Charge Day – The International Holiday Batteries Love

by on Dec.26, 2013, under Hardware, IT

If you’re not confused enough by the title, let me make it worse – I invented my own holiday and it comes every month (or so). I call it “Charge Day” and dedicate it to all electronic devices I have laying around, or more specifically to their batteries. It is a day to spend a little more electricity than usual, and charge all those things which you use every day, or used in the past but don’t really any more.

So why is this holiday important, and why should everyone get behind it? Well the answer is quite literally Life or Death (for your batteries :)). You see, when we get a new electronic device we tend to use it a lot. It’s new, exciting, interesting, and perhaps even useful :). However, as time passes we either get bored of it, upgrade to a newer model, or find it redundant as its functionality just got moved to the newest cell phone on the market. This is where things to downhill.

As we cast that “old” device aside, its battery starts to drain. But, we’re not using it – you might say! And you would be right, but all batteries have a self-discharge rate which varies between battery types, brands, etc. However, they all loose a bit of their power each day, and given enough time – drain completely. Now, it’s all fine and dandy if our battery hasn’t been used for a bit and went from its full charge down to about 80%. Cool, no problem, recharge and go. However, when we don’t use them for a longer period, they may go down to 0, and this is extremely bad. At this point, we’re coming to a state of a battery’s life known as deep discharge, and to keep it simple, batteries don’t like that, and this may and probably will damage them permanently. Keep in mind, this not a state when your cell phone turns off (0%) and you need to recharge, this is well beyond that. At 0% the battery still holds power but it’s just not enough to power your device. Its voltage drops below a certain level and you have to recharge it. However, a state of deep discharge practically means that the battery is completely dead and will probably either not get recharged at all, or won’t hold the charge for very long.

So what can you do to battle this? The answer is simple, recharge your batteries. However, remembering to recharge batteries on devices that you don’t use is the real problem here right? I mean you’re not using it, so how the hell will you remember to recharge it. Enter Charge Day! I was facing this issue myself, so I decided that the best way to remember is to dedicate one whole day and recharge everything! Stuff I’m using, stuff I’m not, stuff I once used and left them to rot. If you ever want to be able to get anything from those devices again, get behind this crazy holiday of mine and charge, charge, charge!

Since we’re talking about batteries, there are a few things worth mentioning about types of batteries and proper care. There are several types of batteries on the market, from the old Nickel Cadmium (Ni-Cd), through Nickel Metal Hydride (Ni-MH), Lead Acid, Lithium Ion (Li‑ion), Lithium Ion Polymer (Li‑Po), etc. I’ll focus mainly on Li-ion as they’re the most popular batteries on the market today, and are most likely to be found in your devices. How should you charge them?

There’s a slight myth here and it dates back from the time of Ni-Cd batteries and relates to something called the “memory effect”. Some retailers (at least where I live) are so convinced in this that they swear by it, and it’s driving me crazy. So where else should I rant about it apart from my blog? Namely, in the olden days of Ni-Cd batteries (which are still used even today) there was a notion that you have to completely empty out the battery before you recharge it – and it’s completely true. These types of batteries “remember” a certain charging state. This means that if you only drain your battery to 50% and recharge, and do this several times, the battery will “remember” that you’re only using 50% from it and you’ll effectively loose the other 50% of the charge permanently. Given some time of usage, this will make the battery hold very little charge, if anything at all. So, in the case of Ni-Cd batteries, please, do discharge them completely before recharging.

However, and this is a big however, this does not apply to Li-ion batteries and don’t let anyone convince you otherwise! Actually, completely discharging Li-ion batteries is actually bad for them. They need to be recharged as frequently as possible and kept near 100% charge. This is exactly why Charge Day is such an important holiday, because leaving your Li-ion batteries to deep discharge will undoubtedly damage them. This damage becomes even greater in the case of devices which use proprietary (non AA or AAA) batteries which would then need to be replaced (if you can find a replacement that is, especially for older devices).

A note here, even though Li-ion batteries like to be kept fully charged, once a month or so, it’s good to do a complete charging cycle meaning you leave your Li-ion battery to drain completely, and then you charge it completely (0-100%). This is to ensure that your device reports a proper charge (try this if your device shows 100% and then 10% and your device turns off). However, you shouldn’t do this every time, or multiple times per week or anything like that. This type of recalibration should be done once per month if that. Li-ion batteries will thank you if you recharge them as soon as you can, and they will remain by your side for long periods of time.

In case you have a device which you know you won’t be using, the best way to store its battery is to remove it (if possible) charged at around 50-60% and store it in a cold place. I keep mine in the fridge, but keep in mind that you put them in sealed and vacuumed bags to avoid any air/moisture inside as that can damage them. Also don’t put them in some crazy freezer at -30 degrees. Low temperatures are ok, the North Pole isn’t :). This procedure slows the self-draining process and batteries can survive longer even if not being used.

Ok, I think I’ve ranted long enough. To finish this, let me give you a list of the items I charged during my last Charge Day, just so you get the idea of what kind of crazy devices make the list, devices that I rarely use and used to rarely charge:

  • A PS3 controller I rarely use on my PC
  • An old digital camera’s primary and backup battery
  • An old video camera battery
  • 2 cell phones I’m currently using (I’m actually charging those regularly)
  • 2 spare cell phones I have laying around
  • Bluetooth hands-free headset I’ve used twice
  • The battery pack in an RC car I’m using for a robotics project
  • The 9V battery for the RC car controller
  • 2 pairs of 3D active shutter glasses (which used to never have charge when I needed them)
  • Amazon Kindle (I don’t read too much on it these days)
  • My first generation PSP (which is, of course, obsolete)
  • Stand-Alone Bluetooth GPS (I have one in my phone now so this is an antique)
  • Stand-alone battery-powered speaker (which I just sometimes get out when I’m in nature :))
  • Fonera router battery pack (attacks are done infrequently :))
  • An old iPod (I do use it when jogging and stuff, but it’s also quite interrupted usage)
  • Hair Trimmer (one of those things that never have charge when I need them)

So, what’s the lesson here? It feels like some of these devices fall into a category which I’m never going to use. But in that case, I might as well throw them out. Yet, I’m not. Sometimes I get nostalgic and dig out my old PSP, or really have the need of a Bluetooth headset, and what then? If the battery is dead, you’re out of luck. So if you’re like me, and keep (sometimes use) old devices, then get behind Charge Day and plug in that 8 year old laptop that you keep for a rainy day. Because if you don’t, then you’ll be forced to sit next to a wall socket for all eternity :).

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