The best AA batteries—and best bargains

In Consumer Reports' annual tests, these brands came out on top

Published: December 22, 2014 08:00 AM

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AA batteries powers many toys, game controllers, and other popular gadgets we get as gifts. But not all batteries are created equal. So we tested the most popular brands, to make sure you’re getting the most energy for your buck.

This year we evaluated 13 alkaline and 2 lithium batteries. Our test scenarios were based on typical battery usage in toys and in flashlights. Our toy test mimicked an hour a day of continuous play. A second test involved turning a flashlight on for 4 minutes every hour for 8 hours, then leaving it alone for 16 hours. We repeated each test until the batteries were drained.

What we found

The two lithium models we tested (Energizer Ultimate Lithium and Energizer Advanced Lithium) outperformed all of the alkaline batteries. But alkalines are far less expensive, and several brands came close to the lithiums in performance.

Within the 13 alkaline brands, we saw a fairly wide range of performance, but seven were recommended by Consumer Reports. The top-scoring alkaline battery model—Duracell Quantum—was not significantly different from the high-scoring lithium models, and it costs less than half as much. It’s a cheaper option than lithiums for high-drain situations (such as often-used flashlights).

We prefer lithium batteries over alkalines for hard-to-access or infrequently used devices, because of lithium's higher stability (lower “self-discharge” or power loss over time). Unlike alkalines, lithium batteries don't contain a corrosive liquid.

Kirkland Signature batteries were designated a Consumer Reports Best Buy, at 90 cents a pair.

The Panasonic Digital Power batteries were not only the most expensive of the alkaline batteries we tested ($2.84 for two), they scored lowest in our tests.

For more information and tips, check our battery buying guide and Ratings. And find out whether you can use lithium batteries in LED flashlights safely.

Be smart and stay safe

Batteries are a benign everyday item, but they do present some dangers if they're used or disposed of incorrectly. Follow our tips to stay safe.

  • Always use identical batteries of the same type, brand, and age in any device. Otherwise the batteries could leak or rupture.
  • If a battery leaks, and its fluids get into your eye or make contact with your skin, rinse well with plenty of cold water and seek medical attention. Battery fluids can cause serious damage.
  • Used batteries should be disposed of ASAP and kept out of the reach of children. Button batteries cause more injuries in kids, but cases involving cylindrical batteries have also been reported.
  • Don’t carry or store loose batteries along with metal objects—like, say, in a change-filled pocket. This could short-circuit the batteries. Tote your spare battery in a small ziplock bag.
  • If a battery feels hot, changes color or shape, gives off an odd smell, or seems abnormal in any way while in use or in storage—don’t use it!
  • Non-rechargeable batteries may explode if you try to recharge them or if they get wet, are exposed to high temperature or fire, are pierced or subject to strong impact, are taken apart, or are installed backward in a gadget.
  • Store your batteries in a cool, dry place (contrary to popular belief, a refrigerator isn’t necessary).
  • Clean contact surfaces and battery compartments each time you put in new batteries by rubbing them with a clean pencil eraser or rough cloth.
  • Remove batteries from a device when you don’t expect to use it for a few months.
  • Consider rechargeable nickel-metal-hydride AA batteries, for those devices that can use them. Though the initial cost is high, because you also need the charger, they’ll eventually save you money in devices that you use frequently.

How to get rid of old batteries

California is the only state in which it’s illegal to toss your single-use batteries in the trash. (Check for guidelines). But there’s good reason not to trash them wherever you live: Batteries contain toxic materials that can harm people and the environment.

—Carol Mangis

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