Triple-A batteries are a technology that we rely on daily but don’t put much thought into how they work. While some people think they’re simply smaller batteries that fit into smaller items better, there are a few key differences that separate them from other battery types.
Items that take triple-A batteries are usually smaller household items, but they also have a gentler current draw than other items. Triple A battery performance also differs depending on the type of battery you use.
Keep reading as we explain the most common uses for AAA batteries and basic information that separates them from other battery forms.
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Most Common Uses for AAA Batteries
Some of the most devices that use triple-A batteries include:
- Small toys
- Digital cameras
- Remote controls
- Cordless phones
- Kitchen timers
- Laser pointers
- Some drones
- Bathroom scales
- Wireless mice
- Wall clocks
These are usually smaller, low drain devices. While double-A batteries have the same amount of voltage, the smaller triple-A battery is better suited for certain items and best compromise between size and power efficiency.
The Popularity of AAA Batteries
Triple-A batteries are the most common type of battery for a reason. They’re a great size for most small electronics, and they provide a great deal of power for that size.
They’re also actually cells, not batteries, so they’re a more rudimentary technology that is much more affordable.
They have a long shelf life, meaning you can stock up on them and have a constant supply of power, and there are a few unconventional work arounds when you need to swap them for other battery types.
AAA Battery Basics
Understanding the unique details of triple-A batteries usually comes down to their:
- Shelf life
While there are general standards in each of these areas, different types of batteries have unique specifications that affect how well they work in different situations.
Most triple-A batteries have a nominal voltage of 1.5 volts. This is the same standard for double A batteries, and it refers to the electric potential of the battery.
To best understand this, picture a pipe. Voltage would be the water pressure in this pipe, forcing the current to flow and bring the water to a certain point (bringing electricity to power your device).
Most household items need over 1.5 volts to operate, thus requiring multiple batteries in a series. Some types of batteries provide a slightly higher or lower voltage, making them better suited for certain tasks.
While voltage exists in a narrow range for triple A batteries, battery capacity varies greatly. Batteries this small rate the specification using milliAmp hours (mAh), referring to how long the battery can supply energy consistently.
To clear things up, a battery with 500 mAh cannot deliver a charge for as long as a battery with a capacity of 1000 mAh.
This number comes from the mass of the battery’s active material, which varies depending on what type of active materials the battery uses. For example, alkaline battery capacity might be as much as 2 times that of a Zinc-Carbon battery.
3. Shelf Life
The materials of a triple-A battery also affect its shelf life. These smaller batteries are technically cells and have a much longer battery life than true batteries (like those used in automobiles).
Manufacturers list the expected shelf life on battery specifications. Duracell Coppertop AAA batteries boast a 12 year shelf life, while Energizer Max batteries hold their power for up to 10 years.
Note that shelf life does not refer to operation or how long you can use the battery. A 12 year battery life is highly unlikely, although factors like charge ability and operating temperature can cause the same batteries to operate for two different lengths.
Rechargeable AAA batteries are not the standard, and it costs more upfront if this is the route that you want to take. There is also plenty of debate regarding whether they are really better for the environment.
This feature depends on the brand, and you must also pay attention to the type of charger you need. Because there are so many materials within AAA batteries, there are different chargers to get them back to their original state.
AAA Battery Types
Triple-A batteries usually fit into one of these categories:
- Alkaline batteries
- Lithium batteries
- Nickel metal hydride batteries
Each battery type contains different materials, making it better suited for certain tasks.
1. Alkaline Batteries
Alkaline batteries combine materials to create an environmentally friendly and easily recyclable type of battery. These usually include:
The shelf life of an alkaline battery sits between 7 and 10 years, and they’re the most popular type of triple-A batteries in use. Alkaline batteries work best for low-drain devices. While they can leak, it’s unlikely with modern technology.
2. Lithium Batteries
There are several subtypes of lithium batteries, but the most common has a shelf life of 10 years or longer and work better for high drain devices. They hold up to a greater temperature range, so you can use them in freezing temperatures or even those exceeding 100°F.
Lithium batteries may produce too much power for smaller, sensitive devices.
Rechargeable varieties include lithium iron disulfide (Li-FeS2) batteries, which are incredibly durable and have shelf lives that exceed 20 years.
The more popular options include lithium ion (Li-ion) and lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) batteries. This technology works well for larger batteries, like vehicle or marine batteries, but smaller AAA lithium ion batteries exist with USB charging capabilities.
3. Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) Batteries
Most AAA rechargeable batteries are NiMH batteries. They’re more expensive to start than alkaline or lithium batteries (especially disposable varieties), but you can charge them hundreds or even thousands of times over their life.
Nickel metal hydride batteries work best in high drain devices, and this maximizes their shorter battery life of 5 to 7 years. They usually have a nominal voltage closer to 1.2V, but deliver a more consistent current than other battery types.
This type of battery technology drains whether it is used or not, but they’re usually in use.
AAA and AA Batteries Compared
Because they have the same voltage, AAA and AA batteries are often used for similar items. You probably keep a stash of both somewhere in your house in case you need either variety and because you never know which one a device may call for.
AA batteries are larger than AAA. While AA batteries usually follow “14.5 mm x 50.5 mm” dimensions, smaller AAA batteries follow “10.5 mm x 44.5 mm”.
Another key difference is battery capacity. While both batteries contain the same potential energy, AA batteries hold more and will last longer than AAA batteries.
For example, zinc carbon AA batteries average 600 to 1,600 mAh while zinc carbon AAA batteries sit lower at 500 to 600 mAh. Alkaline double A batteries can hold anywhere from 1,800 to 2,700 mAh, whereas triple A batteries only hold about 850 to 1,200 mAh.
AA Battery Uses
In reality, AA batteries and AAA batteries power similar equipment. They’re usually limited to household applications because of the lower voltage, but AA batteries are useful in supplying power to:
- Larger children’s toys
- Small robots
- Kitchen appliances
- Grooming gadgets
- Accent lighting
These specify which type of battery they need, and you’ll notice a larger battery compartment for those that request double A over triple-A.
Can You Swap AA and AAA Batteries?
While battery manufacturers make double A and triple A batteries in similar lines and materials, you shouldn’t use batteries other than what is requested.
In a pinch, you can use a triple-A battery to power a double-A device by folding up some foil to bridge the gap and complete the connection, but you shouldn’t leave it connected and should find the right type of battery as soon as possible.
While the batteries have the same voltage, devices that take AA batteries typically have a higher draw. They may pull too much from the smaller battery, causing it to heat up, and the battery will not last as long as it should.
Worse scenarios range from ruining your device to starting a fire because of the stronger draw. For this reason, you shouldn’t attempt to connect a double-A battery to a triple-A device either.
Can Devices Mix New and Used Batteries?
You should use batteries of the same age to limit any upsets in the flow of energy. If you mix battery types, brands, or ages, then you open up the door for overcompensation and irregular discharge rates.
These may damage the item you are powering, but they also contribute to battery leakage. Your new batteries will run out sooner.
Triple-A batteries are among the most popular power sources for small devices like toys, remotes, and wall clocks. They allow you to keep your home cord free and provide you with plenty of power supply options.
While the answer to what takes triple-A batteries is simple, there are enough variables to merit looking into different battery types. Regardless of what you choose, make sure you use a battery that meets the specifications of the device.
Do you need triple-A batteries for your device? Comment with any questions you have about the different types and which works the best.