Zyra's website //// Advice //// Electronics //// Site Index

What to do if your electronics gadget goes in the water

Electronic items and water don't go together well, (unless of course they've been designed with a hermetically sealed case and are waterproof). More usually, such things as mobile phones, mp3 players, computers, hi-fi, televisions, hard disc drives, digital cameras, etc survive best in dry conditions and will malfunction (sometimes quite spectacularly) if dunked in water. You sometimes hear a sad story of "my mobile phone fell into the toilet", or "flood water has ruined all my electrics" etc, but surprisingly it is not always a 100% loss. Xytron saved someone's laptop even though it had fallen into the Norwegian Sea. Sometimes, electronics and electrical machines can be saved from water and can recover and become functional again. So, if you've got an electronic gadget and it's got wet, don't throw it away. The advice on this page may help you to recover it.

Firstly, the most notable case of recovery of electronics from water: If your hard disc drive ends up underwater, either by flood, accident, or deliberate attempt to destroy the data, you CAN (almost always) get the data back! Hard disc drive recovery experts can get rescue your data, even if the disc drive has been at the bottom of the lake. Just don't expect it to be cheap.

In the more general case, where something like a phone or a digital camera has fallen in water, there is still a chance of saving it. Just because it's electrical and it's flooded doesn't mean it's dead. In some situations even home electronics devices and electrical appliances that have been in sea water can be recovered! There are no guarantees, but there are some techniques which will increase the chance of recovery, and some mistakes to avoid which will reduce the chance. Sometimes the human instinctive reaction suggests a course of action which is exactly the wrong thing to do, and it's much better to proceed in a way which is more rational even if it doesn't seem like it at the time.

The chances of anything electrical surviving being in water are very considerably better if it is switched off at the time. So, whatever you do, don't switch it on! If it's a battery powered device, take the battery out. If it's mains powered, (I should not need to say this), it should not be plugged in.

Strange as it may seem, water itself is not what destroys electronics. It's what's in the water that's the problem. Sea water conducts electricity especially well and will shortcircuit anything electrical that's powered up. River water with mud also contains stuff which causes damage by conduction. Swimming pool water contains chlorine and small amounts of various chemicals. However, if your camera/phone/sat-nav falls into any of these fluids, you may still be able to recover it. Here's the method:


1. Don't panic. Don't switch the device on. If there's a battery, take it out.

2. Put the device in a large bucket of distilled water. If you haven't any distilled water, tap water will do. Wash the device out thoroughly. I know it sounds odd, washing an electronic device in water, but it makes more sense than it sounds. The machine is not going to get more wet by it, and the important thing is to get rid of the dirty/salty water from it. Replacing the mucky water with clean water is an improvement.

3. When you are sure that you have got rid of all of the original water, and you are now left with a piece of electronics which is merely wet rather than full of whatever kind of (conductive) water it fell into, you can start to dry it.

4. Put the item in a warm dry place for a few weeks. Old style airing cupboards are good. Dry windowsills, front rooms, etc, are ok. Anywhere that's completely dry. If you've got a dehumidifier, that helps. I recommend two weeks of drying to allow all the residual dampness to leave the electronics.

You can't hurry the drying process unless you've got some fancy equipment such as a vacuum pump or dessication chamber, so don't be tempted to use the microwave oven! Patience is of the essence. The way to think about it is to consider how long a damp sponge would remain damp in those circumstances. Clearly not indefinitely, but quite a while!

5. Only after a long time has passed should you switch on the device. It might work, or it might not. But if you've left it a long time it's got a FAIR chance of working. Although it's instinctively tempting to try too soon, it's best to wait and forget about it and to let it dry out completely.

6. Even if the device still does not work, it may be that the residual damage is minimal and it may be worth getting a no-obligation quote from an electronics expert.

As distilled water will completely evaporate, and tap water will almost completely evaporate leaving almost no residue, the chances are that the electronics will survive if not powered when the problem occurred.

This method is not a 100% certainty, so let's not expect miracles. But the chances are improved in your favour. Good Luck!

Other notes: Most insurance companies can insure you against flood, burst pipes, and other water hazards. Being insured before the disaster happens is recommended.

Rescue of data from hard disc drives is a special case, as it is the data that's to be rescued rather than the electronics. See data recovery

Some types of electronics have a higher chance of survival in water than others. Old style hi-fi has large components which have wide gaps between, whereas modern surface-mount digital electronics won't survive so well because of the close proximity of electrical conductors within the device, but it's still worth a try.

Even if a digital camera does not survive, the photos might survive, as the memory card has a good survival chance. SIMilarly, a mobile phone memory may survive with your contacts, even if the phone doesn't survive.

Also see Tsunami Insurance