Why do electronic devices which have gotten wet, stop working even when they are completely dry?

Everyone knows that water makes electronic devices go bad. However, there’s a lot to understand how it actually damages such devices. Truth to be told, water doesn’t directly harm electronics, like how most know it.

For instance, let’s talk about smartphones. You’ve inadvertently dropped your device in a pool of water, and your smartphone ended up damaged, malfunctioning, and eventually stopped working.

So, how did water exactly make your smartphone go bad?

You might be surprised, but water doesn’t harm electronics devices. It is the ions and microscopic impurities in water that are responsible for the damage.

These ions and impurities connect to each other and seemingly link two endpoints within a device. If it is turned on, this will cause shorts and allow currents to flow on areas they are not supposed to be. Thus, damaging the device.

Technically, when the device is off, you can let it dry completely, and it will work as if nothing happens. This is the reason why USB flash drives tend to work fine even after you accidentally throw them into the water.

Remember, it’s actually the ions, minerals, and specks of dirt from non-pure water that allows the process of conduction and damages the devices. You can take distilled water in the supermarket (which is 100% pure sans the ions and impurities). Then, pour it on your smartphone while it’s turned on. In theory, it won’t cause your phone any damage as there would be materials that would create a passage for the current to flow to an inappropriate place, causing a short circuit.

Another way to see this effect is by placing a water leak detection sensor. If you dip it in distilled water or pure H20, it must not go off as there are no ions present. On the other hand, placing it tap or faucet water will make it trip and sound due to the ions it carries.

The result won’t always be the same, however. As technology progress, there are water leak sensors now that are capable of detecting distilled water. Distilled water isn’t wholly non-conductive. It still has the conduction property, though, it is extremely low. Thus, it significantly decreases the likelihood of holding electricity in most conditions.

But, in case your device still works after being soaked up in the water, don’t celebrate yet as there is a different problem that should watch out for that may cause damage to your electronic – water corrosion.

While your phone still functions, water corrosion waits some time before silently and slowly starting to damage the inside parts of your device.

Corrosion is brought by chemical reactions happening on the metal parts of the circuit board and any external material, such as the case of water and the impurities it carries. Rust is a typical example of corrosion, wherein metal reacts with oxygen and water and creates iron oxide that transforms steel into dusty and flaky powder. This also how corrosion seemingly takes place on circuits inside devices when exposed to water.

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