Water-Damaged Hard Drive Handling Guide

Water-Damaged Hard Drive

These Maxtor hard drives came to us for water-damaged hard drive recovery after a hurricane flooded the client’s small business.

In most cases, when your home or small business falls victim to flooding, you’ll be throwing a lot of ruined electronics out. But what about your water-damaged hard drive, with your tax documents and family photos on it? If you want the best chance to get your data back, here are a few do’s and don’t’s for handling your water-damaged hard drive before you send it to us for a data recovery evaluation.

It is very important to act quickly and keep a level head in these situations. A lot of common-sense ideas on how to treat waterlogged electronics can have disastrous consequences when you have a water-damaged hard drive on your hands.

DO:

  • Bring the drive to a data recovery lab with a Class-100 cleanroom quickly.  Any delay can drastically reduce our data recovery experts’ chances of success. Time is of the essence, especially if your water-damaged hard drive has been exposed to salt water. Salt water is much more corrosive than freshwater.
  • Package your device in a moisture-free environment. Excess moisture will give corrosion the perfect breeding ground it needs. An air-tight plastic bag will usually be sufficient. You should remove as much air from the bag as possible, so that there is less oxygen to react with the hard drive.
  • Ship your hard drive in tight, secure packaging, with lots of padding. There should be no room inside the package for the drive to move around in transit. This will minimize the chances of your drive sustaining any damage during shipping.
  • Check with your insurance company to see if you have data recovery coverage in your small business or homeowner’s policies. Tell Gillware you will possibly be needing documentation of your case for your insurance claims adjuster.

DON’T:

  • Open your water-damaged hard drive. No matter how curious you are, opening a hard drive outside of a cleanroom rarely ends well. Your hard drive’s faceplate is its only line of defense against outside contamination. You should only trust a data recovery professional in a Class-100 cleanroom environment to open up your hard drive.
  • Attempt to clean corrosion off of the drive’s circuit board yourself. Unless you are a skilled electrical engineer, you could cause further damage to the board if you are not careful or knowledgeable enough.
  • Attempt to rinse the drive off yourself. Even if the hard drive is dirty, cleaning your water-damaged hard drive without proper tools or solutions could cause even more damage.
  • Leave the hard drive to air-dry out on its own or use a hair dryer to dry off your hard drive. Time is not on your side. Our skilled data recovery engineers would rather receive a damp hard drive overnighted to us than a hard drive you let air-dry for a day or two before shipping. The more you let your water-damaged sit, the more you risk both internal and external corrosion.

“[Hard disk platters] actually corrode very readily, which is why the environmental spec prohibits more than 90% RH (relative humidity). Remember that only a few nanometers of corrosion product will render the disk unreadable.”

Ron Dennison, Principal Consultant, Research Development Consultants Inc.

  • Attempt to power on or run the drive. Plugging in a water-damaged hard drive could cause further damage to the drive. If there is still moisture in the circuit board, you could cause a short-circuit. If the hard drive’s internals have been compromised, you could cause severe damage to the platters. Plugging a shorted hard drive into your computer can cause further damage to other parts of the computer, such as the motherboard or power supply unit, as well.
  • Try to use software data recovery tools. For starters, you should not be plugging in your hard drive in the first place. Secondly, these tools are only good for addressing logical data loss. They have little to no fault tolerance if your drive has a mechanical issue.
  • Bury it in rice. This technique is often used for phones. But phones are much more water-resistant than hard drives, and can afford to be left to air-dry. Sticking your hard drive in a bowl of rice will do you no good. In fact, allowing your hard drive to sit while you try to suck the moisture out of it is very counterproductive to our data recovery efforts. For the efficacy of the rice technique in general, see below.

What About the Rice Method for Phones and Other Flash Storage Devices?

If you or anybody you know has ever gone swimming with their iPhone, you’ve doubtless heard of the rice method. Simply bury your phone in uncooked rice, let it sit for 12-48 hours, and voila! Your phone is as good as new. The rice is supposed to act as a desiccant—a stand-in for silica gel, which is much less plentiful and harder to get a hold of than rice.

Flash data storage devices such as SD cards, flash drives, and SSDs are the only kinds of data storage devices you’d actually want to set out to dry, as opposed to hard drives. Once you’ve given these devices time to dry, there is a good chance they will work again, even after they have been submerged for a long time.

The idea behind the rice method is that the rice will suck the excess moisture right out of your phone. Generally, though, submerging your phone in rice has about as much of an effect as letting it air-dry. Rice simply isn’t that great of a desiccant, despite common-sense wisdom.

However, water-damaged flash devices that function after drying out usually fail days or weeks later due to the slow buildup of corrosion. If your flash storage device works after you give it some time to dry, make sure to back up its contents as soon as you get a chance, because there is no telling how much longer it will last.

Choose Gillware Data Recovery for Your Water-Damaged Hard Drive Recovery Needs

Gillware is a world-class data recovery lab in Madison, Wisconsin. With state-of-the-art data recovery tools such as our platter burnisher, we are your best choice for water-damaged hard drive recovery. If you need to get data off of your water-damaged hard drive quickly, we offer expedited emergency recovery services. All of our data recovery efforts are financially risk-free. There are no upfront fees or evaluation fees. If you have a water-damaged hard drive or other waterlogged device, contact one of our recovery client advisers to get started.

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