The Greatest Enemies of Electronic Devices

The Greatest Enemies of Electronic Devices

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In my post Why I Call Myself a Digital Hygienist, I promised to show you how to keep your electronic devices safe from harm. Today, I will write about the greatest enemies of electronic devices.  These three things will drastically shorten the lifespan of any computer or mobile device.


coffee spilling on keyboard
Eating and drinking while using the computer: we all do it.

Solid pieces of food are bad enough on their own, but liquids do more damage.  Liquids spread quickly, seeping into every seam, vent, port, and drive it can reach. Water can do enough damage on its own. Plain coffee may leave stains. But the absolute worst offenders are sweet drinks like fruit juice and soda. When the water evaporates, you will be left with a sticky, sugar residue that will be difficult to remove.

If this happens to you, the first thing to do is turn off the device and mop up the liquid as quickly as possible. If there is any residue, you may use professional electronic cleaning solutions or alcohol swabs found in first aid kits.

Electrostatic Discharge

electrical discharge

Electrostatic discharge (ESD) occurs when an excess amount of static electricity is released. When two objects with an imbalance of electrons come in contact with each other, the flow of static electricity may cause a spark that can be felt, heard, or seen. Lightning is ESD on a very large scale.

But the level of ESD that can harm your device is very small. As little as 25 volts of ESD can permanently damage a circuit. Human beings can only feel voltages of 4000 or more.

How can you minimize the risk of ESD? Two common causes of ESD are your clothing and your environment. Wool, silk, and synthetic fabrics are notorious for generating static electricity. Humidity reduces electric charges; the colder and drier the environment, the greater the risk for ESD. As a veteran of retail, I can tell you there is nothing like the snap that comes from handling bolts of synthetic fiber in the middle of January. During winter, you may need to use humidifiers and anti-static spray.

It is best to keep your devices on a non-conductive surface such as wood or plastic. I used to have a desktop computer with a tiny desk. There wasn’t enough room on the desk for all of the components, so the metal-encased tower sat on the floor. To make matters worse, the floor was covered with a thick pile carpet. When the cat would rub against the  tower, the computer would promptly reboot itself. The problem was solved when I bought a bigger wooden desk with a special compartment for the tower.

Extreme Temperatures

Hard drive frozen in an ice block

There is a safe temperature range for the operation of your devices called the operating temperature. When a computer overheats, processors may slow down and battery life will be reduced. In extreme cases, parts may warp or start to melt.

Proper ventilation is essential. Like any machine, desktops and laptops can generate a tremendous amount of heat. Make sure that all vents are clean and unobstructed.

Extreme cold can be just as bad for your device as extreme heat. Imagine a laptop sitting in a cold, unfinished basement or left in a car during a freezing winter night. Condensation can form inside the device. Freezing the liquid in a LCD screen will cause the screen to darken and degrade over time.
Much like a car, a computer should be warmed up after prolonged exposure to freezing or subzero temperatures. The proper way to warm up a computer is to let it sit in a warm (not hot) room for ten to twenty minutes. When the surface of the computer reaches room temperature, then it is safe to turn it on.
Next time, I will discuss the proper tools to clean and repair your computer.
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