Sunday, September 21, 2008

Electronics and Water Don't Mix: What to do

Liquids and electronics never get along well . Most people know never to use a hair dryer in the bath, or plug in a appliance with wet hands and of course, never drop a cell phone in the toilet. Nonetheless, at some point in your life you will likely spill your favorite beverage on your computer. Here are some tips to minimize damage if such an accident happens.

Your first instinct will be to run and get paper towels to clean up the spill. That is not the best solution. As long as your hands are dry and water did not get near a power plug, go ahead and immediately unplug the computer from the wall or turn off your surge protector. Most of the damage done by liquid is when the components "short" out. If power is cut quickly, the damage might be minimal or not at all. For laptop users, you need to go through the additional step of removing the battery, since the computer can run on battery power as well. Sometimes removing a laptop battery can be tricky , so it's a good idea to know how to do it now. For desktop users, usually the damage is only to the part liquid was spilled on such as the keyboard or mouse. However, because laptops are all in one, spilling liquid on them has the potential to damage all the stuff inside the computer.

After power is cut, go ahead and clean up the spill. Be sure to "blot" and not rub as rubbing could push the water further. Paper towels do a great job of this. If it's a sticky liquid such as soda pop or orange juice, your task is much more difficult. Water dries out, but sugar stays and can melt when the computer heats up. Yuck! Sometimes rubbing alcohol will help clean off some of the non-liquid remains, so you can try that if you wish.

Your next task is to dry the wet part out best you can. There are many tales on the Internet about the best way to do that. I don't like using a hair dryer because the heat could damage components unless you are very careful. The best solution is to use a desiccant pack which are often found in boxes of shoes or in pockets of new clothes. Put whatever you want to dry out in an air-proof container with the desiccant. A sealed garbage bag works nicely. If you can't go out and get a desiccant pack, use good old fashioned rice (that's why restaurants put rice in the salt shakers -- to draw out moisture). Wait at least a few days before using the device because you want to make sure it is completely dried out. In the summer when humidity is high, give it another day or so. Don't try and use the computer too early. Not only do you risk damage to the device, but you risk damage to yourself!

If your device still doesn't work, you are probably looking at replacement. Again, laptops usually require the whole unit need to be replaced. You might want to contact your insurance agent. Sometimes accidental damage like this is covered under your homeowners or business insurance policy. You can usually "schedule" your electronics on your insurance policy for just a few bucks a year and usually have to pay no deductible for replacement -- check with your agent for details. Additionally, if the item is less than 90 days old, you can often make a purchase protection claim on your credit card. Don't rely on your extended warranty; unless clearly stated, extended warranties don't cover accidents!

Hopefully, you will not need any of this advice for along time (if ever) but if an accident occurs, you will be ready to do everything you can to save your computer from a watery (or soda-poppy) grave!

This article appears in the Kaw Valley Senior Monthly