Wet electronics
May 30, 2014 12:25 AM   Subscribe

I just gave all of my personal electronics an (accidental) bath. Are they all ruined?

I was feeling very happy about my new nightstand charging station until I spilled a full glass of water all over it. Water got on or underneath everything but nothing was submerged. Most things got water on top of them or under them including the following and their attendant cords:

-fancy dual alarm clock/bedside light
-older model dumbphone
-computer speakers and subwoofer
-laptop (water on top of closed case, bottom and the cloth carrying case it was resting on were dry)
-power strip all that stuff was plugged into, plus the chargers/plugs for everything, plus the charger for my tablet

I dried everything off, unplugged everything, and put my cell phone in a bag of rice since it seemed to have turned itself of and lost the charge in its battery and the thing I think is the water detection sticker had red xes on it when I took the battery out.

How do I know if the other stuff is ruined or damaged? Is there anything else I can do to protect the stuff other than what I already did (rice baths for everyone!!)? Can I let it dry overnight and then plug it back in or is that dangerous? Do I have to just get rid of all the stuff (!!!) because it's not safe to plug back in? Oh help.
posted by Snarl Furillo to Technology (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: So the deal here is that water doesn't actually hurt electronics, for the most part. The problem is that it's electrically conductive and can create shorts, which can cause all kinds of problems, so you need to make sure it's 100% gone before powering anything on. It will also possibly cause some corrosion over time.

The only thing I'd toss is the power strip. A faulty speaker just won't work. A faulty power strip can burn your house down/wreck your electronics. It's also cheap to replace.

Drop your laptop, phone and alarm clock in rice. Your laptop is almost certainly okay if it didn't get any water inside it, or only got a little bit.

Your speakers could probably run fine while still soaking wet, but I'd still wait for them to dry.

Your ac adapters/chargers are probably all fine, too. They generally dont' have a lot of fancy electronic circuits that you can ruin with water.
posted by empath at 12:44 AM on May 30, 2014 [6 favorites]

Put anything you can that is in rice in the fridge as well. The fridge is a very drying environment. (Ever leave food unwrapped or uncovered?) It will be chilly but will help the drying process immensely.
posted by pearlybob at 12:53 AM on May 30, 2014

Remove batteries, look for swelling, discard if they're bulgy, otherwise toss separately in rice

Me, I'd keep the devices in rice for a couple of days, changing the rice each morning, just to give the dryout the best odds I could
posted by zippy at 1:12 AM on May 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Did you actually try to use your phone to know that the bat died? Because phones fare best in the omg water pull the battery out without thinking about it as fast as possible. I'm afraid if you did use your phone after that it already shorted.

The general advice is to remove battery put in rice wait. keep waiting. And wait one more day than you'd like. Inspect for water then turn on and hope for the best.
posted by AlexiaSky at 1:33 AM on May 30, 2014

Best answer: Just FYI, the "red X" sticker turns pink when it's wet.
posted by Amalie-Suzette at 1:37 AM on May 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I agree with Empath. Let everything dry out before you power it up. Let them sit for twice as long as they need to dry, to be extra safe that they are dried out. If the power was off when they got wet, and stays off until they are completely dry, they should work again.

And yes, get a new power strip.
posted by Flood at 4:04 AM on May 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Nthing the "let stuff dry". As long as nothing was shorted out when stuff got wet, make sure you dry it all the way (other posters have nailed how to do that).

I knew a guy who lived in NOLA during Katrina. He forgot his PS2 and memory cards when he evacuated. It seems his hosue didn't have power when the flooding hit and when he returned to a very soggy house he was able to salvage both ps2 and memory cards by taking them apart, drying them, and cleaning the mildew/mold very carefully.

So it can be done.

