NiMH batteries need to be charged in chargers specifically made for NiMh batteries. In some cases your charger might be capable of NiCad and NiMH, but never try to charge NiMh batteries in an old school NiCad charger. All the common sizes are available such as 9Volt, AA, AAA, C, and D, although you may need to search around for the 9v, C, and D batteries. These may not be stocked in all location.
  • Lithium-Ion - These are the types of batteries generally found in laptops, high end electronics, as well as some electric cars. I have not seen any Lithium ion batteries in standard sizes, like AA, AAA or 9Volts.

Ok so are you confused yet? No need to be. If you are looking to get into the rechargeable game, just head over to your local Wal-Mart and checkout their selection. generally NiMh batteries are what you will find. Now are they all the same? Absolutely not! You can pickup a 4 pack of rechargeable AA batteries for around $5, and then there are some around $10. Which should you buy? Aren't all NiMh batteries the same? Just like car batteries, rechargeable batteries have different ratings. They are measured in mAH (milliamphere hours). The higher the number the longer they will last and the fewer times you will need to recharge them. For example, the $5 variety I found the other day were only 750 mAH. The $10 variety was 2450 mAH. That is almost 3 times the capacity, you can go longer without charging them. Now the tricky thing is that some of the packages do not actually have the mAH rating on the outside. Often times you need to look closely at the battery through the packages. If it's not listed, just google the manufacturer's part number on your cell phone and you can see if you are getting a good deal or not.

So will these really save you money? Well we tend to think so! We bought a rather large supply, 12AA, 12AAA, and two chargers (a quick charger for AAA and AA, and a regular desk charger for everything else) for around $70. It seems like allot, but we realized we go through tons of batteries around the house, so we figure we would stock up. We were careful to purchase a motorized baby swing that has a plug and take batteries. The C and D sizes are generally around $10 for a pair of them, and many of the larger motorized toys and gizmos take multiple C and D batteries, so we figured that we could buy those as we started using the baby items. No need to spend the cash until we really need to.

Another trend of battery manufacturers are to sell "Pre-Charged Rechargeable Batteries". These are a great option because they come ready to run out of the package without the need to charge them for the first time, they have a relatively low cost, and they are re-usable. The downside is that they generally have low mAH ratings.

I briefly touched on the subject of chargers before. Even though the packaging for the charges states something to the tune of "XYZ Brand Works Best In This Charger", you can generally use any brand charger with any brand battery so long as they are the same type. Remember the battery types we went over? In fact some some of the Rayovac battery packages actually stated "Works in any charger", so just be wise to the marketing there.

Although it was a bit after the fact, I discovered that many of the battery manufacturers actually have coupons for their products on their websites as well as facebook pages. Before you go out and make your purchases, check their sites or simply google the brand your store stocks. Odds are you can save quite a bit. With our overall purchases we could have saves $15, reducing the overall cost to about $55 had we taken the time to think ahead.

Overall though, we are saving the environment a bit at a time and we figured that we would spend the money up front to avoid the frequent trips to the store which over time will wind up being very costly.


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    • RichardPac profile image

      RichardPac 5 years ago from Sunny Florida!

      You're definitely right about the different quality of batteries. I'm still experimenting to see if the "pre charged" rechargeable batteries are any different than the regular old non charged batteries.

    • UnnamedHarald profile image

      David Hunt 5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Very nice article, richard. I think you're right on the mark. Though, for really low usage, say a battery operated clock which could go for years, that's about the only time I'd used a regular battery (why tie up a rechargeable for years?). One other thing... there are fast chargers available (usually with a fan because of the heat) which can charge your batteries in 15-30 minutes. Make sure it has an aut0-shut-off. The only other thing I can think of is to research any chargers and batteries you're interested in for quality, especially regarding fires! Just saying.