by Bryan Bergeron, Editor by Bryan Bergeron, Editor
When Water and Electronics Mix
This past May, the Cumberland River crested 12 feet above flood stage, resulting in flash flooding of Nashville.
In addition to the lost lives and thousands left homeless, a
major instrument storage facility was completely flooded.
Tens of millions of dollars worth of guitars, amplifiers, and
sound equipment were submerged for days. Many of the
acoustic instruments will never grace the stage again because
the wood was split or otherwise ruined. The ultimate fate of
the electronics is another matter, but odds are, much can be
saved. The point of this editorial is that if you know what
you’re doing, you can often resuscitate electronics that have
been submerged. And, sooner or later, someone is going to
bring you a piece of electronic equipment that was either
submerged or left out in the rain. So, how will you handle it?
First, there are no guarantees — especially if the device was
powered up when it went for a dive. And, in general, the
older the device, the better.
The worst case I’ve had was an IBM ThinkPad that had a
bowl of cheerios and milk spilled into the keyboard. I’ve also
saved a switching power supply and 2m transceiver that were
submerged in salt water. I lost an inexpensive MP3 player to
the rain, despite valiant attempts to revive it. It is possible to
save an MP3 player or cell phone that’s been used in the
rain or dunked in a pool by mistake. However, you really
want to get at the components and circuit board, and that’s
difficult with devices that have no obvious entry points.
The goal is to remove any water and, more importantly,
any residue that was carried by the water or caused by water
interacting with the electronics. So, if your AM radio took a
dip in the sea, you’ve got to get rid of the salt as well as the
water. Clean, fresh water is less problematic, but ponds,
lakes, and toilets tend to be filled with something other than
clean and fresh liquid.
So, my solution for submerged electronics goes
something like this: First, remove all sources of power,
including batteries. This includes the thin lithium cells used in
laptops, camcorders, and other handheld devices, and the 9V
batteries used as backup for clock radios. Most laptops have
at least two batteries. Next, disassemble the unit if you can.
Remove speaker cones and anything else that would be
damaged by additional contact with water. Next, spray the
components and board liberally with distilled water. Use a
hand-pump sprayer on the highest setting — you want a