It’s an old story: “I dropped my mod in water, but I fixed it by drying it in rice. It works like new! Yay!”.
Same person, the next week: “I’m in the market for a new mod. Any recommendations?”
Burying the mod in rice is not an effective way of drying it. Silica is hardly any better. And even if you manage to effectively dry it out, is that really enough?
What to do
First, the bad news: If you really want to save your electronics from liquid damage, it takes a bit more effort than just tossing it into a pile of rice.
The good news: That bit of extra effort isn’t really that big.
Disclaimer: None of the suggestions here are 100% guaranteed to work, and may cause damage to your equipment, so follow any of this advice at your own risk.
So let’s get started.
The best way: Isopropyl alcohol
If you want to properly rescue your electronic device, open it completely, and use isopropyl alcohol to flush any water from the circuit board.
Give the alcohol a few hours to evaporate completely before you reassemble the mod. Blowing on it with a fan will make it dry faster.
Isopropyl is highly toxic and flammable, so do this in a well ventilated area, away from open flame and other hot objects. Don’t inhale the fumes, and don’t spill too much of it on your hands or clothes.
The second best way: Any other pure alcohol or thinner
Ethanol, methanol, acetone, you name it. As long as it takes the water with it, and importantly, evaporates completely without leaving any residue, it might be usable.
The alcohol must be as pure as possible (contain little or no water or other contaminants), so WD-40 and many other universal wonder-liquids are out of the picture.
You may be able to get your hands on a spray can labeled “electronics cleaner” or “contact cleaner”. Read the label. It might contain some type of pure alcohol or other usable solvent. If you’re unlucky it’s also full of oils and stuff, and you can’t use it. Remember, it has to be able to evaporate completely.
Also be aware that many alcohols will crack acrylic and/or ruin LCD screens (isopropyl is among the most gentle alcohols in this regard). But at the same time, you don’t want water to get into your screen, especially if it’s an OLED display. Use your best judgement.
Again, most alcohols and thinners are toxic and flammable, so the same safety precautions apply as with isopropyl.
The third best way: Distilled water
If you don’t have alcohol or thinner available, distilled water can also be used in a pinch, but it evaporates much more slowly.
The good things about distilled water (apart from being non-flammable and non-toxic) is that it is only mildly corrosive. It is also very gentle on acrylics. This means that you can submerge the entire mod in distilled water, if you can’t or won’t do any disassembly.
The downside is that it kills OLED screens, so maybe you want to think twice before dipping the whole mod.
The fourth best way: Tap water
Tap water contains minerals that corrode the circuitry over time, which is exactly what you want to avoid.
However, if seawater or soda got into the device, and you don’t have any access to neither alcohol nor distilled water, it might be the only way out, at least as first aid. Tap water (or other fresh water) is bad, but not nearly as bad as seawater.
Just be prepared to open the mod again and do a proper cleaning with isopropyl once your return from the remote, unpopulated island that you’re stuck at.
The fifth best way …
The fifth best way is … Who are we kidding, we’ve already reached the “not particularly good at all” ways. But I’ll list a couple of them anyway.
These methods are guaranteed to have a mediocre success rate at best, but at least they don’t require much effort on your part. If you really just want the mod to work, and you don’t care for how long, here’s how.
Remove any batteries, and open as many doors and panels as you can. Put the mod in front of a fan.
The moisture will evaporate over time. The moving air will take it away from the circuit board, making room for more moisture to evaporate.
Let the mod sit like that for as long as you feel like waiting. A day or two is probably safest, depending on the ambient humidity and how open the mod is.
Reassemble, hope for the best, and try to have a vape.
Rice or silica drying
The rice method should only be used if air drying is way too effective for you. If you want the worst possible solution, barring just leaving the mod to sit in the toilet you dropped it in, this is how you do it:
Take a container, fill it with rice (or silica gel balls), and bury your mod in it.
The moisture will very slowly evaporate from the mod, and saturate the competely stagnant air between the grains of rice.
The water will then be very slowly absorbed from the air by the rice/silica. This will slowly make room for even more moisture to – slowly – evaporate.
If you want to accelerate this process slightly, and the corrosion by quite a bit, you can heat the whole thing up. Just try not to melt anything or set it on fire.
After a day or two, you can dig the mod up from the rice bowl. If you’re lucky, it will work fine for a little while before dying on you permanently.
Why letting it dry is usually not good enough
If you don’t flush away the spill, the water will evaporate, while minerals and other gunk will be left on the electronics. This gunk might introduce leakage currents, and/or make the electronic components and the circuit board tracks corrode over time.
The mod might work for a few days, another week, or even a few months. But sooner or later the corrosion will likely progress to a point where some part of the circuit simply stops working.
Summary and final thoughts
Let’s see… Just use isopropyl, okay? Yes I know it’s a little bit more work, but remember what you’re specifically trying to achieve here. Just letting the spilled liquid evaporate, leaving minerals and gunk behind, will help for a very limited time only. The trick is to flush the spilled liquid off the board, and replace it with something that evaporates without leaving anything behind.
Whatever you end up doing, I hope this little guide will have helped you make a more informed decision about what to do after your mod has made a swim for it.
Update: Here’s an interesting video about water and electronics.