A planet-friendly way to power toys, kitchen devices, and more
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If the last time you used rechargeable batteries, they took ages to charge and ran out of juice pretty quickly, you’ll be surprised how much better modern options are. Prior generations of rechargeables were made with nickel-cadmium (NiCd), but today’s are made from nickel-metal hydride (NiMH).
The NiMH batteries can store twice as much energy—meaning they can run a lot longer. They can also be recharged many more times than NiCd batteries, keep a charge for a longer time when stored, and can be “topped off,” whereas NiCd batteries have to be fully discharged in order to recharge them properly.
Since cadmium is human health and environmental hazard, NiMH batteries are more planet-friendly and can even be recycled at end of use. We researched the best rechargeable batteries for those household items that still need batteries, like toys, kitchen devices, massagers, and tech devices like keyboards.
With 2550 mAH of power, the Eneloop Pros can be recharged 500 times before the end of its life. While fewer than some other brands, it’s made up for in performance. According to Panasonic, these batteries were engineered with a “low self-discharge” technology so they can be stored for up to 10 years and still retain up to 70 percent of their charge—important if you keep your batteries in items that don’t get used often, like a flashlight or specialized kitchen tool.
Available with the charger and without, tests showed that they also held onto their performance despite extreme temperatures, working even at -4 degrees Fahrenheit. Available in AA and AAA only.
Good to Know: All of these batteries need a separate charger, so figure that into the cost of the batteries if you don’t already have one. But considering the number of times you’ll be able to reuse rechargeables, even if you have to buy a charger, it’s worth it, especially if you find yourself buying batteries monthly or more often. Most estimates suggest rechargeables pay for themselves after five or six uses, and all options on this list can go for 500 or over 1,000 charges.
At half to a third of the price of the other batteries on this list, these are by far the least expensive—and so is the charger. With the exact same specs as the Eneloop pro with 2550 mAh capacity and promised 500 charge cycles, they are also made in Japan. Since there’s only one factory in Japan able to make this type of battery—and they make the Eneloops there—some online testers have set out to prove they are the same battery underneath different packaging. Available in AA and AAA only.
These batteries, which come in all the major size categories, can be recharged up to 1,000 times, making them an excellent value, and they are also designed for slow discharge—promising 80 percent charge after sitting for 2 years, and the ability to fully charge after 3 years. At 2,000 mAh, they have less power than others on the list. They come pre-charged and ready-to-use, in recyclable packaging. Available In AA, AAA, C, D, and 9v sizes.
Energizer’s rechargeables can be recycled, like all the batteries on this list, but they’re the only ones made from recycled batteries themselves. Four percent of the Energizers are made from old batteries, meaning they hit two of the “three Rs”: Reuse and Recycle. Running right in the middle of the pack, Energizer’s 2300 mAh should give you plenty of juice when you need it for the likes of game controllers, cameras, and toys. Available in AA, AAA, and 9v only.
This brand doesn’t have the brand recognition of some of the others on this list, and they’re more expensive. Powerex Pro was originally designed for digital cameras, which means they’ll be great for medical equipment and other electronics that use a lot of power all at once (known as high-drain devices).
That ability to deliver high power is due to their 2700mAh capacity (slightly higher than the Eneloop Pros). There are various stats given for how many charge cycles the batteries provide, but they don’t store as well as others on this roundup, keeping 75 percent of their charge after a year. The Powerex charger is also more expensive but does offer more ways to charge, including a fast charge option and another to extend battery lifespans. Available in AA and AAA only.
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Starre Vartan has been covering sustainable consumer products for 15 years, 10 of those with Treehugger (under the MNN brand). She’s also a science writer who has covered biotech, astrobiology, animals, women’s health, and space for a variety of publications including Scientific American and National Geographic. She has personally tested compostable packaging in her backyard compost heap, a variety of solar chargers, hybrid cars, and other products meant to leave a lighter footprint. She started using rechargeable batteries in the 1990s.
What to Look for in Rechargeable Batteries
Price: There’s not a huge difference between the major brands listed above when it comes to rechargeable batteries, so overall, you’re probably best off choosing the one that’s on sale when you look to buy (and again, don’t forget to factor in the cost of the charger).
Brand: With that said, it’s wise to stay away from off-brand batteries of any kind, whether rechargeable or disposable, so given the choice between one of the widely tested brands above and a no-name or house brand, you’d be smart to choose one of the above brands.
Intended Use: Disposable batteries are sometimes a better choice than rechargeable. Anything that draws continuous small amounts of power over a long time period like wall clocks or headlamps are better off with a disposable battery. Importantly, smoke detectors that require a 9-volt battery (some come with built-in, long-lasting batteries and we’re not talking about those) shouldn’t use disposable batteries—they’re not designed with them in mind.
Energy Capacity: The energy capacity of a battery is measured in milliamp hours or mAh. The higher the number, the longer it will last, or the more power available for short, high-drain use (think a camera flash).