Can a wet computer damate hard drive data.

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Someone on a tv court show says that his laptop was ruined when water
fell on it (and other things) from the apartment above.

He says he took it to Staples, but they wanted 150 for an estimate of
repair cost.   He didnt'want to spend that.   And he says that they
advised him not to turn the thing on as is, because he might lose the
contents of the memory, which I'll read as hard drive.

Is there any truth to the idea that turning on a wet or broken
computer can damage what is stored on the hard drive?   It seems like
it it could get past all the electric and electronic hurdles to
actually move the "data arm", it would be super unlikely to write bad
data, or erase anything.

Was Staples just blowing smoke?

He didn't bother to take it anywhere else. Wouldn't an independent
shop done more for him than Staples did?


I know what one could/should do is take the harddrive out and let it
dry , and reinstall it in or copy the tdata to  in a new or dried

Re: Can a wet computer damate hard drive data.

micky wrote:
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The other day, I was inspecting my hard drives, looking for the
breather hole, and I wasn't able to find it on the more modern
drives (500GB ones). Some of my older drives, it has a sticker marking
the breather hole. My oldest drive (oldest one still in regular usage),
the breather hole is very obvious on the top, and a spill on that drive,
could enter the hole itself. You can actually see the filter pad, on
the other side of the hole, on that one. Water still would have trouble
getting through, as the filter pad on the underside of the breather hole,
is a hepafilter.

When the air is damp outside the drive, the dampness can eventually get
inside. And that's because, the hard drive is not hermetically sealed.
The HDA needs to equilibrate with the outside atmosphere (exactly
WHY though, I don't know the answer to that - you'd think if the HDA was
sealed, it would be easier to control the flying height).

Some disks in the past, the platters start to rust, and stuff comes
off the platter. That is in extreme cases, where the external environment
causes a problem. When you open up a broken drive, one look at the
discoloration in the large filter pads around the outside edge
of the HDA, tell you how dirty things got inside the drive, before
it failed. And I've seen pictures of what should be bright white
filter pads, actually being black in color. So far from being a pristine
environment at all times, on a failure, things can get pretty dirty
in there.

I wouldn't want to speculate on what would happen, if a little
water (slightly capacitive) got on some of the traces leading
to the head assembly. You might get some read errors, but the
error correction would take care of some of them. Only 1 error
in a 1000 errors might leak through, just to give some idea
how bulletproof it is. It's not really bulletproof at all. And
is intended to take care of "infrequent errors", not a
continuous degradation. It's similar to pinching a cable - that
would cause a continuous degradation, unlike a cosmic ray which
might upset a single data bit in flight on some wires.


A bare minimum of care, is to disassemble everything, and make
sure the contents are dry, before applying power. That is being
prudent. And you don't wait a month to disassemble it. You take
it apart immediately, so the drying can start immediately.

Some beverages may contain sugar. Which makes a mess, and can
affect mechanical things (like keyboard keys get stuck).

Some beverages will be active chemically (like spilling a Coke on it).
In which case, rinsing might be in order. You would not rinse a
hard drive, if it can be avoided. The hard drive can have a few
holes, covered with a silver sticker, which is how they gain
physical access to the HDA at the factory. You want those stickers
to remain intact. If the sticker got removed, the inside of the
drive is no longer "clean". Dirty air got in.

Assuming there are still breather holes on a hard drive,
you can to locate where that is, so an attempt to rinse the
exterior, doesn't get near that hole.

    "Hard disk drives require a certain range of air pressures
     in order to operate properly. The connection to the external
     environment and pressure occurs through a small hole in the
     enclosure (about 0.5 mm in breadth), usually with a filter
     on the inside (the breather filter). If the air pressure is
     too low, then there is not enough lift for the flying head,
     so the head gets too close to the disk, and there is a risk
     of head crashes and data loss."

    "Breather holes can be seen on all disk drives - they usually
     have a sticker next to them, warning the user not to cover
     the holes."

    "Very high humidity for extended periods can corrode the
     heads and platters."

So while it's unlikely the water gets to something important,
it is also important to disassembly the thing, as soon as is
possible. On a laptop, it's pretty easy to remove the hard
drive cover, and pull the hard drive, to allow it to dry out.

The last user to report a water spill here, it was on a
desktop PC, and the water got into the PSU. The 120V AC
causes a sizzling sound, when the water hit it. If there is
enough water, the 120V can be conducted a far enough distance,
to touch sensitive electronics and damage them. An unplugged
laptop, the highest potential is the voltage on the battery
terminals. Which would still be enough to damage something,
if the voltage was conducted in just the right way.

