Water can cause severe damage to computers and electronics. Even small amounts of liquid spilled on or in a computer can result in component failure or electrical shorts that make the machine unusable. Understanding the risks water poses to computers and how to minimize those risks is important for anyone using electronic devices.
How does water damage computers?
Water causes damage to computers through a couple of key mechanisms:
- Short circuiting – Water can bridge connections and create shorts in electronic circuits. This disrupts the flow of electricity through components and can lead to failures or unpredictable behavior.
- Corrosion – Many components in computers are made of conductive metals like copper. When water reacts with these metals it can cause corrosion or rust over time, degrading connections and performance.
- Mineral deposits – As water evaporates it can leave behind mineral deposits from impurities in the water. These deposits can interfere with connections and operation.
Additionally, water can cause damage not from direct contact but by increasing humidity levels within devices. High humidity accelerates component corrosion over time.
Which computer components are most vulnerable to water damage?
The components most at risk from water exposure include:
- Motherboard – The main printed circuit board houses many conductive traces and sensitive components. Water can easily bridge circuits and cause shorts, as well as accelerate corrosion.
- Power supply – Power supplies have high voltage lines and dense circuitry vulnerable to shorts. Exposure is likely to make them fail.
- Storage drives – Hard disk drives and solid state drives have very tight internal clearances. Any water ingress can cause internal shorts and permanent data loss.
- Memory – RAM chips and memory slots are very susceptible to corrosion from any moisture.
Many other components like connectors, fans, and expansion cards are also at high risk of failure if exposed to liquids.
What types of water damage pose the greatest risk?
Not all water exposure is equally damaging. The type and extent of the spill or leak can determine the severity of the risk:
- Large spills – A major spill that saturates key computer components with water is likely to cause immediate failure.
- Small spills – Even a small amount of water spilled directly on a component like the motherboard can create a short.
- Splashes – If a splash only impacts the exterior of the computer it may not cause any issues initially. But moisture can still work its way deeper into the computer over time.
- High mineral content – Heavily mineralized water from sources like saltwater or tapwater can create more conductive shorts and leave behind more deposits.
- Sticky liquids – Sugary or fatty liquids like soda, juice, coffee, etc can leave sticky residues that continue attracting moisture even after the initial spill.
How to minimize the risks of water damage to computers
You can take several precautions to reduce the chance of water damaging your computer or other electronics:
- Keep liquids away from equipment. Never place drinks near electronics.
- Use water-resistant covers or cases for laptops and mobile devices.
- Store or operate computers away from sinks, tubs, showers or other wet areas.
- Shut down and unplug devices before cleaning them to avoid moisture entering.
- Ensure computers have adequate internal cooling and airflow to prevent humidity buildup.
- Keep repair materials like silica gel packs handy to help dry out any small spills.
What to do if your computer gets wet
If you accidentally spill liquid on your computer or submerge a device in water, quick action is essential to potentially save it:
- Immediately unplug the computer and any connected devices or cables.
- Turn the device off – don’t try to turn it on if wet.
- Remove any removable batteries from laptops, phones, etc.
- Dry exterior surfaces with a towel to soak up standing liquid.
- DO NOT try drying computer internals with heat from a hairdryer or other source.
- Disassemble the computer to access and dry internal components.
- Use compressed air to spray out traces of moisture.
- Place components in a dry environment with plenty of airflow for 1-2 days.
- Consult a repair specialist if device fails to recover after drying.
The quicker you can remove power and dry out the device, the better chance some components may survive. But water damage necessitates professional repair in many cases due to the complexity of fully drying internal circuitry.
Can water damaged computers be repaired?
Water damaged electronics can often be repaired, but the feasibility and cost depends on factors like:
- The extent of the water exposure and what components were affected.
- How quickly power was removed and drying started.
- If corrosive impurities were present in the water.
- The age and value of the device.
For example, a minor splash that only impacted exterior case panels may require minimal disassembly and cleaning to fix. But a device left soaked for a long time with no power off may have extensive corrosion requiring expensive part replacements or board-level repairs.
Repairing water damage requires expertise to fully dry components and safely power up devices after exposure. In some cases, the cost to repair may exceed the value of an older system. But for newer or high-value equipment like servers and workstations, extensive data recovery efforts may be warranted.
Common water damage repair processes
Repair shops utilize a range of techniques to fix water damaged electronics, including:
- Disassembly – Taking apart devices to access and dry impacted modules.
- Cleaning – Using deionized water, isopropyl alcohol and specialized cleaning products to rinse away residues.
- Drying – Applying heat or air flow to remove moisture from components.
- Inspection – Checking for visible corrosion, mineral deposits, etc.
- Replacement – Swapping damaged modules like power supplies or motherboards.
- Testing – Powering on devices in controlled settings to check functionality.
Some damaged parts like storage drives may undergo more specialized data recovery processes before being reinstalled in repaired devices.
Is water damage covered by warranty?
Water damage is not covered under most manufacturer warranties for computers and other consumer electronics. Standard warranties only cover defects in materials or workmanship. Accidental damage from the user, including water exposure, is generally excluded.
However, some extended third party warranty plans may include accidental damage protection. For example,mobile phone insurance plans often cover water damage for a deductible fee.
Home or business insurance policies may also reimburse water damaged electronics in cases like pipe leaks, weather damage, fires, floods, etc if optional electronic equipment coverage was purchased.
But basic manufacturer warranties that come with the purchase of a phone, laptop, desktop, etc do not warrant against user-inflicted water damage in most cases.
How much does it cost to repair a water damaged computer?
The cost to repair a water damaged computer can range from $50 to over $1000 depending on the severity and components affected. Some average repair costs for common water damage include:
|$200 – $500
|$100 – $200
|Hard drive data recovery
|$300 – $1000+
|Phone liquid damage cleanup
|$50 – $150
More extensive damage requiring full device replacement can cost up to the price of a new laptop, phone, etc. And loss of data that cannot be recovered has its own additional cost.
Can you prevent water damage on computers?
While accidental spills or leaks may occur, you can take proactive steps to greatly reduce the chances of water damage to your computer or electronics:
- Avoid liquid containers near equipment.
- Install surge protector strips safely away from water sources.
- Keep computers away from bathrooms, sprinklers, sinks, etc.
- Ensure proper airflow so humidity doesn’t build up inside devices.
- Shut down and unplug devices before cleaning them.
- Use water resistant cases and skins for added protection.
- Carry a bag of rice to place wet devices in to absorb moisture.
Practicing general care around electronics can go a long way towards preventing costly water exposure. But if an accident does occur, immediately unplugging and properly drying devices offers the best chance at saving them.
Water can be extremely damaging to computers and other electronics due to short circuiting, corrosion, and residue deposits. Components like the motherboard, power supply, and storage drives are especially high risk. Quick action to cut power and dry devices can potentially allow damaged hardware to be repaired and data recovered, though costs may be significant. With proper care and precautionary measures, many incidents of water damage can be avoided altogether. But understanding what to do if your computer does get wet can help you potentially save it and avoid permanent damage.