What to do when Electronics go wrong

I know, because it happened to me this week. Busy trying to meet a deadline, I poured myself a mug of hot tea at 1:30 a.m. — and promptly spilled some of it on the laptop keyboard. BOOM – everything shut down. I immediately turned the laptop upside-down to drain, and wiped off any moisture I could find. Didn’t matter — everything stayed dark, and I couldn’t start it.

Oh no. Where was the report I’d just started? How was I going to finish it?

And worst of all: how could I have been so stupid?

The sad part about enjoying all the instant opportunities gained by using electronics, is that they can go away just as quickly. Cellphones slip out of a purse, get stepped on or dropped in a snowdrift. (Or accidentally taken into the hot tub, as Husband discovered, to his grief.)

CD players can quit playing…or skip so much that you want to make them stop. Permanently.

And my nemesis, the computer, the same instrument that lets me get an answer from someone in Australia or Brazil in 30 min., or ship off an article or report to the other side of the country in seconds. The machine I rely on occasionally lets me down by going blank or freezing up. (It’s my fault some of the time. Ok, much of the time. I hate to admit that.)

Here’s the relieving part:

       often they can be fixed — or at least fixed enough for you to retrieve data. 

For cellphones, the magic answer is: rice. Yes, that wonderful white starch that keeps half the civilized world fed. If your cellphone gets wet for any reason (including a stray dip in the hot tub), immediately dry it as much as possible. Then pull its battery out and plunge everything into bag of uncooked rice. Let it stay there overnight.

Pull your phone parts out. Brush off any residue, then put everything back together again. More times than not, your phone will actually work! Our oldest daughter, who is prone to dropping her longsuffering cellphone everywhere (yes, that’s how I know about the snowdrift) has revived her phone several times, using this method. (We’ve also successfully rescued the TV remote this way after it dropped in the dog’s water dish.)


CD players are a little harder to reason with — after all, you can’t plunge them into rice! (And they’re cheap enough that it’s tempting to go out and just buy another.)  A good part of the time, though, it’s not their fault at all — it’s the CDs you’re forcing them to read. Try giving your CD or DVD a bath; douse them with lukewarm water, rub gently with liquid soap on both sides using your hands, then rinse again and dry using a soft towel. (Press gently to dry — don’t rub.) This will not only clean the disc, but help minimize scratches, as well. The laser on a CD player will be able to read these clean discs much more easily — and most possibly solve your problem!


Finally, there’s the biggie: the computer. After I’d had a good cry and fessed up to Husband later that morning, he opened the laptop and took the individual parts out. He used the blow dryer to dry them, keeping his hand over each part to shield it from too much heat. Nearly dry areas got a gentle going-over with a tiny artist’s brush; tweezers pulled away any fluff.

This took hours of patient work and attention. But a miracle occurred: not only did he retrieve all the files on the hard drive, but the computer seems to be working! (Now if he can only persuade Intel that we weren’t trying to steal any data — they and LoJack have a special password for getting your computer to boot up completely. I’m grateful for the safeguard, but it is irritating.)

If you don’t have a partner familiar enough with the computer to take it apart, dry it as much as you can, even if you just turn it upside-down to drain. (Instructions for opening it are available from your owner’s guide, as well as online. Time is of the essence here.) Even if you can’t figure out how to open it, wipe off any moisture. (Husband also used a blow dryer – warm air only – but some advice-givers say not to use it. Others do. It’s your call.) Small brushes can help get into small crannies. Don’t turn the computer on until it’s had a chance to dry out completely.. (Overnight or 24 hours is the general advice.)

Once it’s up and running, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to hedge your bets, and take your computer to your local computer repair company. At the very least, they can clean and double-check it for future problems.


The moral of this story is obvious: don’t drink anything (or eat it, for that matter) near your computer. Even if you’ve gone for decades without any accidents, odds are good that you’re introducing foreign matter into your keyboard, drop by drop, crumb by crumb.

WARNING: I’m not a computer expert — only an everyday writer who’s had run-ins with her equipment. I must not be alone, because there’s lots of similar advice online about these items. But remember: you and you alone are responsible for your appliances’ proper care. If your cellphone or laptop just went kaput, these ideas may well be worth trying. (In fact, reading up on them ahead of time wouldn’t hurt!) They’ve certainly helped us…even when it meant saving that poor item from the results of our own foolish actions. 

what to do when electronics go wrong


2 Responses to What to do when Electronics go wrong

  1. There are two types of people who have had computer problems.
    1. Those that have had them
    2. Those that will have them.

    That being said, I’m glad you were able to revive your computer and retrieve your data. As you begin to move forward with a ‘no liquids’ policy, I encourage you to sign up for something like ‘Dropbox’, Micosoft’s ‘SkyDrive’, ‘Box’ or ‘Google Drive’. Storing your files with one of these providers protects you from losing your data and gives you the option of working on data on another device.

    Good luck

  2. Good advice…thanks! Because of my business, we did invest in a backup system…it does the same thing, but gives us the option to host our own server eventually. My timing was off, though — we’d gotten it, but Husband (my IT man) hadn’t completely installed it yet.
    It’s up now, though.

    Thanks for writing.

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