(but yes do get rid of the power strip, its just not worth it)
posted by Twain Device at 6:12 AM on May 30, 2014

I had never heard of using rice or putting electronics into the refrigerator to dry them. I'm skeptical about both of these tricks. I see people are debating the rice trick here and here. A couple of quick Google searches did not turn up any debate about the refrigerator trick, but it seems counter-intuitive to me. Water evaporates more slowly at lower temperatures, although the relative humidity also has an effect. I dunno. If it were me, I'd take the battery out of the phone, leave the battery compartment open (i.e., don't put the cover back on), and put the phone on a sunny windowsill for a week.
posted by alex1965 at 7:13 AM on May 30, 2014

I definitely saved a macbook using the rice trick, and it's still going 2 years later. Do keep an eye on the battery for a few days even after the computer seems to work fine. Mine started bulging a few days later while unattended and plugged in. That computer is now non-portable.
posted by rustcellar at 7:58 AM on May 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Desiccant bags are also helpful (those silica gel packs that absorb water), especially for the larger electronics.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:04 AM on May 30, 2014

Best answer: Crystal cat litter is made of silica gel, same as what's in those desiccant bags, and comes in nice big resealable containers for very little money. In my experience it's good for drying out wet electronics, as long as the batteries are out. You can sit a sealed container of crystal litter with brown paper wrapped electronics buried in it on a sunny windowsill and it will turn into a mini desert house.
posted by flabdablet at 8:18 AM on May 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Also, silica gel that's been used to dry stuff out can be re-activated by baking it on an open oven tray at 120°C for a couple of hours and then sealing it inside a metal cake tin to cool down. Crystal cat litter usually comes with color change crystals mixed through that tell you when it's time to do this.
posted by flabdablet at 8:22 AM on May 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

I did the rice trick with a MacBook, then took it to the Apple Store for a checkup. They said that it would work fine for a while but eventually corrode. About 6 months later it started acting funny. It was already 4+ years old so I was ready for a new one. I'm glad I had the warning though.

Also after that incident I only use Camelbak Podium water bottles. They're great for bedside especially because they are almost impossible to spill.
posted by radioamy at 9:10 AM on May 30, 2014

Note that you should use instant rice if possible.

(And yes, rice saved a Harmony remote of ours that had coffee dumped all over it)
posted by getawaysticks at 9:48 AM on May 30, 2014

Crystal cat litter over rice. Dried silica, pre-activated by the manufacturer is much better at absorbing moisture than starch which has been equilibrating in the air for most of its lifetime. The oven trick also really does work. This is exactly what we do to activate silica in chemistry labs. BTW, 120 C = 250 F.

For best results bag the electronics with the silica gel and seal the bag. Additional moisture form the air will slow down the process.
posted by bonehead at 9:53 AM on May 30, 2014

As for the refrigerator -- the reason it works is that the refrigerator's cooling element dehumidifies the fridge in addition to cooling it. That's why veggies get soft -- the water (which gives them stiffness) evaporates out into the fridge. That's why veggies get their own drawer.

The fridge's dehumidifying property has nothing to do with it being cold. It's because the compressor unit that cools things off also removes moisture from the air.

So, putting the stuff in the fridge might indeed help.
posted by htid at 10:22 AM on May 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

I accidentally ran an iPhone for about 5 minutes in the washing machine two weeks ago. I put it in a bag of rice for 3 or 4 days and it was okay, but I've heard plenty of people report it not working but it seems to be the most likely thing to work out there.
posted by dgran at 10:48 AM on May 30, 2014

Response by poster: Okay, I will definitely throw out the power strip. And I actually have a nice water bottle that I was just stupidly not using.

Ugh, I didn't cat litter box the laptop or alarm clock today because I was too busy being mentally ill. Is it too late to bury them if I get the stuff tomorrow? How long should they stay buried?

I feel so dumb for not knowing anything about this when everything is so costly to replace.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 9:34 PM on May 30, 2014

You can leave it wet as long as you like as long as you don't run the power.
posted by empath at 11:45 PM on May 30, 2014

Though eventually it'll start to corrode.
posted by empath at 11:45 PM on May 30, 2014

Response by poster: I threw out the power strip and got a new one. So far, everything else seems to have survived (although I guess it could all give up the ghost six months from now). Thanks, everybody! :)
posted by Snarl Furillo at 8:20 PM on June 9, 2014

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