20 February 2009

Did I break it?So, you’re merrily using your cell phone, MP3 player, or other electronic gizmo when it just happens to slip out of your hand and fall into the bathtub, ocean, river, a bowl of soup, etc.

After panicking and maybe swearing a bit, what the heck are you supposed to do?

With a little ingenuity, the proper tools, and a dash of bravery, you CAN bring your device back to life. Unless it’s a digital camera – in that case, you’re probably screwed. Sorry.

The first step is the most important: REMOVE THE BATTERY IMMEDIATELY!!!


Modern gizmos don’t have simple “on/off” switches that directly cut the power to the device. They usually have “electronic switches”. When you press the power button, you are usually activating some little piece of firmware or software that instructs the device to shut down gracefully before actually turning itself off. So, you DO NOT want to press the power button if you can avoid it. As fast as you can, pop off the cover and remove the battery. If you have an iPod, my condolences. There isn’t a battery cover, so your only option is to power down with the power button and hope to god that it shuts down before any more damage occurs.

The second step is to think about the fluid into which you dropped the gizmo. If you dropped it into salt water, chances are higher that your gizmo is fried since salt water is a wonderful conductor of electricity. That means that there is a much higher chance that there was a short inside the device, and something got hosed. But don’t fret too much, because you never know – if your reflexes are fast enough, you still might luck out. Just be sure to mentally prepare yourself for the task ahead.

Shorts are exactly why you remove the battery ASAP. You DO NOT want to pull your phone out of the ocean and then keep playing with it, telling yourself that it’s okay, and it still works. The more you move it around still powered up, the more those little drops of salt water are rolling around inside creating new circuit pathways that were absolutely not part of the original schematics!

Third step: Get yourself a set of those little teeny-tiny screwdrivers. Find a set that has flathead, Phillips head, and “star head” screwdrivers. You’ll need them to disassemble your device to clean it out. As an added bonus, simply possessing a set of teeny-tiny tools automatically gives you +10 Genius Points.

Step 4: Get yourself a relatively clean work area that is free of lint and dust.

Step 5: Get a big bottle of isopropyl alcohol (aka rubbing alcohol), the higher the concentration the better. 90-95% is good. This is your electronics-friendly cleaning agent.

Now comes the fun part: get on the net and search for your gizmo’s model number along with the word “disassembly”. You’d be amazed at what you can find. I found an entire video showing step by step how to disassemble a new Nokia cell phone. If your device is easy to disassemble with obvious screws showing, and/or you feel like you know what you’re doing, well then go for it and skip the disassembly instructions search. I also like to live dangerously…

The description of the cleaning step is necessarily going to be a bit nebulous. Since we’re talking about a variety of devices, I’ll just summarize the basic steps:

  1. Take the gizmo apart into as many “main pieces” as you can. BE GENTLE. When whole, gizmos can be sturdy, but their individual plastic parts can be thin and fragile indeed!!
  2. Wipe up any water/liquid from the inside and outside surfaces of the device
  3. Rinse any electronics that were wet with the alcohol. Be careful around things like LCD displays. Use the alcohol sparingly with a Q-tip, lint-free clothe, etc. You can use a dropper to rinse out connectors and ports on the device with alcohol. You are especially looking for any dried white or other “splotches” that indicate liquid was where it shouldn’t have been.
  4. If you have a can of “compressed air”, use it to blast all the cleaned parts until they’re dry. Otherwise, just put them all safely in a warm place until the alcohol has all evaporated.

[ad name=”square-l”] Right, so, that’s it. Once everything is cleaned and dried, put the gizmo back together. You did save all the screws, right? And you remember where they all go?? Technically, if you have one screw left over, you did well. This is what is known as a “lucky screw”. Anything more than one leftover screw, and might want to try again.

Just how successful is this technique?

Well, I have saved two cell phones – and I was unable to save another cell phone and an iPod. In the case of the ones I couldn’t bring back to life, they were kept powered up and in service by their owners instead of doing the “remove battery/power down” thing after they were dropped into the ocean and a water-filled ditch, respectively.

Worst case, you have to buy a new gizmo. That’s still not so bad, because then you can get a cooler one – and you learned something in taking apart the drowned device.

Good luck!!!

How to Save that Cell Phone, MP3 Player, or Other Gizmo that you Just Dropped into the Water
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