How to test dry cell batteries

Updated February 21, 2017

A dry cell battery is essentially a sealed household type, in voltages between one volt and nine volts. These are the common batteries that come in sizes of AA, C, D, and several others. They are all made with a paste type of powdered chemical electrode, have a positive pole button on the top and a flat negative pole on the bottom. They are self-contained and have chemical compositions ranging from zinc-carbon and alkaline, to rechargeables such as nickel cadmium (NiCad) and nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) for short.

Set your multimeter to read direct current (DC) voltage. Many multimeters have a specific battery testing function built in, in which case they can be set to this function. If you are using a battery tester, just turn it on to measure whether a battery is good or bad.

Touch the red or positive lead to the top button of the dry cell battery. Touch the negative or black lead to the flat bottom on the battery. If using a battery tester, insert the battery positive side up into the unit. The tester will show which way the battery should be inserted.

Read the voltage on the multimeter. A 1.5 voltage battery must read a solid 1.5 volts for it to be in good working order. If there is a 10 per cent lower deviation in the voltage reading, the battery is bad and must be replaced. Most battery testers are simplified multimeters; with either a simple meter that swings either good or bad or a pair of coloured lights (green is good, red is bad), they will only show whether the battery is functional or not.


Nine volt batteries have both the positive and negative terminals at the top. The smooth terminal is positive, and the ribbed terminal is negative. Apply the multimeter leads to the correct positive and negative terminals for proper testing. On battery testers, a special 9 volt battery port will allow you to plug in any 9 volt battery to determine if it is good or bad.

Things You'll Need

  • Multimeter or commercially made battery tester
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About the Author

Dale Yalanovsky has been writing professionally since 1978. He has been published in "Woman's Day," "New Home Journal" and on many do-it-yourself websites. He specializes in do-it-yourself projects, household and auto maintenance and property management. Yalanovsky also writes a bimonthly column that provides home improvement advice.