Monthly PC Tips

Let Electronics Dry Before Using Them

July 2017 – by Per Christensson

This month's tip comes from personal experience — from a few days ago.

My Razer mouse and keyboard are several years old. As you can imagine, they have gotten pretty dirty. So I decided to give them a good cleaning by dunking them in soapy water and washing them out.

You might think this sounds like a crazy idea, but there is really no other way to throughly clean a keyboard. All that dust, dirt, and hair that accumulates under the keys cannot be removed with a simple air duster. And only a good scrubbing will remove the grease from the keys. So I decided to give my keyboard a soapy bath. I did the same with my mouse while I was at it.

I left the input devices submerged in soapy water for about an hour and then washed them with water and scrubbed them dry with a towel. It worked! They looked and felt like new. But I could tell there was still some liquid in the crevices and I knew it was a bad idea to plug them in while they were still wet. So I let the keyboard and mouse sit overnight in the laundry room with the fan on, hoping the moisture would dissipate.

When I checked the devices in the morning, the looked dry. To be safe, I blasted them both with a hair dryer for over a minute. Thinking they were as dry as can be, I plugged them into my iMac.

Neither device worked.

The LED lights blinked erratically on the mouse. When I moved it, the cursor did not respond. The keyboard didn't light up at all, and while a few keys worked, other keys entered the wrong input, or sent a string of characters even when I quickly tapped the key. Uh oh.

I lifted up my keyboard and found a few drops of water on my desk. It was still wet.

▶ Getting an electronic device wet is often harmless if it is not turned on. Unless it contains capacitors that stores residual electricity, no electrical current flows through the device when it is off. So moisture will not damage it. However, if a device turned on when wet, the moisture can cause electrical connections to overlap, short-circuiting and possibly damaging the device.

I quickly unplugged both devices and reverted to an old Logitech keyboard and my left mouse for the remainder of the day. I let the devices sit overnight again and tried them the next day. When I plugged them in the second time, the lighting on the mouse looked normal and the buttons worked, but moving the mouse still did not move the cursor. The keys on the keyboard lit up and more keys worked properly, but lots of keys still were not sending the correct input.

I unplugged both devices and placed them in front of a space heater for a few hours as a last-ditch effort.

This was the demise of my mouse, as I placed it too close to the heat source. The space heater warped the plastic buttons, making them unclickable. Oops. The keyboard, however, looked good. When I plugged it in the next day, almost all of the keys worked properly. The next day (day 4), everything worked perfectly.

In the end, I had to buy a new mouse, but I was able to keep my old (and now very clean) keyboard. Not bad for a first-time experiment.

The moral of the story is to allow wet electronics to dry completely before using them. Even if you think they are dry, they may not be. It often takes a few days (at least three) for the moisture to dissipate. You can use a hair dryer or space heater to speed up the process, but if you put the electronics too close to the heat, you might find another way to ruin them.

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