What Really Kills Electronics, Water or Corrosion?

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March 2, 2021

Device failure. It happens to people every day. You may drop your phone in water, but it doesn’t necessarily stop working–at least not immediately. A common reaction (aside from wailing and gnashing of teeth) is to remove the battery, stick the phone in rice, and wait impatiently for it to dry out. As many of you may have experienced, this doesn’t always work.

What people don’t know is that in most cases simply drying your phone out is not a solution because water ingress isn’t the real problem. It’s corrosion. Corrosion begins almost instantly when an electronic device gets wet, and is typically what causes devices to fail.

What About Other Liquids?

However, all liquid is not the same when it comes to the impact it has on electronics after exposure. Other liquids like dirty dishwater, sports drinks, soda or the ocean pose a greater risk. While pure water doesn’t possess the electrolytes that damage devices, other drinks and liquids that contain a higher level of minerals are capable of conducting electricity. In other words, the further away you get from pure water, the more reason you have to worry.

a pcb with corrosion on it

View a webinar about proven corrosion resistant methods delivered by Dr. Sean Clancy, Director of Coating Technology at HZO & Anti-Corrosion Expert

Corrosion is the Real Enemy

The inside of every device has traces (wired connections between your device’s components) made of copper, which carry the electrical currents that power your phones, tablets, smart watches or other devices. When you expose those electronics to a liquid with electrolytes, it starts an instant flow of electricity between the traces. This wears down the original traces or creates new traces that shouldn’t exist. The wear down is the pull off of copper oxide, which you see in the form of green build up, similar to what you might find on a car battery connection.

There are two main types of corrosion that cause a device to fail.

  1. Galvanic Corrosion: This is where the electrolytes in a liquid pull off enough copper oxide to break a trace and stop feeding electricity to the right locations.
  2. Dendritic Corrosion: This form of corrosion occurs between two traces, pulling the copper out of one trace and creating an entirely new one.

Dendritic corrosion is more complex in nature than galvanic as the reaction itself is actually capable of rerouting a connection. Since a newly formed connection no longer pulls from the right trace source, a device stops working altogether or certain functionality is lost.

This is often the case in battery failure. You may have experienced this type of deterioration if you’ve got your device wet. While it doesn’t fail instantly after exposure, over time the battery slowly loses charging capability. Eventually, it will die completely as the device will not being able to pull enough power from the new trace.

a PCB with a conformal coating protecting it from corrosion

Learn more about corrosion protection

Lucky for the team at HZO, living a waterproof and corrosion-resistant product life can be a reality as employees are occasionally issued coated devices, such as phones, for testing. One of HZO’s senior technicians, whose job included dunking devices on a daily basis for analysis found his HZO-issued phone at the bottom of a soapy sink full of dishes, courtesy of his two-year-old daughter. It’s one of the few times he’s experienced a submersion test that he hadn’t done intentionally, but in the end, the only inconvenience he suffered from the 45-minute device bath was a few missed calls.

That’s the beauty and power of HZO Protection. When applied efficiently during the manufacturing process, our organic Guardian Series coating is a pinhole-free barrier that offers complete protection, no matter the application or market. HZO’s team of engineers is one click away from helping you create a waterproof and corrosion-proof device. Help your customers eliminate the stress of device failure by stopping it before it starts. Click here to start the conversation.

Corrosion begins almost instantly when an electronic device gets wet, and is typically what causes devices to fail.

Discover how HZO can protect your product

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