Worst-Case Scenario: An Electronics Disaster Survival Guide

Whether you dropped it in the toilet, left it outside, or smashed it — here’s a handy list to help you fix your gadget. 

The Problem: You dropped it in the toilet, pool or glass of Kool-Aid.

The Fix: Fish it out and follow these steps immediately because the longer it stays wet, the less likely you’ll be able to revive it. Resist the urge to see if it works by turning it on, which can short the circuits if the innards of the gadget are still waterlogged, says technology repair specialist Dave Greenbaum of www.calldrdave.com. Instead, he advises that you remove the battery stat, as well as the SIM card or any other memory cards. (Even if the gadget turns out to be dead, you should still be able to retrieve photos, contacts, and so on off of these babies.) If you dropped it in the ocean, you’ll want to dip the gadget – sans battery – in tap water  to flush out the salt water (as salt water evaporates, it leaves behind salt crystals that can interfere with internal components). Next, speed up the drying process by blowing or sucking the water out of the gadget. Heat can fry the delicate insides and result in warping, says Greenbaum, so only use a hairdryer if it has a cold setting. Otherwise, try compressed air or a vacuum cleaner. Last step: soak up any remaining moisture by placing the gadget and detached battery in a plastic bag with leftover packets of silica gel (those little white packets you find in new leather goods, shoe boxes or electronics purchases) or submerged in a bowl of uncooked rice. Greenbaum advises allowing your device to dry at least 48 hours before replacing the battery and attempting to power up.

The Problem: You spilled coffee on your keyboard.

The Fix: Your first instinct is probably to clean up, but you should actually unplug it first to prevent short circuits (if it’s a laptop keyboard, remove the battery), says Greenbaum. Next, clean off the keys with rubbing alcohol, then dry it out according to the steps recommended for gadgets above.

The Problem: You left it outside in a hot car (or a freezing car).

The Fix: It’s best to use your devices in human-comfortable temperatures, as electronics don’t like extremes, says Greenbaum, who has seen soaring temps fry battery life and winter conditions crack screens. Whoops. If the device is left in extreme elements, he recommends allowing it to return to room temperature before turning it on or using it. And whatever you do, don’t try to speed up the process by putting it in front of an air conditioner or heater, he cautions, since a rapid change in temperature can cause further damage.

The Problem: The screen is cracked.

The Fix: Most experts we spoke to advised hiring a pro to replace a cracked screen, even though it can be pretty pricey. “It’s really tempting to do it yourself, and if you’re comfortable with it, then give it a go, but I would never try it personally — even some very tech-savvy folks have a devil of a time switching it on on their own,” says Wired.com GeekMom blogger, Nicole Wakelin. “The difficulty can vary widely from device to device — it really depends on the specific gadget, not a particular manufacturer or device type,” says Chief Information Architect of collaborative repair community iFixit.com, Miroslav Djuric. But before you plunk down serious bucks for a new screen, compare the cost to buying a new device (especially if yours is more than one year old). The screen is often the most expensive part of a gadget, so in some cases it’s cheaper to just buy a new device than repair a cracked screen. If you do decide to DYI, check out the repair guides on iFixit or search YouTube.com for how-to videos. These resources will help you figure out what parts you’ll need (fixit.com also sells replacement parts and tools, but a quick Google search will pull up many other options that sell aftermarket and OEM replacement parts for smartphones and tablets) and provide step-by-step instructions.

The Problem: It’s coated in dirt, crumbs or sand.

The Fix: Try canned air to dislodge as much debris from the cracks as possible. If your headphone jack is clogged, try this trick we found on popularmechanics.com (originally courtesy of luckow.com, owned by tech consultant superstar Al Luckow). Lop off the end of a cotton swab almost down to the nub, leaving just a tiny bit of cotton on the end. Moisten with a bit of rubbing alcohol then gently swirl around inside the jack to clear out any residue.

Nicole Cherie Jones
Nicole Cherie Jones is a writer and editor covering lifestyle topics ranging from cultural and health trends to sustainability and technology.
Nicole Cherie Jones
Tags: BYOD,Downtime,Gadgets & Devices,Home,Technology