Dealing with Battery Corrosion: Causes and Cleaning Guidelines

It’s quite common to find battery corrosion around your car’s terminals when you pop the hood. While it might be a regular part of battery life due to wear and tear, it’s essential not to ignore it. Corroded battery terminals often lead to reduced battery life and electrical issues in vehicles. Why? The Universal Technical Institute explains that “corrosion on or around your battery’s surfaces can lead to increased resistance within the circuit, which can disrupt the electrical current.”

This not only shortens your battery’s lifespan but can also cause harm to your vehicle’s electrical systems. In this guide, we’ll take you through a step-by-step process on how to clean battery corrosion.

Understanding Battery Corrosion

Battery corrosion is a result of a chemical reaction. As your battery operates, sulfuric acid releases hydrogen gas, which combines with the air, moisture, and salt. This combination leads to corrosion. It’s typically visible as a white, blue, or greenish powdery substance around the battery terminals, posts, or cables, with a granular, powdery texture.

Common Causes of Battery Corrosion

There are several reasons for car battery corrosion, including:

  1. Age: Car batteries usually last three to five years, and as they approach the end of their lifespan, they become more prone to corrosion.
  2. Overheating: Overcharged or overheated batteries, often due to higher temperatures, are more susceptible to corrosion. This risk is particularly high in the summer.
  3. Leaking Fluid: Cracked or damaged batteries can leak acid, which leads to corrosion around the terminals.

Cleaning Battery Corrosion: Step-by-Step

Step 1: Prioritize safety. The powdery buildup around battery terminals is caustic and can harm your skin and eyes. Wear heavy-duty gloves and eye protection while handling battery corrosion. Make sure to wash away any corrosive material that contacts your skin or clothing.

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Step 2: Disconnect the battery. Begin with the negative terminal and cautiously release the cable from the battery. Carefully position the cable away from the terminal. Then remove the positive terminal connection.

Pro Tip: Before disconnecting the battery, use a battery memory saver to safeguard stored data and protect your car’s electrical system.

Step 3: Inspect the battery cables. With the battery disconnected, inspect the cables for fraying or corrosion where the cable connects to the terminal. Check for dry or cracking insulation. Damaged cables need to be replaced.

Step 4: Remove the battery. It’s possible to clean corrosion from a battery while it’s still in the vehicle, but it’s safer for you, your battery, and your vehicle to remove it and place it in a shallow bucket or pan to collect the corrosive material you’ll be cleaning.

Step 5: Begin cleaning. Now, it’s time to neutralize and remove the battery corrosion. Use a wire brush or scraper to remove solid, powdery corrosion from around the terminals and dirt from the top of the battery casing. Brush the corrosion away and let it fall into the pan below.

Step 6: Neutralize. You have a couple of options to completely remove and neutralize the remaining corrosion:

  • Battery terminal cleaner: A commercially available product designed to clean and neutralize corrosion. It’s a spray-on solution that changes color as it reacts with corrosion.
  • Baking soda and warm water: This makes for a good neutralizing solution to clean battery corrosion. Be sure to mix your solution, dip a rag, and wipe corrosion away rather than pouring it over the battery top to prevent it from leaking into the battery cells and neutralizing the sulfuric acid inside.
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Pro Tip: Don’t forget to clean the terminal ends that connect your battery to the cables. You can dip the ends in the baking soda and water solution or use a commercial battery terminal cleaner.

Step 7: Dry and polish. Use a microfiber cloth to dry the battery casing, posts, and terminals. Use a terminal cleaning brush to remove any debris or coating from the terminals that may interfere with the connection.

Step 8: Replace and reconnect. Return the battery to its tray in your engine and reconnect the terminals. Start by securely attaching the positive terminal to the cable, then finish with the negative terminal. Replace the battery hold-downs.

How to Prevent Battery Terminal Corrosion

While corrosion is a common occurrence, there are steps you can take to prevent or slow it:

  • Protect: After thorough cleaning, coat your battery terminals with dielectric grease or battery terminal protector. A generous coating can help prevent future corrosion.
  • Avoid under or overcharging: If you notice corrosion on your battery’s positive terminal, it’s a sign that your battery may be overcharging, possibly due to a faulty voltage regulator. Corrosion on the negative terminal is a symptom of undercharging, which can occur if you’re taking short drives and your electronic system is drawing a significant amount