What Staples is saying, is it's in their best business interest
to scare you. There is a *remote* possibility something could
get damaged. The $150 they charge, may or may not include
actual disassembly (which is the quickest way to remove any
bulk water present). A reputable shop, when doing an estimate,
actually takes something apart. While the disreputable shops,
just throw the thing in the corner, with a sticky note on it
to "call the customer back in a week, and tell them the motherboard
is bad". The quickest way to make a buck.

On a laptop, the LCD panel has a backlight and inverter strapped to the
back of it. The LCD panel on my laptop, has a few cracks where water
can get in. The inverter runs at 1000VAC, and any water that
gets near that, there could be conduction. Probably the inverter
will shut off on overload. But if the laptop is in the upright position,
it's probably the laptop base (with hard drive in it) that gets
most of the water, and less of the water gets into the panel area.
The inverter is not very powerful (about 3 watts of power each),
but the voltage is high enough to screw up other electronics
(like the panel sitting next to it). The chance of the inverter
voltage, getting applied to something in the base of the unit,
is minimal. An LCD panel with LED backlighting, doesn't have that


Re: Can a wet computer damate hard drive data.

Somewhere on teh intarwebs Paul wrote:
Quoted text here. Click to load it,17573.html

Thought you might be interested. I know I'm replying to an old post and you  
probably already know about this now. <shrug>

"Humans will have advanced a long, long, way when religious belief has a  
cozy little classification in the DSM."
David Melville (in r.a.s.f1)  

Re: Can a wet computer damate hard drive data.

~misfit~ wrote:
Quoted text here. Click to load it,17573.html
Quoted text here. Click to load it

Hey, thanks for posting that.
I hadn't seen that.

And frankly, that's unbelievable. If you've ever worked with
helium, you know its impossible to seal that stuff. That new hard
drive, will be drained before too long. (Wires come out of the
HDA, and the helium is going to leak around those wires. Many common
materials are porous enough, to allow the helium to pass.)

And with the price of helium now, who can afford the stuff ?


    "The manufacturing challenges, however, are considerable. The drive
     must remain sealed through both the enormous variations in air
     pressure during the shipping process and an estimated 3-5 year
     life span. One of the significant challenges of long-term helium
     sequestration in an individual drive is the fact that the helium
     molecule?s small size and inert nature make it ideal for
     leak detection. Keeping it in one place, in other words, is a
     significant engineering challenge. HGST, Hitachi?s one-time storage
     unit that WD now owns, has been working on the problem for the
     better part of a decade."


I think I'll wait a few years, before buying one of those :-)
Just to see how many of them fail.

Should be interesting to see how they make the HDA. Can an O-ring
hold back helium ? Will five-minute epoxy hold it ? What a crazy idea.


Re: Can a wet computer damate hard drive data.

On 09/29/2012 06:49 PM, micky wrote:
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Remove the drive from the machine and if it's wet or damp let it dry out
thoroughly. Chances are it's still good and you can get your data off it
by using an adapter and connect it to another machine.

The likelihood of water having gotten inside the drive is pretty close
to zero


Re: Can a wet computer damate hard drive data.

"micky" wrote:

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Hard drives are not sealed.  They are filtered.  Once wetted, they need
chemical cleaning to remove contaminants from the platters, pivots, etc.
The HEPA filter in hard drives is to remove airborne contaminants, not
those dissolved in water, like minerals.  You thought a flood was
composed of double distilled water?  Take a HEPA filter and pour raw
sewage on top, let seep through, and gather what drips through.  You
sure you want to drink that "water"? "tested and certified to remove
99.97% (9,997 out of 10,000) of particles as small 0.3 microns
(0.000012-inch) in size" ( ).  Yeah, particles,
not dissolved contaminants.

Not all HDD recovery services are equal.  Here's a video showing HDRC
that thinks just drying out the drive (to remove water visible on the
platters) is good enough to return the drive back to usable:

They don't show the use of any chemicals or treatments to remove residue
from the platters.  After drying the internals, like the platters, they
should have showed where they followed by cleaning the platters.  Maybe
the video only goes to the point of recovering data and the HDD would
get trashed since wear from any contaminants left after drying would
severely reduce the survivability of the device.

