Why Is Moisture So Bad for Electronics Anyway?

We’ve all seen it happen: A phone gets dropped into a puddle, or a radio is accidentally left out in the rain. Maybe you’ve gotten so accustomed to your hearing aids or Airpods that you forgot to take them out before getting in the shower! We all learn relatively early in the course of life that moisture is the enemy of electronics, but why is that?

Electronics need to be made of conductive material, which is always a metal of one type or another. Iron is present in most alloys, and iron rusts. Rust is the oxidation of iron, and water or moisture in the air is required to catalyze the reaction.

Fortunately, most circuits nowadays are made of material that does not easily rust. It could be decades before any rust is discovered in the components of an electronic circuit. So how is moisture still wreaking havoc in our electronics?

Moisture and Mineral Deposits: The Short

Well, one thing that circuits do require is absolute separation between the various paths that electrons can follow through the circuit. Any place where a path becomes available where it should not have been is called a “short,” because what was once a more complex path through a number of components has been “shortened” by some problem in the conductive material. Sometimes shorts can occur when components move slightly due to vibration or trauma, but they can also be created by the introduction of new conductive material to the circuit.

Water itself is not conductive, but any water found naturally in the world—that is, water that has not been distilled—will be full of minerals and other foreign elements. This means that most water we encounter, including ocean water, river & lake water, drinking water, and even much rainwater in certain areas, is all full of microscopic conductive materials.

Water can damage electronic circuits by a number of means. Moisture over time, from the air or steamier environments, can condense onto the circuit. This is all too common in all kinds of environments. Each time water condenses onto the circuit and then evaporates, it leaves behind some of (or all of) the minerals it was carrying. This means that over time, a circuit board can build up a film of conductive material, which may eventually create a short circuit. This happens even in tightly sealed, moisture-resistant spaces, like the robust electronics compartments found in submarine vehicles. Sometimes air is introduced when the compartment is opened above the sea, and the moisture in this air can condense on the circuit when the submarine descends to great depths. Intermittent and sometimes catastrophic problems can result.

Now, what happens when you drop your phone into a puddle? Smartphones are mostly not waterproof (though some cases are made to be highly water-resistant). When your phone comes into direct contact with water, the water starts to seep into the electronics compartment immediately. If your phone is there for only a moment or two, you may be able to remove it from the water and turn it off immediately, before damage is done. If it is left on while submerged for any amount of time, it can potentially be destroyed.

Electronics devices involve many small components, many of which require the delivery of different current amounts. If a short is created on a circuit board, it may be that one component receives a jolt of electricity in a far greater amount than it is able to handle. When several components receive this jolt at once, the device can be effectively destroyed.

Enter Redux

Redux is a revolution in electronics drying equipment. The machine is a relatively small black box that can hold electronics devices ranging from hearing aids, to earbuds, to smartphones and tablets. A small amount of heat is applied while a vacuum is created. In 15 minutes, 100% of moisture is removed from the device.

Now, depending on how catastrophic the device’s exposure was, repair may still be required. It may also be necessary to clean mineral deposits off of a circuit board using distilled water or 99% alcohol, but the Redux machine is a crucial step in the process.

Redux is also an excellent preventative measure to keep hearing aids and earbuds working their best. More than other types of devices, these sensitive, miniaturized circuits spend most of their time in a relatively inhospitable environment: our ears. Moisture from sweat and earwax are added to the normal ambient humidity, which itself can be damaging to electronics. A regular Redux treatment will help keep your most sensitive investments functioning like new for much longer. Talk to your hearing healthcare professional about acquiring a Redux machine, and you’ll notice just how much more mileage you get out of your hearing aids and other electronic devices.