How do I stop ruining things that are wired?
May 11, 2011 10:05 AM   Subscribe

Every power cord I own breaks/frays/dies within one year of use. What am I doing wrong?!?

I am a lady with an advanced degree and a killer curry recipe, but for the life of me, I cannot own laptop power cords without killing them (the same goes for headphones, actually). This is a piece of practical knowledge I never picked up on, apparently.

I've tried:
- wrapping the cords into a circular bundle before putting them away
- mimicking the way they are originally packaged before storing them (so...bundling them together using an s-bend/zig-zag fold, and then tying the whole lot together with a twist tie or rubber band)
- just closing the laptop and wrapping the cord around it (bad idea)
- throwing them willy-nilly into my messenger bag as a big, tangled mess

Nevertheless, it is rare for me to have a power cord survive beyond one year. They start having a hard time connecting to the machine without a lot of jiggling. Then they die completely. And if we're talking earphones, one side will lose audio, then the other will cut in and out, until finally the whole thing stops bringing me the tunes, entirely.

Um. What am I doing wrong? How can I store/carry my cords around without killing them? What valuable life skill lesson did I apparently sleep through?

Relevant information?
- I am left-handed
- In the course of a work day, my laptop goes in and out of my bag frequently
- This happens with both inexpensive and expensive cords, though the latter might last a few more months than the former
- Having to ask this makes me feel vaguely ridiculous

I tried seeing if this has been asked before, but couldn't find anything. Maybe this lack of knowledge is tied to a concurrent lack of googling skills...
posted by vivid postcard to Computers & Internet (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Do you live with a cat, rabbit, ferret or similar creature prone to chewing on cords?
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:10 AM on May 11, 2011

Response by poster: I learned the hard way that the ferret thinks cords are tasty, but A) I now store them on shelves she cannot reach and B) This problem predates her furry existence by years and years.
posted by vivid postcard at 10:13 AM on May 11, 2011

Um. What am I doing wrong?

I don't think you're doing anything wrong. My experience is pretty much exactly the same.

The stress on the cords doesn't come from storage, but from how they're used. If the cord is completely stationary, it can last forever. Unfortunately, this just doesn't work for laptop cables. They are plugged and unplugged. The laptop is moved around. Sometimes the laptop is under the couch so I pull it out by the cable (!!!) Each time we do this, the cable is stressed at the point where it is joined to the connector.

Essentially, mobility is the death of cords.
posted by muddgirl at 10:15 AM on May 11, 2011

What I do:
-Unplug from computer
-Unplug computer-to-box piece from box-to-wall piece
-Wrap cords around the box loosely (so that there are no hard angles and no putting stress on any connection/part of the cord)
-Affix around the box with the velcro strap attached to the power cord (or rubber band)

I have a cord like this. The "box" is the thing in the middle. You don't ever want to force the cord into some configuration; be nice to it and don't bend it at its connecting points. Also, try not to trip over it too much when it's plugged into your computer, since that puts stress on the connections, too. Don't do the couch thing that muddgirl does.

My laptop is pretty mobile, but I've never had a computer outlive its power cord; my current one is pushing 4 years old. Just be nice to it and it should continue to do its job just fine.
posted by phunniemee at 10:19 AM on May 11, 2011

My wife also has an issue with chords not lasting long at all. It isn't the way she stores them, though; it's the way she uses them.

She often has chords pulled taut, plugged in to the laptop but putting pressure on the connector with another object, or yanks on them before she realizes she is sitting on them.

Maybe take a look at how you are using the chords, instead of how you are storing them. A slight bit of diligence can go a long way.

P.S. My wife still hasn't gotten the hang of it and she still questions why my stuff lasts years while hers last months and it's basically the same thing.
posted by TinWhistle at 10:21 AM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Don't charge your laptop every time you are using it. Wait for it to get low-ish, then charge it until it's charged (or I've heard charging it to about 80 or 90% will help extend the battery's lifespan). This way you will not be taking out/putting back your charger as much, and hopefully will help it not get frayed.

Make sure that when your laptop is charging, the charger is not getting wiggled and bumped around. Make sure it's not rubbing up against any other objects. This will hopefully help the contact portion last longer.

And, in general, just be mindful of your laptop. Treat it like the multi-hundreds of dollars piece of equipment, that probably stores a lot of media and information near and dear to you, that it is. Don't be annoying about it, but just treat it as gently as you can without being obsessive.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 10:21 AM on May 11, 2011

Are you pulling the plug (either side) out by the cord? You need to grab the plug (the hard plastic) part and pull that. I have used cords for years and don't have any issues. I am extremely careless with how I keep the cord (and I do take it to and from work everyday) but my cord is completely fine after 3 years.
posted by bread-eater at 10:24 AM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Tension on the cord and sharp angles on the plugs are killers. See this video on the right and wrong way to wrap a MacBook charger. The same basic principle applies to all devices, during storage and use.