If you want to see some hard disks that have been flooded to see that
water got inside, here's some pics:

Whether the hard disk was actually flooded (submerged for hours) or
merely got wet (sprayed on) is unknown from your description of the
event.  So just where did this boob (who didn't add flood insurance AND
include his electronics and instead tried to use the courts to recoup
his loss) place his computer?  Was it on the floor and there was 2 feet
of standing water from a "leak" from the above apartment?  

Flood insurance just doesn't cover when a river overflows, you get hit
by a tsunami, a levee breaks, or a tree falls into your roof during a
torrential rain.  It also covers when the hose breaks to the laundry
washer, the tub is left running, the water heater's overpressure valve
opens, a malcontent breaks your window and shoves your garden hose
inside, or when extended hard rains overflow the capacity of the street
sewers.  You don't have to be near a body of water to incur flood.
Since the guy went to court to recoup his loss because he didn't have
flood coverage in his insurance (or didn't have any insurance) means
this guy probably also doesn't do backups that are stored off-site.  

If he doesn't want to pay for renter's insurance (with flood coverage
AND includes his electronics) then he should look at getting something
like .  Getting insurance
(and doing backups for his own data insurance) would probably be
cheaper, especially if bundled with his car insurance.  Here's a gal
with money to burn: she burned and flooded one of these (be prepared to
mute the stupid audio music track) although the level of heat and
flooding doesn't come close to what the item is spec'ed to handle:

Here's another video of testing this product:

If users could just towel off their flooded hard disks, Iosafe wouldn't
have a market, especially considering the price for their products.

Re: Can a wet computer damate hard drive data.

On 09/30/2012 12:46 AM, VanguardLH wrote:
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The OP said water got on the computer. I did not seen any mention of it
getting flooded. Almost for sure, the drive will be perfectly fine


Re: Can a wet computer damate hard drive data.

"philo" wrote:

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And why I mentioned if the drive got sprayed on or submerged.  "Fell on"
really doesn't say much but then the OP was watching some television
show which is presented not to educate but as entertainment (to the
viewer).  The OP's description of some TV court show hardly tells us
what really happened in that case.  Spraying with force on a hard disk
for hours might get water inside of it.  An occasional splatter with
just 1 story of acceleration of the water upon the case and then the
dripping into the case had very little likelihood of the water getting
inside the drive.  A continuous flow of water onto a laptop for hours
would have the drive submerged.  We really don't know what happened.  

The OP saw a TV show.  He wanted to know if hard disks were sealed.
They aren't.  He used that TV show only to initiate his discussion about
the survivability of a "wet" hard disk.  The TV show scenario wasn't
actually the topic of the OP's question.  It was just what caused the OP
to start considering water damage.

Re: Can a wet computer damate hard drive data.

On Saturday, September 29, 2012 4:49:42 PM UTC-7, micky wrote:

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Turning on a hard drive that's gotten water into it will cause damage when =
it's turned on, even long after the water has dried out because of fine dir=
t particles and dissolved minerals deposited with the water, which will pro=
bably scrape data off the platters, making 100% successful data recovery le=
ss likely.  If a platter or head was exposed to water, and they almost sure=
ly were if the drive had been dunked (as opposed to simply splashed), the d=
rive has to be opened up and cleaned by a data recovery company (and nobody=
 else) and maybe the platters removed and transplanted to another drive, wh=
ether or not the original drive was turned on or not.  Do NOT open up the h=
ard drive yourself because if that isn't done in a clean chamber or on a cl=
ean bench, the drive will be ruined immediately and require professional da=
ta recovery.  Some recovery companies charge extra if the drive had been op=

But if water merely got splashed into the computer, there's a good chance n=
one got into the drive.  I think most drives now have the vent opening on t=
he bottom, maybe hidden behind the circuit board, but Seagates may have the=
 vent in back, between the cover plate and aluminum casting, in the form of=
 a tiny channel that usually won't let a splash of water get in.  Don't pok=
e anything into any vent because it's really easy to tear the air filter th=
ere, which will immediately let in damaging dust.  I'd remove the drive fro=
m the laptop and look carefully for water stains (dirt or mineral deposits)=
, both on the drive and in the compartment where the drive sats, including =
by removing the drive circuit board (take precautions against static electr=
icity -- put everything on anti-static pink bubble wrap or anti-static pink=
 foam sheet, touch that pink material frequently, and don't wear long sleev=
es, socks, or shoes).  Use a flashlight and magnifier.  If it doesn't seem =
that water got into the drive (no stains around the vent hole. there's a go=
od chance the drive is fine.  OTOH how valuable is the data?

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