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Salvaging Wet Hard Drives + Other Digital Storage Media

Desktop 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).