Connect your headphones to your iPod and shove it in your pocket and the cord will get bent right at the plug, causing eventual failure. Wrap your charger up tightly the wrong way and the tension on the cord/charger junction will do the same thing as the as the iPod in the pocket. Sit with laptop cord stretched tight over to an outlet or in a location where it's subject to kicks/bumps/tugs and the same thing, or worse you could cause the power socket to work loose inside the laptop, necessitating an expensive repair.

So treat your cords with care and avoid tension and sharp angles, and be mindful of how you're using them.
posted by 6550 at 10:34 AM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I use sugru to reinforce both the brick and magsafe ends of my cords. It minimizes the sharp bends that were killing my cords and so far seems to be helping to keep things alive.
posted by stefanie at 10:56 AM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

My macbook charger and ipod usb cords do this all the time, i think it's from twisting them, but I'm just resigned to buying new ones every year.
posted by empath at 11:03 AM on May 11, 2011

When I get a new cord, I reinforce the points where the cord connects to the plug ends with a few wraps of electrical tape, stretched a bit as it's wound, like a splint. This reduces the stress on the weakest points.
posted by Corvid at 11:20 AM on May 11, 2011

Is the cord all twisty? If so, when wrapping it, make sure it doesn't twist.
posted by Neekee at 11:25 AM on May 11, 2011

Make sure that your cord is away from any heat vent on the laptop as much as possible. I've shredded a couple of mine that way as the heat vent is right near the plug, also try not to put weight on the plug and I've heard that the electrical tape thing works.
posted by oneear at 11:36 AM on May 11, 2011

Do the cords go through extreme temperature changes? Eg sitting in a hot car then sitting by an AC vent, or sitting in a freezing car then sitting by a heat vent? Do you let the laptop sit on the cord (it's very hot, don't do this)?

When you coil them, I would try coiling them loosely - into loops that are maybe 7" diameter - and then just put them in the laptop bag without securing them. See if that's a degree of looseness you can tolerate in terms of how well it sits in the bag.

Never bend the cord at the end points, next to the doober that fits into your computer or next to the wall end. Rearrange your work space as needed to ensure that there is a straight unbent section out to at least 3" or so from the computer.

Don't yank the cord to remove it from the wall, actually put your hand on the (shoulders of the) hard plastic plug to remove it.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:22 PM on May 11, 2011

Make no twists nor kinks in the cord; wrap cord loosely - no mess, but also: do not imitate the tight, neat wrap style of a new cord; never pull anything out of anything by pulling the cord, always grip the plug; most risky area is often just out of a plug so be especially careful about not making sharp bends or kinks there; never bend an area of the cord back and forth; don't put chair legs on top of the cord; for once, handedness has no influence here (I'm left handed too and my laptop's power cord is intact after two years of in-and-out-of-the-backpack. That proves it, doesn't it?).
posted by Namlit at 1:03 PM on May 11, 2011

As others have said, you should be gentle when you connect and disconnect your chargers from both the laptop and the outlet, and you should avoid sharp bends or kinks in the cord.

That said, you might also consider buying another charger. I have one charger for my laptop at home and another at my desk at work. Most of the time I don't pack a charger in my briefcase. My MacBook Air runs for about 5 hours on a charge (unless I'm doing something that demands a lot of processing power), which is fine for meetings or occasional work stints in a café. The only time I pack a charger is when I go on the road. I occasionally move the charger at home from my desk to my living room and back, but I don't have to really pack it up there.

If your laptop is a common brand you can probably get a used charger on eBay.
posted by brianogilvie at 1:22 PM on May 11, 2011

And if we're talking earphones, one side will lose audio, then the other will cut in and out, until finally the whole thing stops bringing me the tunes, entirely.

In my experience, this is just the way earphones die.
posted by Rash at 1:34 PM on May 11, 2011

I used sugru on my laptop cord, as well, it does seem to be helping. One of the big things that helped was making the join with the convertor more smooth so it doesn't get caught on things and pulled accidentally.

If you can locate the break then you can often fix your headphones when they break.
posted by anaelith at 5:37 PM on May 11, 2011

Response by poster: "Pigtail" is the new word of the day; I wouldn't be surprised if there were a sharp angle on every cord in my house or in storage.

Wish me luck and thanks for the help! Maybe this newest one will survive a couple of years, yet.
posted by vivid postcard at 12:21 PM on May 13, 2011

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