Sulfation is how a battery deteriorates over time.
Sulfation occurs inside a battery when the electrolyte begins to break down. As the sulphuric acid breaks up, the now free sulfur ions begin to make crystals. These crystals then bind or stick to the lead grid plates in the form of lead sulfate crystals. As time passes, these crystals grow and harden. As the crystals coat the lead plates the battery loses efficiency, power storage capability, and generally starts to deteriorate. This process will continue to worsen, as the electrolyte continues to break down into crystals. This is a common problem in batteries left unattended, RV parks, Marinas, etc. In other words, sulfation is not a good thing for a lead acid battery, and leaving batteries unattended is the cause.
The most common reason for battery sulfation is the inability to use the battery on a regular basis. So the easiest way to prevent sulfation is to break those crystals down with your battery charger as they come. When they have time to HARDEN on you, they don't go away easy. In the early stages of sulfation, the crystals can be broken down and absorbed back into the electrolyte with a simple charge. Once the sulfate has stuck to the plates, it get's very hard to break it off. The only way to do so is "OVERCHARGE" your batteries, and "BURN" it off. The industry refers to this overcharging as an equalization charge, and it will negatively affect any sealed battery (you won't be able to replace the electrolyte you will boil off). Click on the charging stages to the left for more information.
The initial signs of battery sulfation are slower cranking, reduced storage capacity, and inability to reach full charge voltage, but just barely short of spec. In the first stage, crystals are floating around in the electrolyte and are very easy to break with a standard charge. If not corrected and allowed to persist, those same sulfur crystals will begin to stick to the lead plates. Once the crystals start to stick, you will require a larger charge to break the sulfur crystals free. Even more power is required to break those crystals down after you break them free from the lead
When the battery goes into the third stage of sulfation, it will be its last. This final stage
will render the battery non-chargeable and useless. The sulfuric crystals,left unchecked, continue to grow inside the battery housing, moving things in their way. The result is often a bowed out or disfigured battery housing.
For batteries being used on a daily bases, sulfation is unlikely to occur. If you are not going to use your batteries routinely, expect to contend and fight with sulfation. The longer you leave your batteries unattended, the faster the rate of sulfation. The rate of battery sulfation goes up
geometrically, so when you get behind, it's hard to catch up.
OLD WIVES TALE!!!
A common misconception regarding battery sulfation is battery disconnection.
When one disconnects the battery from its power source, they neither accelerate nor decelerate the process of sulfation. The disconnection may prevent a trickle discharge, but does not prevent the electrolyte inside the battery from breaking down. It may slow the process of sulfation but will
not prevent it from happening.
A very useful device to help with battery sulfation is a
"battery conditioner", aka a battery charger. A battery charger with smarts is all you need. The computerized battery charger maintains the battery. The consistent charge prevents the sulfur from separating out of the electrolyte and sticking to the
lead grid plates. This tool will keep the battery fully charged in between uses without the
risk of over charging the battery. We reccomend the CTEK line of chargers for this application.
Battery Charger Warnings:
Always read and follow the manufacturer's battery charging instructions prior to
connecting your battery, or trying to charge a battery bank. Do not attempt to charge batteries
in a confined environment. Explosive and hazardous gases are an inherent byproduct of
battery charging, do think ahead. Batteries contain sulphuric acid, and lead, both of which are hazardous material if removed from the battery, or disposed of improperly, do take care to be
environmentally responsible. Batteries are useful, just be safe.