My USB drive went through the wash!
January 16, 2006 2:15 AM   Subscribe

Someone who shall remain nameless put my Sandisk Cruzer Mini USB drive through the washer. It's one of the groovy ones with rubberised slipcases, and it's still working. What are these things made of? Will it rust?

I've had a look at it very closely, and aside from a slight score on the metal casing (which I think is a manufacturing mark, not the start of rust-doom) it appears to be fine. Unfortunately, it sat in the back pocket of my work trousers while they dried on a rack overnight, and I only realised what had happened when I took them off to iron them. Is there anything I can do to check it further? I have another two skins which came with it, going to change the skins regularly over the next couple of days to minimise any moisture build-up, but if this has happened to anyone else and they have any tips, shoot.
posted by Happy Dave to Technology (12 answers total)
Since it's dry now and working, it will almost certainly continue to work. There's very little in the way of ferric metals in there, so rust isn't an issue.

As long as you don't power up electronics while wet, they will usually be completely fine. If you've got wet electronics, it doesn't hurt to give a bit of a rinse with isopropanol (isopropyl alcohol - you can get it cheap at electronics stores) which will help to wash away any residual water, and more importantly, the impurities it contains. The isopropanol will evaporate and leave no residue.
posted by polyglot at 2:30 AM on January 16, 2006

Thanks, awesome to know. It's brand new and I would not be a happy bunny if it quit on me!
posted by Happy Dave at 2:33 AM on January 16, 2006

Very tough indeed. Don't miss the BBC article the site references giving amusing examples of the abuse flash memory can take, e.g. partial recovery of data after being nailed to a tree.
posted by mdevore at 2:50 AM on January 16, 2006

I've run mine through the washer, and a friend of mine ran his through the washer and dryer and they still work fine.
posted by raster at 3:40 AM on January 16, 2006

There was some video somewhere of a Compact Flash card being recovered from a camera that had been utterly destroyed by debris from an explosive bridge or structure demolition.

I doubt your Flash/EEPROM device is the first to go through the wash and survive. In fact, the fact that you line-dried your pants may have saved it. A dryer is not only hot, but a static electricity machine from Hell.

The best thing you can do for wet electronics is remove the power until it is dry. As mentioned above, dousing it in alcohol can speed the drying process. With almost all USB and other flash memory devices, this is less of a problem because they are (usually) inherently unpowered when disconnected.

Anecdotal: I was once camping with my trusty Toshiba laptop - long story - and accidently spilled an entire 16 oz cup of water into the keyboard - another long, dumb story. I immediately flipped the laptop over and yanked the battery, shook out the water, removed the keyboard (tool-less removal, yay Toshiba) and let it warm in the sun for a bit. A bit of 100-proof Smirnoff (Ah, the story now begins to make sense!) helped a bit to dry out the nooks and crannies.

A more few hours of carefully monitored sun warmth, a few more shakes and a visual inspection to attempt to confirm that it was indeed bone dry, and it booted up just fine. I still have and use this laptop.

People also often drop cell phones, pagers and PDAs in toilets. Unfortunately, they're usually powered on when it happens, which probably drastically increases the likelihood of instant death.

There's even some freak out there that built a "water cooled" computer by simply immersing it in a sealed tank of de-ionized water. That worked, oh, for a few hours before corrosion set in and things started actually shorting out.
posted by loquacious at 3:49 AM on January 16, 2006

Thanks all, I'm considerably reassured, as is the washer of the drive, who would like me to point out that she was being nice doing my washing, and I should have checked the pockets before I put them in the hamper - she has a point. Damn USB drives are so small I'm amazed I haven't lost it yet.

btw, this is my first post on AskMeFi, and I'm already hooked!
posted by Happy Dave at 4:36 AM on January 16, 2006

My 1st USB thumbdrive died because I didn't "stop" the drive before removing it from a powered-up laptop, so please learn from my expensive mistake.
posted by theora55 at 7:39 AM on January 16, 2006

You typically shouldn't need to "stop" a USB drive before removing it. By default in Windows XP (assuming that's what you're using), write caching is disabled for USB flash drives. Unless you're in the middle of writing to the drive, there shouldn't be any problem just removing it without "stopping" it first.

That said, I make it a point of buying USB drives that have insanely long warranties (10+ years, if not lifetime). If one dies (and yes, they do die), I RMA it and get a replacement.
posted by gwenzel at 9:23 AM on January 16, 2006

There could be soap residue or minerals, especially if you live somewhere with hard water, that could cause corrosion to the contacts or traces on the little printed circuit board that may be inside.

You might consider rinsing it with distilled water and drying it again.
posted by Good Brain at 9:28 AM on January 16, 2006

Polyglot: Won't isorpropyl alcohol begin to dissolve some of the rubber and/or dyes in the device?

iPrOH is a pretty good solvent for hydrophobic polymers or greasy organic molecules.
posted by lalochezia at 9:56 AM on January 16, 2006

I just discovered I did the same thing with my iHome remote control. I'm hoping it will start working again if I install a new battery ....
posted by blogrrrl at 11:38 AM on January 16, 2006

I am constantly leaving my thumb drives in my pants and passing them through the washer/dryer ordeal. I had one with a plastic case that eventually split and fell off, leaving the circuitry bare to the world. The drive still worked until the second washing sans case, which caused part of the circuit board to break off.

My Sandisk Cruzer has also been subjected to many washings and dryings. I've noticed that the case will sometimes adhere slightly to the dryer drum, so there may be some melting going on there.

I leave them to dry for a day or two before using them again. The Sandisk shows no signs of erosion, but the other drive did have some rust on the USB connector.
posted by forrest at 12:53 PM on January 16, 2006

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