BatteriesMaintenance tips

Top 10 tips for taking care of your deep-cycle battery

Deep-cycle solar batteries is your energy storage and backup in case of an emergency. Its lifetime can go over 10 years or it might not even reach 6 months. It all depends on the battery maintenance and how well you treat it. These simple tips should help you to extend battery lifespan.

1. Keep battery charged

Lead-acid batteries should be charged as soon as an opportunity presents itself. Using a partially-charged battery leads to sulfation: lead-sulfate inside a battery crystallizes and it can no longer be charged. Partial charge, however, is less of a problem for lithium-ion batteries.

What's more, you shouldn't use a fully-charged battery in conjunction with a partially-charged one. The loss of electrical energy goes along with the gain of thermal energy, but an empty battery has higher resistance and heats quicker. If one battery is charged and the other is not, and you're running them as a single unit, you risk overheating the second one to the point of no return.

Battery charge level can be checked via a charge controller or manually with a voltmeter. For example, a voltage of a fully charged 12 V battery should be around 12.6 V. When its load is down to 50%, the voltage is closer to 12.3 V — a sign that it has to be recharged. When the battery is at approxiametely 20%, its voltage drops to 11.5 V. Voltage also rises, when the battery is being charged: for example, a full battery in charging state is going to show 14 V, but this number drops after it is disconnected from a charger.

2. Avoid extreme temperatures

High temperatures drastically shorten the lifetime of a battery. The normal operating temperature for batteries is 77 °F. According to data of Sandia National laboratories, every 15 °F above that mark is going to halven the lifetime of a battery. For example, your battery should last for 6 years on paper. If the weather in your area heats up to 85 °F on a regular basis, expect it to last for about 3 years. When the temperature gets really high, it can even provoke an internal explosion of a battery. Cold temperatures affect deep-cycle batteries in another way: the capacity of a battery drops and it needs more current to be charged.
Every 15 °F above 77 °F halvens the lifetime of a battery

3. Battery doesn't like being inactive

Buying a battery and saving it for a rainy day is honestly not a great idea. Batteries don't like not being used: it shortens their lifespan and decreases efficiency. Therefore, if you have a battery, you better put it to work. However, sometimes there is simply no use for it. Before storing it, charge it fully and disconnect all cables. Put a battery in a cold place (not too cold) and give it a boost every 2 month or so.

4. Avoid deep discharge

Lead-acid battery depth of discharge (DOD) is usually around 50% and it's not recommended to discharge it further on a regular basis. For example, a battery which is always discharged by 80% can survive up to 250 cycles. If it was discharged only by 50 %, it could handle up to 750 cycles. Keeping an eye on discharge level of your battery thus directly affects how long should a deep cycle battery last. Lithium-ion batteries have a much bigger DOD which reaches 80-90%, but a full discharge should be avoided with any battery you have.

5. Flooded lead-acid battery needs water

A part of flooded deep-cycle battery maintenance includes refilling it with distilled water every two weeks. Distilled water can be substituted with deionized water or at least water whose ratio of T.D.S. (Total Dissolved Solids, parts per million) doesn't exceed 200. Remember that plates of a battery should not be exposed to air, because it leads to corrosion. At the same time, don't fill the battery all the way to the top — it needs just enough electrolite to cover the plates. Check out our article on the history of batteries and basics of their functioning.

6. Equalization should be performed every 1-3 months

Equalization is the process during which you charge your deep-cycle battery with very little flow of current. This process takes more time than normal charging and aims to make sure every cell in the battery gets charged equally. Such a procedure might sound complicated but chargers for batteries and charge controllers can be set specifically to perform this task. Equalization should be performed every 1-3 month for deep-cycle batteries, both lead-acid and lithium-ion — check the instructions for your particular battery model for more details.

7. Clean battery from dust and debris

Deep cycle battery maintenance includes keeping it clean. The layer of dust that forms on the battery is itself capable of creating an electrical pathway. While it's hardly dangerous, it causes the current leakage in your battery and your accumulated energy goes in vain.

8. Charge controller prevents overcharging

Charging a deep cycle battery with solar energy is easy because panels naturally generate direct current that batteries store. That is unless you use microinverters; in this case panels produce alternating current on the spot and you have to pair them with AC batteries. However, there is a problem: voltage of solar panels usually exceeds the voltage of a battery and connecting the two together can destroy your storage quickly. Whenever you use a battery in a solar panel system, it's almost mandatory to add a charge controller for safety reasons. A charge controller:

  • protects the battery from high voltage of panels;
  • prevents its overcharging;
  • stops the use of the battery in a partial-charge state;
  • blocks the reverse currents, which can occur at night when the electricity flows from battery back to solar panels.

There are two main types of controllers: PWM (pulse width modulation) and MPPT (maximum power point tracking). The first type is cheap, the second one is efficient. Read more about controllers in our article.

9. Inspect the connections and clean the corrosion

Corrosion isn't a rare occurrence with batteries and can be harmful. It can be cleaned with the paste of baking soda and distilled water:

  • use a wire brush to apply the paste;
  • let it sit for a while;
  • clean and dry your battery with a paper towel or cloth after you are done;
  • apply a thin layer of silicon dielectric grease afterwards.

It's also a good idea to watch the connections: they should be fixed tightly at all times.

    10. Lithium-ion batteries require less maintenance

    Lithium-ion batteries have become popular over the last couple of years and slowly replace lead-acid batteries. You might consider investing in them, if you haven't already. They can be counted as deep-cycle by default and therefore they're perfectly suited for solar panel systems.

    Lithium-ion batteries are more expensive, but lighter, more efficient, require less maintenance than lead-acid batteries and have a higher DOD. There's no need to water them and they are less susceptible to partial state of charge. However, just as lead-acid batteries, they don't like high temperatures and prefer not to be fully discharged. Don't put anything flammable around them. If you need a recap on different types of deep-cycle batteries, check out our article.

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