Battery Dos and Don’ts

Batteries are a ubiquitous part of everyday life – powering everything from flashlights to electronic devices and now even bicycles and cars. According to, the average household in the United States has 20-60 batteries at any given time. The many types of batteries include alkaline, lithium, car batteries, button cells, rechargeable (lithium-ion, nickel-cadmium or nickel-metal hydride), and batteries used to power electric cars/bikes/scooters. Helping clients understand the proper way to handle and dispose of batteries is another value- added sign of the professional insurance agent.

The proper way to store, use, and dispose of batteries differs with the type. Any battery has the potential to carry a charge. Therefore, it is important to keep the terminals away from one another and clear of any other metal. Throwing batteries in the trash is not recommended as they can spark and ignite a fire. For modern alkaline batteries, the risk can be avoided by covering terminal ends of the batteries with nonconductive duct, electrical, or packaging tape.

Store batteries upright in a dry place, at room temperature. Extreme temperatures – either hot or cold – can drain a battery. Clean batteries before storage to remove corrosion and other deposits. Keep them away from sunlight and high humidity to extend battery life.

Some batteries, such as rechargeable or pre-1996 alkaline batteries, contain heavy metals. They must be recycled or taken to a hazardous waste site for disposal. Non-rechargeable lithium batteries are also hazardous waste. Wet-cell and lead-acid batteries are used in cars, boats, motorcycles, and emergency lighting devices. They may contain sulfuric acid, which is highly corrosive. Sulfuric acid vapor can react with metals on the battery terminals, and resulting residue can damage the battery. Such batteries can be returned to the store when a new battery is purchased, or taken to a hazardous waste site. Find these at Some retailers, including auto repair shops, may also accept these batteries.

Lithium-ion batteries are the rechargeable types found in devices such as hearing aids, laptops, phones, and tablets. They present a significant risk of explosion or fire due to thermal runaway. When a chemical reaction in the battery causes the temperature to rise, thermal runaway occurs. The battery case fails and releases flammable and explosive gases. These high temperature fires can be very difficult to extinguish, and may reignite days or weeks later. UL Solutions( reports that, overall, more than 1600 lithium-ion fire incidents occurred in the United States in 2023. According to USA Today, 17 deaths in New York City were attributed to lithium-ion fires in 2023.

Lithium-ion batteries are reported to be the major cause of fires on ships. This can be due to improper handling of batteries that are being transported – either in bulk or as part of a shipment of electrical devices or vehicles. According to the Cargo Incident Notification System (CINS), in 2022 there were 65 reported container ship fires, up significantly from the prior two years’ total of 31 each. Such fires can be even more dangerous to human occupants than a ship that sinks. It may be impossible to extinguish the fire, and it can burn for days.

Lithium-ion battery fires, such as those in electric vehicles, are commonly caused by overcharging, using equipment not designed for the battery, damage to the battery, contact with water, exposure to temperature extremes, and product defects. Proper use, storage, and disposal of batteries will help prevent fires.

Improper battery disposal leads to many fires at waste disposal sites and on board waste hauling vehicles. An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report estimates that over 200 such fires occurred at waste disposal sites in the United States in 2021, and the actual number may be much higher, as the cause may be difficult to determine.

Batteries are essential to our daily lives, but they must be handled properly to avoid loss. Helping clients understand the hazards of batteries and how to address them, is another sign of the true insurance professional.

This article was previously published in Insurance Advocate® magazine and is provided courtesy of MSO®, Inc. (The Mutual Service Office, Inc.) for non-commercial use only. For any other licensing requests or permissions, please contact © MSO®, Inc. 2024

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