What to Consider When Buying Single Use Batteries

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What to Consider When Buying Single Use Batteries

Buying a set of single use batteries to replace ones that are already exhausted can appear to be a straightforward exercise. Even if the batteries are to be left in a case for the day when a rechargeable battery needs to be recharged, it is worth spending a little time to get to know the different types of single use batteries available. Batteries are identified by their dimensions which have, over time, become accepted as international standards. They are also identified by the various chemical compounds used to create them. A basic understanding of these compounds allows shoppers to choose the batteries that are ideally suited for their uses and avoid making purchases that can result in costly damage to electronics.

The process of buying a set of single use batteries can sometimes present more pitfalls than might initially be expected. With a range of chemical technologies as well as battery sizes to choose from, a clear understanding of the benefits of each format and technology can give the shopper a head start in the process. With its wide choice in single use batteries, eBay represents a great resource that buyers can avail of when purchasing these often-used items.

How Do Single Use Batteries Work?

A single use battery is a simple way of storing electricity to power low-voltage devices and to make those devices portable if needed. Once connected as part of an electrical circuit, the batteries provide electrical current until they have discharged all of the energy they store. At this point, they are simply disposed of by using normal domestic disposal methods.

Single use batteries are sometimes called primary cells, as opposed to rechargeable batteries which are also referred to as secondary cells. There are three main variants of single use batteries, all of which use types of dry cell technology. Internal layers within the battery include a cathode and an anode which carry positive and negative charges respectively. Both layers are separated by a barrier called a "separator" which creates two cells. One of the components in a single use battery contains a moist paste that acts as an electrolyte to create an electrical charge between the cathode and anode when the battery is connected to a circuit.

As time progresses, with the battery connected to a circuit, the internal chemicals begin to change. The electrical voltage produced by the chemicals reduces until the battery no longer produces sufficient current to be of use.

All single use batteries are based on the same principle. Two chemical substances, separated into cells, can create electrical power when connected by an electrolyte and plugged into an electrical circuit such as a torch or camera.

What Makes a Good Battery?

To be commercially successful, single use battery technology needs to have four qualities. A battery should have as long a life as possible to extend the use of products. The technology should also exhibit high performance so that applications that draw high power, such as digital cameras, can be serviced. Unit costs should be low in order to make single use acceptable and, finally, they should be environmentally friendly as most can end up in landfill sites.

Zinc Carbon batteries

Zinc carbon single use batteries are based on an older technology. They are less expensive and are often included with devices that require batteries. Often called general purpose batteries, they are ideally used in low drain applications such as torches and radios. They can also be used in devices such as remote controls, but these single use batteries are better known as the power source for domestic torches.

Alkaline Batteries

Alkaline batteries get their name because they contain an alkaline electrolyte, such as potassium hydroxide, rather than the acidic electrolytes such as zinc chloride found in zinc carbon single use batteries. This type of single use battery is used more than the other types; the battery holds a nominal voltage of 1.5 volts that drops to less than one volt as the battery discharges. This battery also has a relatively good shelf life of between five and seven years. This single use battery technology is well suited to low-drain applications such as LED torches and remote control devices. The battery may be used to power high-drain devices such as digital cameras, but this can reduce the the life expectancy of the battery.

Lithium Batteries

Single use batteries constructed with lithium anodes are lightweight when compared to batteries that use older technologies, such as alkaline and zinc carbon. However, these batteries are expensive to buy. The batteries provide higher charge densities that can last for a longer period of usage. Because of their nominal current of 3 volts, compared to 1.5 volts from other single use battery technologies, they should only be used in devices after the manufacturers’ instructions have been checked for operating voltages.

The chart below offers a quick snapshot of each of the three types of single use batteries, including the advantages and disadvantages they offer.

Battery Type

Nominal Voltage



Recommended Use

Zinc Carbon

1.5 volts

Costs are low

High shelf life of 3 to 5 years

Old technology


Short charge life

Low-drain applications such as clocks


1.5 volts

Moderately priced

Widely available

3 times the energy of zinc carbon batteries

End up in landfill

Low drain applications

LED torches, remote controls


3 volts

Long life

Ideal for cold conditions

Longer shelf life of 10 to 15 years


High voltage can damage some circuits

Digital cameras

High-drain applications such as video display

Despite the huge increase in consumer electronics and other devices that need single use batteries, the technology in this type of battery has not evolved much over time. The consumer still has a choice amongst the three main types of single use batteries.

Sizes of Single Use Batteries

Single use batteries have been widely available for more than 100 years. Over time, certain standards have emerged and have been adopted internationally, allowing device manufacturers to create products around those standards.


Size mm

(diameter x height)



10.5 x 44

Available since 1911

Used in remote control devices


14.5 x 50.5

Introduced in 1907

Used in small torches


26.2 x 50

Known as U111 until mid 1980s

Used in early torches


61.5 x 34.2

Known as U2 until mid 1980s

Used in power torches

The majority of single use batteries fall into three groups. The first group consists of cylindrical batteries that are popular with equipment manufacturers. Because they are sold in such high quantities, these batteries are relatively cheap. However, they are limited in use because of their power output.

The second commonly found group is a range of single use batteries that are designed for more demanding applications and tend to be rectangular in shape. The batteries are used in applications where the longevity of a battery is important, such as in smoke detectors and fire alarms.

The third group of single use batteries is made up of small button or coin shape batteries. They are constructed using lithium technology, and the batteries consist of a single cell and are cylindrical in shape. They are used to power smaller portable devices that include watches and hearing aids and are available in a wide variety of sizes.

Buying Single Use Batteries on eBay

Searching for single use batteries on eBay is easy. Simply start from the eBay homepage, where you can type in "single use batteries" in the search bar. eBay returns many listings for this type of battery. If you think there are too many listings to deal with, you can begin to narrow your search by typing in details such as the size of battery you are looking for. So, if you enter "single use batteries AA" or "single use batteries AAA" eBay returns more specific listings. You can include details of the battery technology, such as lithium or alkaline, as well.

eBay has a variety of other tools that help filter the results of your search. Simply click on the "Advanced" search link on an eBay page, and you can use a variety of tools including category, price range, location, and type of seller to find the right kind of battery.


As their name suggests, single use batteries are used and then disposed of when they run out of charge. The choice of battery size is frequently determined by the particular device to be powered, and the shopper has different types of battery technologies to choose from. The zinc carbon, alkaline, and lithium technologies found in single use batteries have clear advantages and disadvantages.

The online platform offered by an auction website such as eBay is a great place to look for single use batteries. eBay provides shoppers with the chance to review detailed descriptions of items including information about the specific features of the single use batteries in a listing. On this website, a shopper can find a wide range of choices in single use batteries, ranging from the basic type to the type of batteries used in high-drain applications. eBay’s user friendly functionalities, including secure payment features and top-rated sellers, make an easy task of finding single use batteries.         

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