When electricity meets water

So far I have had 2 mobile phones and a laptop being at the receiving end of the water treatment. My first phone to be damaged was a Sony Ericsson K750i, which I accidentally dropped in the bath. (I wonder how many people still remember that phone, it was a popular one at the time). I took it apart completely, left it to dry for a day and it continued working just fine. My second incident was drink spillage on my then recently bought and treasured MacBook Pro. So you must imagine how devastated I was when it happened. Again, I took it apart and dried it overnight and left it under table-lamp for few hours. When I took it my local Apple store, I was quoted £600 for fixing the trackpad, battery, logic board and RAM, which were all apparently affected. I did DIY job of changing the RAM, and a day later everything was working fine. My third incident was when my smartphone, a LG Optimus 2X, dropped in a swimming pool. I was on holiday and it was my main form of communication, so I really needed it. By now I knew what do it; I opened the phone, used a hairdryer on low setting for a few minutes, and left to dry. A day later, it was working fine albeit the screen was affected, but that recovered after 2-3 days.

My laptop receiving phototherapy after water spillage.

So what actually happens when you mix water with your electronic device? Here’s a brief explanation.

Brief explanation

The saying, “electricity and water doesn’t mix”, is probably not very accurate. In fact electricity and water probably mix very well. It’s the components used in electrical devices that do not mix well with water.

All electrical equipments, such as mobile phones, laptop and TVs, are made up of all sorts of electrical circuits containing various sizes and shapes of resistors, transistors and their sisters. The circuits carry electricity and information between different parts of the device such as the processor and memory. Different circuits carry electrical currents at different voltages, and sometimes within a circuit the voltage can vary, thanks to things like the transistor. It is vital that the electricity going into a component is of a particular voltage for it to work. Too little voltage and the component will not work; too much and the component may get fried.

So what happens when water gets into an electrical device? If the water reaches any of these circuits, it can cause a short-circuit. Normal water is an electricity conductor, allowing electricity to be passed between point A and B. In a short-circuit it can allow electricity to bypass parts of the circuit, more importantly bypass some of these transistors and co, therefore the electricity reaches point B at a higher/lower voltage than necessary, causing malfunction of the component, and sometimes causing the component to get fried.

But what about when water is used to cool electrical components? Pure water, containing just H2O, is in fact a poor electrical conductor. It is the added salts and other particles that make the water conductible. So if you ever want to spill water, make sure it’s pure water, although drinking it will not be very good for your health.

Do you have any stories of electrical devices getting damaged? Have you been charged extortionate amounts for repair.

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2 responses to “When electricity meets water

  1. I spilled a can of pop on my laptop keyboard once. Knowing the electronics were underneath, I flipped it over right away and left it to dry. I got lucky, I don’t think any of the pop made it past the underside of the keyboard. But the keyboard was a total waste. Completely stick and unresponsive. I called the company and told them I had a bad keyboard. They sent me a new one at no cost (I was still under warranty) and I put it in. The worst part was getting the ribbon cable seated correctly. But after that it was fine!

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