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Liquid vs. Electronics

Have you ever dropped your device in some sort of liquid? Everyone knows that liquid and electronics do not go well together. But why is that exactly? Let's talk about what actually happens when your phone slips out of your hand and into the toilet. We know it is gross, but it is very common.

Most mobile devices today use a battery as their power source for all the components throughout your cellphone. Power leaves the positive end of the battery, travels through the circuit board, and makes its way to the negative end of the battery. This is a continuous process that keeps the entire device powered. Check out our article on batteries here. When your cellphone hits the water, there are a few things that happen that may cause irreversible damage to your device. Two of the most detrimental things that could happen are short-circuiting and corrosion.

Short-circuiting is when an electrical current travels through an unintended path. When an engineer designs a circuit board, they use traces to carry electricity throughout the circuit board. A trace is copper wiring that is usually printed onto the circuit board. Copper is conductive and allows it to carry an electric charge. Rubber and dry wood, on the other hand, are considered insulators because they have such low electric conductivity. Most liquids, including water, soda, and coffee are conductive. These liquids create the unintended paths that result in a short circuit. Once that short circuit is created, it is highly likely that the device may not turn back on. Therefore, it is extremely important to turn off your device as quickly as possible if it touches liquid. Some cellphones will automatically turn themselves off when they meet liquid. Do not attempt to turn the phone back on until you are certain that it is completely dry on the inside.

If you were lucky enough to avoid short-circuiting, the other issue you may need to worry about is corrosion. Corrosion is the process of a metal deteriorating when it chemically reacts with its surroundings. If you have ever opened an old tv remote to replace the batteries, you probably know what corrosion looks like. It’s a white or greenish substance. Once the liquid enters the phone, whatever is in that liquid will gradually erode the metal components inside. Purified water and 90% or higher isopropyl alcohol will cause little to no corrosion damage because they do not contain damaging ingredients such as sugar or salt. Keep in mind, the device would still need to be completely dry before powering on to avoid short-circuiting. Soda, seawater, and tap water all contain impurities that could be fatal to the components on the inside of the device.

All in all, liquid damage is very unpredictable. There are a lot of factors to consider whenever you drop your device into liquid. Being mindful of short-circuiting and corrosion will increase the chances of your phone’s survival. If you or someone you know ends up in this situation, hopefully, this knowledge will be beneficial.

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