Batteries of all types have the potential to leak a powdery (sometimes clumpy or thick), white substance called potassium hydroxide. While most batteries are used and disposed of before ever representing a problem, very old or damaged batteries are prone to leaking. Potassium hydroxide can cause chemical burns and other health-related symptoms if exposed to the skin, mouth or eyes.
Potassium hydroxide can cause mild to severe chemical burns if exposed to bare skin. Trace amounts of potassium hydroxide from battery leakage usually only result in minor itching and irritation. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, any skin exposed to potassium hydroxide should be flushed with water immediately. Eye exposure should be treated through irrigation and a visit to a physician.
Potassium hydroxide from a leaking battery may cause poisoning if it is ingested or inhaled. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, symptoms include severe abdominal pain, breathing difficulties, diarrhoea and a rapid drop in blood pressure, to name a few. If ingested, call a physician immediately and follow her instructions. Do not induce vomiting unless instructed by the physician.
Decreased Functionality and/or Damage
A leaking battery indicates that it is damaged. According to consumer website BestBatteryTips.com, acids such as lemon or vinegar can clean the residue from a device after a potassium hydroxide leak. This is because potassium hydroxide is a base. However, even after cleaning, do not continue using a battery that has leaked, as it may continue to leak. Many battery manufacturers such as Energizer offer warranties for damage to devices caused by battery leakage.
Proper handling and care is the best way to avoid the potential consequences of a battery leak. According to the Energizer website, risk of battery leakage can be reduced by following certain protocol. These include keeping batteries at room temperature, not puncturing, crushing, or purposefully damaging a battery, only recharging batteries that are specifically marked as being rechargeable and not mixing old batteries and new batteries together in the same device.