water corroded cell or battery

Water and electricity don’t mix…

We all know water and electricity don’t mix, but many of us forget this includes some of the small things we use daily. House alarm key fobs for example.

As my son found out this week to his cost (well, my cost obviously!). The story starts a while back when he came home from school soaked to the skin (I warned him about the weather forecast, but he is 14 so knew ‘better’…). Everything he had on was wet, but after getting showered and changed, we thought no more about it.

Fast forward to today and I get a call from the alarm company, the alarm had been triggered. At the same time my son is also calling… After picking up the call and giving him the code to stop the racket, he tells me his alarm key fob doesn’t work. Probably just the battery I said.

Later on I took the key fob apart to swap out the battery, and this is what I found inside…

Oh, so it needs a little more than a new battery then...

I brushed off the worst of the muck and (rather optimistically), popped the circuit board into the ultrasonic cleaner for a while. Sadly, it had been left wet for too long, and the corrosion had damaged the board beyond economic repair. Or rather in this case, the water caused the battery to corrode and leak nasty chemicals all over.

The moral of this tale is that you must act quickly if anything remotely electronic gets wet.

Try this next time something of yours gets wet…

  1. Take off any covers and remove the battery ASAP and I mean ASAP, before you stop to say ‘oh sh*t‘ preferably…
  2. Counterintuitively, rinsing everything at this point with distilled water might help here (it’s the muck or soluble salts in water which do the damage). Definitely rinse if sea water is involved.
  3. If you have one, a small ultrasonic cleaner could help at this stage.
  4. Getting the water out:
  5. Consider a sharp downward flick (holding on VERY tightly of course) to throw out the majority of the water.
  6. If comfortable, take out any screws and open up the item for better access and to increase air flow around the insides.
  7. Warm air is good, so consider using a hair dryer to blow out and warm up the insides.
  8. You can also use compressed air (if you have access to it) to blow out any water droplets (be careful though around screens etc.).
  9. Then pop the whole thing somewhere quite warm. Not crazy hot like on top of the wood stove, but above a radiator or in an airing cupboard for example. 30 degrees or so is great…
  10. If you have it, surround the item with sachets of silica gel, those little moisture absorbing packets (Some say use rice, but studies show it’s pretty ineffective, paper towels are better). A bag works well here. But to be honest, warm air works okay.
  11. A minimum of 24 hours later (preferably longer), pop the battery back in and tentatively press the power button…

If you’re lucky, you might have cleaned away any salts and be just in time to stop any corrosion forming. Once the item is fully dry and operational again for a week or so (and if you’re really keen), it might be worth opening the item up again and checking for corrosion, wiping away anything you see with cotton buds soaked in alcohol (not vodka ya’ nugget, the types used for cleaning, denatured alcohol or isopropyl or ethanol etc).

Obviously, your success with the above is very dependent on circumstances. If you went on a weeks bog snorkeling holiday with your phone in your wetsuit, all bets are off…

Good luck, you’ll need it.

Stay dry.


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