Electronic devices (cell phones, computers, etc.) can sometimes be salvaged after exposure to water, heat, or extreme conditions during an emergency. If the device itself can’t be salvaged, the data stored on it can possibly be restored. This is especially important if the data was not backed up at a safe offsite location.

Salvaging Wet Hard Drives + Other Digital Storage Media

harddriveDesktop Computer

 Be sure computer is unplugged.

 If computer is wet, pour out residual water.

 Do not attempt to dry — this may further damage a hard drive.

 Open computer case. Unplug, unscrew and remove hard drive(s), being careful not to touch the circuit board.

 Seal drive in ziplock bag or wrap 
in plastic and tape shut.

 Do not freeze; 
store as close 
to room 
as possible.

 Take or send the drive to a hard drive 
recovery specialist for data recovery.

Notebook Computer

 Be sure computer is unplugged and battery is removed.

 Remove and bag the hard drive as above or bag 
the entire notebook computer.

Flash Drives + Memory Cards

 If drive or card has been in salt water or other 
contaminants, rinse thoroughly in clean water.

 Place in a plastic bag with silica gel or, if that is 
unavailable, dry (uncooked) instant rice for several days until dry.

 If drive works, download files to another device 
immediately in case the drive later fails. If drive does 
not work, try further drying.

CD/DVD Disks

 Be careful not to scratch disk, especially the shiny 
non-label side or data may be lost.

 Rinse dirty disk in clean water. Do not scrub. If dirt will 
not come off with rinsing, soak in mild detergent 
solution, then rinse.

 Air dry label-edge up in racks or label-side down on a 
sheet of clean wax paper.

 Dust and smudges can be cleaned with a soft lint-free 
cloth using light strokes from the outside edge toward 
center only.

Floppy Disks, Zip Disks + Back-up Tape

 If the data is valuable, seal in plastic and send to a 
data recovery specialist.

 If you want to attempt recovery yourself, take disk 
out of enclosure. Rinse in fresh clean water. Dry on 
lint-free or microfiber cloth.  Place in new enclosure.

Magnetic Tape

 Analog or Digital — except old paper-backed tape — put in ziplock bag.

 If wet and dirty, do not let tapes dry out.

 Rinse as 
soon as possible in clean water to remove 
contaminants; if necessary, tapes can stay wet for 
several days.

 Avoid use of extreme heat or cold — both can 
damage tapes.

Open Reel Tapes

 If covered with mud, or other contaminants, rinse in clean water.

 If needed, add a small amount of mild dishwashing 
detergent to the cleaning water.

 Rinse in clean water.

 Air dry vertically in racks.

Tape in Cassettes

 If only case is wet or dirty, wipe clean.

 If inside is contaminated, open cassette, remove tape 
reel and clean and dry as with Open Reel Tapes (above).



lIlustrated article on removing a hard drive from a PC

About.com article on installing an internal hard drive in a Mac Pro

Hard Drive Healers: Getting Your Data Back is an article about Ontrack

Drive Savers offers free evaluation and firm quote for recovery

Seagate offers a variety of data recovery services


The National Archives has an excellent list of steps to take for lessening damage to magnetic tapes and media after a disaster. The site also has information on conservation of film and paper.

Description of process of mold removal from magnetic tape.

CDs + DVDs

Care and Handling of CDs and DVDs: A Guide for Librarians and Archivists has information on cleaning, handling, and care of optical media. Conditions that Affect CDs and DVDs and Cleaning are the most useful

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