Jealous cats ruin computers
November 18, 2009 9:04 AM   Subscribe

Water spilled on my desktop computer, what now?

This morning, my cat knocked a glass of water off the back of my desk. The water splashed down the back of my cpu case. The computer shut itself down within seconds. The water seems to have pooled on the bottom, on top of and around the power supply. I disconnected the power cord and waited for a few minutes. When I tried to turn it back on, there was no response from the computer.

Should I bother trying to dry it out (let it sit in rice, etc.) or should I just assume I have to replace the power supply?

Will my other components (i.e. motherboard, video cards, hard drives, etc.) be ok, or is there a chance they are fried as well? Is there any way of telling if they are?

Any advice for replacing the power supply?

Thanks for your help.
posted by mesh gear fox to Technology (8 answers total)
Your hard drive is likely fine.

Don't replace the power supply yet; it's much more likely that you fried the motherboard / CPU.

After you completely dry everything out (let it estivate for a day or two, preferably with a fan blowing on it and as many of those "do not eat dessicant" satchels as you can scrounge), you can try turning it on. There may be a tripped fuse or breaker as part of the power supply- if there is, it will be externally accessible; don't open the power supply up to look around.

If it doesn't turn on after drying out, I'd take it to your local geek squad or moral equivalent- they have tools that can identify whether it's a dead PS, CPU, or (most likely, I think) motherboard.

You could probably pull your HD out now and get it into an external drive case (they cost $20 - $40) and get your files back if you don't have backups. Your HD is sealed, so it probably didn't get damaged by this.
posted by jenkinsEar at 9:11 AM on November 18, 2009

I disconnected the power cord and waited for a few minutes. When I tried to turn it back on....

That was a mistake, sorry. How much water do you think will evaporate in "a few minutes?"

This is like "Should I Eat This" as something that should almost be an AskMe sticky: When this happens to ANYTHING electronic, from keyboards to televisions, you need to dry the hell out of the thing before trying again with power, because most of the time, it's that second power-on that actually does the damage.

As jenkinsEar says: disconnect, unplug, open and even disassemble if you can. Dry each piece as best you can with paper towel or a fan. If there are deep-inside parts you cannot possibly reach or see, you need to put the whole thing in a sealed place with some dessicant, or a dehumidifier, or at least a fan and heater, and wait for a day or three before attempting power-on again. A single drop of water in the wrong place can be bzzzzzt.

People mess this up all the time because they rush the electronics back to use too soon.

I also agree with jE that it's a motherboard short that is most scary/likely here, though the power supply is also a candidate, as is a video card: if your computer is a mini-tower that probably means the video card is one of the few horizontal elements in there, and so it could "catch" a great deal of falling water. Your hard disks are probably fine.
posted by rokusan at 9:23 AM on November 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

That was a mistake, sorry. How much water do you think will evaporate in "a few minutes?"

Pretty much none, but you don't need to apologize. I knew it wouldn't help, but I did not realize the potential harm involved. I'll remember that advice in the future. I don't think it caused any more damage to the PC (hopefully); absolutely nothing happened when I tried to turn it on.

It's a full tower, but it does have two horizontal video cards. It did not appear they caught any water, however. The case has holes for ventilation in the back, and the water seemed to splash up when the glass hit the ground, entering mostly from the bottom.
posted by mesh gear fox at 9:35 AM on November 18, 2009

I forgot to thank you both for the solid advice so far. Also does anyone know where I can buy some of those "do not eat" packets? (In or around Madison, WI preferably - I see where I can buy some online, but I'd prefer to get them sooner than later)
posted by mesh gear fox at 9:39 AM on November 18, 2009

You can probably buy a two or five pound bag (!) at a hardware store. Ask for a big bag of dessicant. (People hang them in basements and damp crawlspaces to trap moisture. Easier than getting 200 tiny packets.)

If you can't find that, a whole lot of uncooked rice in a sealed plastic bag that also contains the computer (a trash bag) will work, though more slowly. Rice absorbs moisture from the air.
posted by rokusan at 9:43 AM on November 18, 2009

After verifying that everything is dry and turning the system back on, make sure to listen for any beeps during the power on self test. The beeps are a special code that will tell you what component failed, even if the system is not able to boot up enough to show an error on the monitor.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:44 AM on November 18, 2009

i spilled an entire glass of water on my powerbook g4 6 years ago. i was told to do pretty much exactly what was said already: open it up as much as possible. use a fan, etc. make sure it is 100% dry before trying to turn it back on. i was warned that even with all this, the computer wouldn't last very long after water damage. ALAS! six years later, the thing still runs (though is in its final stages for other reasons).

good luck!
posted by itsacover at 9:54 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Given you description and the fact that the power supply is on the bottom of the case, it's probably just the power supply that's fried, probably with a blown MOV or fuse inside. I've wrecked a PSU with a short before (I stupidly cut a fan power connector with a conductive set of wire cutters while the system was on) and what happened just as you described - no big sparks or anything, it just shut off, never to turn on again. I replaced the PSU and the system worked fine.
posted by zsazsa at 11:23 AM on November 18, 2009

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