As battery technology improves, it is becoming a viable option over electric or propane-powered equipment.

Using a battery as a power source eliminates the hazard of building occupants tripping over electrical cords or being injured when workers are cleaning. With that convenience comes the responsibility to properly store and clean the batteries to maximize the cleaning capability of each machine.

Battery Types

There are multiple types of batteries that can be used to power equipment. BSCs have to take into account the batteries in each machine. Each battery has to be handled in a different manner.

The flooded lead acid batteries is the oldest and least expensive type of battery available. The solution inside the battery, known as electrolyte, is 65 percent water and 35 percent sulfuric acid.

On account of the solution, the battery will sometimes discharge acid when it is being charged, says David Bryan, president of D G Bryan Commercial Cleaning Equipment, Fort Worth, Texas.

To further prevent any type of discharge, the battery must be installed in an upright position so that electrolyte does not leak out.

Through battery innovation, the gelled electrolyte battery came along after the flooded lead acid battery, roughly three decades ago, says Bryan. Gelled electrolyte batteries are considered safer than the flooded lead-acid batteries and differ from the original.

A gelled battery has the same chemical makeup of the lead acid battery but the lead plates contain different chemicals.

“Chemically, they are the same as wet-cell batteries (non-sealed) except the antimony in the lead plates is replaced by calcium,” says Rick Macher, Affordable Equipment Cleaning Repair, a subsidiary of T&M Environmental Services Inc., Pompano Beach, Fla.

The gelled battery also offers more stability. It can withstand extreme temperatures, shock and vibration that lead acid batteries cannot, say Macher. The stability is due to the agent that forms, which gels the liquid.

“Gel batteries use a thickening agent such as fumed silica to change the properties of the electrolyte from a liquid to a free-floating, gelatin-like substance,“ says Bryan.

A third battery option are the absorbed glass matt or advanced glass mat battery (or AGM) battery. Confusion exists regarding these types of batteries because manufacturers refer to them by different names, says Macher.

The AGM battery is considered the safest of the three. This is on account of the capillary action that absorbs the acid into the fine glass mat.

“They (AGM batteries) are sealed so the acid doesn’t ‘slosh’ around, therefore it can be installed at any angle, plus they can be shipped through regular carriers such as UPS or Fed-Ex,” says Bryan.

Considering the different features of each battery, there is still a specific market demand for all three.

The gelled electrolyte and AGM batteries are preferable where safety of building occupants is a concern, says Macher.

These batteries also offer a longer lifecycle than lead acid batteries. Though the initial cost is higher for the two, they are more cost efficient.

“Private organizations focusing on the big picture tend to lean toward the lifespan aspects of a battery, therefore leaning to batteries such as the AGM,” says Bryan.

The lower price of a lead acid battery is the marquee reason the product is still sought after by customers. In some instances, the cost of a lead acid battery is three times less than the other two, says Lyle “Buddy” Boyer of Nationwide Battery, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

“Often times, up-front cost is the main factor in custodial and janitorial purchases,” says Bryan. Flooded lead acid batteries become the most popular choice in school and government institutions even though longterm costs are higher because of improper maintenance, he says.

Cleaning/Storing Batteries

Regardless of the different features of each battery, if users want to maximize the productivity, it is pertinent to safely and properly clean each.

Workers cleaning the battery should begin by wearing proper personal protective equipment (PPE). The solution in all the batteries is highly corrosive so workers are encouraged to wear safety goggles and a plastic or rubber apron.

Acid burns to the face and eyes comprise 50 percent of injuries since batteries can easily explode, says Bryan.

Workers should always locate the nearest eyewash station before cleaning a battery.

When cleaning, Bryan suggests workers wipe away any acid on the battery and grind away the outer layer of oxidation using a battery post cleaning tool. BSCs should continue cleaning the outside of the battery by using a solution of baking soda and water.

“Use one tablespoon of baking soda per cup of water until completely dissolved,” says Macher. “It will neutralize and remove accumulations of acid contaminated soil on the battery and also cleanse the exterior.”

It is critical that the solution does not get in the battery. Bryan uses felt washers on the battery posts or clamps to coat with petroleum jelly before reinstalling the battery to allow for oxidation.

Investing time to clean the battery is all for naught if it is not stored properly.

Workers should begin by completely charging the battery. It should be kept in a cool, dry place that is devoid of any extreme weather.

“Extreme cold will reduce the power available, and will make the battery case brittle and easily broken,” says Bryan. “Extreme heat will result in electrolyte loss due to evaporation.”

Workers also need to keep the battery terminals dry. If these come into contact with water they could become corroded, says Bryan.

When in storage, the battery should still be recharged every three or four months.

“An unused battery should never be allowed to sit over six months without a recharge,” says Bryan.

Macher suggests using the battery as soon as possible.

“The battery gradually deteriorates during storage and thus its decreased capacity may be irreversible even if allowing for recharging,” he says.

Battery Safety

The power offered from a battery is compounded only by the safety measures one has to take to properly handle it. Workers should also adhere to certain practices when installing, charging and replacing a battery.

During installation, workers should connect the positive cable first, says Boyer. If connected this way, no spark is created should the battery ground out.

While charging a battery, charge in a well-ventilated area in case the battery emits any gas. Workers should keep the vent caps securely in place while charging.

Another common mistake is trying to rapidly charge the battery, says Macher.

“Many people make the mistake of overcharging or using too high a voltage in an attempt to rapidly charge the battery. This can be very dangerous as the gasses emitted can be explosive if ignited.”

Even if properly stored and cleaned, the battery still has to be replaced. When replacing the battery, the staffer should replace all at one time with the same type or make of battery. By not removing all batteries at once, it can lead to leakage or rupture, says Macher.

Battery maintenance differs by make and model of the battery. For workers unsure of the proper technique to follow, contact the battery manufacturer or jan/san distributor.