Can you save a computer or electrical device from water damage?

Oh no! You just spilled water all over your laptop, or console. Don’t panic, some quick thinking and taking a few initial steps may help prevent immediate permanent damage. It allows time for a repair centre to potentially save your device.

Water and electricals don’t mix, for several reasons.

First, water conducts electricity due to the dissolved ions in the water. An example is a salt as in saltwater. Electrical devices contain specific channels of safe passage for power to flow through, i.e. wires and circuit boards. Water making contact with these elements can allow electricity to short cut these paths to find the path of least resistance via the ions in the water. Hence the term short circuit. It can lead to damage to your electronics, or yourself if you are part of that path of least resistance, in this case to the ground. Both outcomes are harmful and dangerous and can lead to fire, injury or even death.

Second, water will corrode most metal elements that are in electronics. There are some exceptions, but they are few. While this will not show damage immediately, there is a chance that components exposed to water will corrode. This corrosion will increase the electrical conductive resistance, potentially stopping the flow of electricity altogether and resulting in a non-functioning component or device.

So, what should you do to try and save a device that is exposed to water?

  1. You can, if safe to do so, shut it off. If it is a plugged-in device, turn the power switch to off at the wall outlet, assuming it is dry.
  2. Pull the plug from the wall outlet.
  3. Wait at least 10 seconds or until the device’s lights have died, whichever is longer.
  4. Unplug the external transformer or power bank, if equipt.
  5. Depress the power button switch if dry a few times to discharge any power in the capacitors.
  6. Pull the plug from the device, if dry and able to do so.

If it has a battery, ensure the device if off and not plugged by following the above steps but skipping step 5 in and then remove the battery if safe and easy.

Once you remove power, the device is safe to touch again. You may try to dry it.

  1. Remove excess spillage from outer casings and around the device by letting absorbent towels or paper towels absorb the excess water.
  2. Pat dry it with more dry absorbent towels or paper towels.If your towels leave particulates, try to remove them or use towels that will not leave any in the process.
  3. Try to allow the water to drain out if any has entered into the device. If the electrical components are exposed, be careful with making contact with them as the act of drying can damage these components either from rough treatment or the generation of static electricity.

At this point, you should consider taking the device to a repair centre, where they may be able to save the device. Or, if it is a computer or other device with saved, they may be able to save at least the data you need to keep. Neither guaranteed successful due to luck as to how much damage occurs.

For DIYers…

Below are suggestions that you may have found on the internet, I have added them here for clarity but not recommended. Always proceed with caution when taking advice from an internet source

You may, at your discretion, expose the device to air currents and gentle heat. However, if the device can not vent the vapour, it is not recommended. It may increase the amount of exposure of water to components that may not have been in initial contact with water. Also, heating the device or its components too high or too aggressively can cause damage.
Isopropyl alcohol is effective in decreasing the evaporation times of water when mixed due to its hydrophilic nature and lower boiling temperature, reducing the chance of damage over time.

Agitating a device around in an attempt to remove the water should be avoided. Again, to minimise water contacting more components. Shaking the device can cause damage to the device itself.

There are also suggestions to bury the device in the sand or dry uncooked rice. Reputable, professional repairs do not practice it nor recommend it. There is a high risk of just introducing more contaminants that can damage the components further.

Opening up the device is done on your own volition. The recommendation is always to take the device to a repair centre to be diagnosed as it is a controlled environment with qualified and experienced technicians.

By these steps, you can give yourself options to decide your next course of action. It is always possible to save the device by taking the device to a repair centre, or at least to collect your essential data and memorabilia.