CopperTop and the Energizer Bunny are familiar marketing terms to most Americans, but they don't necessarily represent the brands of batteries consumers should be buying.
It's not that Duracell or Energizer batteries are bad; it's just that cheaper, lesser-known brands perform about the same, at least for traditional disposable alkaline batteries, according to testing by Worcester Polytechnic Institute for a report at DealNews.com.
The report found "no measurable difference in quality among these batteries." In the testing, brand-name batteries were tested alongside generics and a cheaper brand, Rayovac.
Those findings echo other studies, including one by Consumer Reports, which found so little difference among alkaline batteries that it recommended cheap Kirkland Signature brand batteries sold at Costco.
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The myriad choices mean you might be overspending or buying the wrong type of batteries for your needs.
Here's what you need to know:DON'T BUY HEAVY-DUTY BATTERIES
If ever a product was misnamed, it's heavy-duty batteries, which are just about the lightest-duty, lowest-capacity batteries you can buy. They have a fraction of the capacity of alkalines but don't cost much less.
"I see no use for heavy-duty batteries for the average consumer — zero," said Jim DeWitt, owner of online retailer Zbattery.com.
DISPOSABLE ALKALINES SIMPLY WORK
The quality of single-use alkaline batteries is similar among brands, so shop by price. A notable exception is the Energizer Max Alkaline, which was a poor-performing battery in Consumer Reports tests reported in December.
Alkalines have a long shelf life, usually more than five years, making them ideal for seldom-used devices such as flashlights and smoke detectors. They're also best for low-draw devices like wall clocks.
BUY ALKALINES IN BULK
In small quantities, a good price on standard alkalines would be 50 cents each for standard AA cells. But you can pay nearly half that if you're willing to buy in bulk. You're not taking a huge risk of batteries going dead before you use them, because alkalines have such a long shelf life. The best storage is a cool, dry place, but not a refrigerator or freezer, according to manufacturers.
And keep an eye out for manufacturer coupons. Stacking a sale and a coupon might mean you get name-brand batteries cheaper than generics.
RECHARGEABLES CAN BE A GOOD OPTION
Besides being an environmentally appealing option by creating less battery waste, rechargeable batteries can make great financial sense.
They are more expensive upfront, perhaps $2 to $4 each, but they can be recharged hundreds of times. With some AA batteries costing 50 cents to $1 each, rechargeables pay for themselves in just a few charges.
Rechargeables can be especially good for cameras, DeWitt said. "Rechargeables in most cameras actually perform better because they deliver more current," he said.
SEEK OUT HYBRID RECHARGEABLES
Today's rechargeables retain most of their charge much longer, and many will work right out of the package. That's a huge improvement for anyone who was frustrated by previous-generation rechargeables that always seemed to be dead just when you needed them most.
"If I haven't touched my camera for two months, I find they'll still work," DeWitt said.
Consumer Reports recommended all the rechargeable brands it tested, not finding a poor performer. The Sanyo brand, Eneloop, gets especially high ratings across different reviews.
"Owner reviews for the Eneloop batteries are terrific. In fact, we had a hard time finding anyone who didn't like them," said Christine Frietchen of ConsumerSearch.com, which compiles and summarizes other reviews.