MAKE:TNT Tools 'n' Tips

When Electronics Get Wet

by Joel Young


I've revived a couple of soaked laptops and iPods, and if the machine isn't turning on, you pretty much have to disassemble it as fully as possible. You can find guides all over the internet. Cole's Hardware has little screwdriver kits that work well.

Once it's apart, you'll most likely see that the circuits have white sediment on them. I'm not sure what actually causes that to happen, but it causes (temporary) short circuits. If you get some denatured solvent alcohol from a hardware store and wipe the sediment away with cotton swabs and a toothbrush (don't breathe too deeply--it's not poisonous, but it is irritating), you should be able to get most, if not all, of the components working again.

Be careful not to let the display get soaked by anything, including the alcohol, because it won't function again after that. That's the part that's most likely to need replacement, and unfortunately, displays are not cheap. My fiancée’s iPod nano got soaked recently, and I was able to get everything but the display to work--and it costs $50 to get a replacement from a third party. Meh.