Water and electronics generally do not mix well. We’ve all experienced spilling a drink on our phones or dropping them in water, only to have them stop working properly afterward. But does getting electronics wet necessarily mean they are permanently damaged and unusable? Let’s take a closer look at how water affects electronics and whether the damage is permanent.
Can water damage electronics?
Yes, water absolutely can damage electronics. Water can cause short circuits, corrosion, and mineral buildup on electronic components. Even small amounts of water can be damaging if it gets on the wrong parts of a device.
Some of the ways water commonly damages electronics include:
- Short circuits – Water can bridge connections and create short circuits between components that are not meant to connect. This can lead to the electronic malfunctioning or shutting down.
- Corrosion – Many metals in electronics will start to corrode or rust when they come into contact with water or moisture. This corrosion can break down connections and coat components.
- Mineral buildup – As water evaporates, it leaves behind mineral deposits from substances dissolved in the water. These mineral deposits can interfere with electronic connections.
- Coatings degradation – Some coatings and treatments on circuit boards and components can be degraded by water exposure.
So in summary, water is almost always going to cause some level of damage when it gets on or in electronics. But the extent of the damage depends on factors like how much water exposure there was and what parts of the device got wet.
What types of water damage are irreversible?
While not all water damage is necessarily irreversible, there are certain types of damage that are very difficult or impossible to fully repair:
- Corroded wires or connections – Corrosion eats away at metal components and can completely break down wires or connections in a device over time. This can be difficult to reverse once significant corrosion has occurred.
- Shorted or burned out circuits – Short circuits can instantaneously fry components or circuits in a device. Burned out circuits or components typically cannot be repaired.
- Mineral deposits – Mineral buildup that is allowed to harden on circuit boards or components can be nearly impossible to remove without damaging the electronics.
- Rusting of internal components – If water sits inside a device for a prolonged period, internal components can start to rust extensively. This rust cannot be reversed.
- Degradation of protective coatings – Some coated circuit boards and chips rely on those coatings to function properly. Once the coatings are damaged by water, the components become much more failure prone.
In these situations where extensive corrosion, short circuiting, mineral buildup or rusting has already occurred, the damage is typically permanent and not reversible. The affected components would need to be completely replaced to get the device working again.
How can quick water exposure impact electronics?
Even quick water exposure that only lasts a second or two can still impact electronics. Here are some effects that can result from quick water exposure:
- Temporary short circuit – Water bridging connections on a powered device can short circuit it and cause it to power off or stop responding until the water evaporates.
- Interference with buttons or screens – A wet screen or button can temporarily prevent touch functions from working properly.
- Corrosion initiation – Even brief water contact can start the process of corrosion on metal components.
- Component degradation – Some components like speakers or microphones can be damaged by just brief water exposure.
In many cases, the device will start working again normally once it is dried out from a quick water splash or drop. But even quick water exposure can start the process of progressive damage through corrosion or degradation of components. So it is best to dry off and inspect electronic devices even after brief contact with water.
What factors determine the severity of water damage?
Several key factors influence how much damage water will cause to an electronic device:
- Exposure time – The longer a device is exposed to water, the more components will be damaged. A quick splash is less harmful than being submerged overnight.
- Water purity – Ultrapure water will not conduct electricity as well as tap water and causes less short circuiting. But impure water can leave more mineral deposits.
- Power state – Powered on devices are more vulnerable to short circuit damage than powered off devices.
- Water pressure – High pressure water from something like a faucet sprayer can push water into more crevices.
- Device construction – How well the device is sealed to resist water ingress affects vulnerability.
- Device complexity – The more complex the circuitry, the more potential areas can be damaged. Simple devices may only have minor damage.
Considering these factors allows you to assess how much risk a particular water exposure posed to an electronic device. The combination of long exposure time, impure water, powered on state, high water pressure, poor device sealing and complex circuitry is the worst case scenario.
Can water damage be repaired?
Water damaged electronics can sometimes be repaired, depending on the severity and type of damage. Here are some water damage repair options:
- Drying out – If caught early before corrosion occurs, simply drying out a device thoroughly can allow it to work again.
- Replacing batteries – Batteries can corrode and fail after water exposure. Replacing them may resolve issues.
- Cleaning – Cleaning off mineral deposits and corrosion can help if the damage is superficial.
- Replacing components – Individual damaged integrated circuits, switches or connectors can be replaced if only a few components are affected.
- Circuit board repair – Damaged circuit board traces can sometimes be repaired or bypassed instead of replacing the whole board.
- Full disassembly and cleaning – For more serious damage, fully disassembling and cleaning each component may be possible.
For extensive corrosion or short circuiting that has damaged many components or interconnects, repair may not be cost effective. The ability to repair water damage depends greatly on the design of the device and accessibility of components that were affected.
How can water damage be prevented?
There are several effective strategies to help prevent water damage to electronics:
- Use water resistant cases or waterproof coatings.
- Never use electronics in wet environments like pools or baths.
- Keep food and beverages away from electronics.
- Store electronics at room temperature in dry locations.
- Allow wet electronics to fully dry out before reusing.
- Design devices with water resistant casings and seals.
- Conformal coat circuit boards to resist water damage.
- Use compressed air or water displacement sprays to remove moisture.
By taking active steps to protect electronics from water exposure in the first place, you can prevent most water damage from happening. Some defensive measures like room temperature storage require minimal effort. But design approaches like waterproof cases, seals and conformal coatings provide the best protection for electronics used in wet environments.
Is distilled water safer for electronics?
Distilled water is generally safer for electronics than tap or mineral water since it has lower electrical conductivity and mineral content. Here are some of the advantages of using distilled water:
- Less potential for short circuits – The lower conductivity of distilled water makes it less likely to bridge connections and short circuit powered devices.
- No mineral deposits – Since distilled water has the minerals removed, it will not leave mineral residue behind when it dries.
- Lower corrosion potential – Many trace metals which encourage corrosion are removed in distilled water.
- More easily dried – With fewer dissolved minerals, distilled water tends to evaporate faster and leave surfaces dry.
However, distilled water still has risks if used on electronics:
- Can still cause shorts – Distilled water still has some conductivity and can short circuit exposed powered connections.
- Residual wetness issues – Any remaining moisture after drying can eventually corrode components.
- No protection from fats/oils – Distilled water will not remove insulating fats or oils like mineral deposts.
So while less risky than alternatives, distilled water should still be kept away from powered electronics. But if exposure occurs, using distilled water should result in less short-term and long-term damage.
Water can definitely cause both immediate and progressive damage to electronic devices if it comes into contact with circuitry or components. However, not all water exposure permanently destroys electronics. Factors like the exposure duration and device construction play a big role. With quick action to dry out a device, water damage can sometimes be minimized or avoided entirely. Certain repair techniques may also be able to restore partial or complete functionality. But significant corrosion or short circuiting often permanently damages affected components. The most effective approach is to proactively protect electronics from water exposure in the first place through protective casings, coatings and proper handling.