Water-Damaged Hard Drive Handling Guide

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 the water-damaged hard drive from your PC or server with your important documents and irreplaceable 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 hard drive.

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.

What does water do to your computer?

Water and electronics just don’t mix. Just about every component of your computer or server can short out if it gets wet while running, which means you’ll have to replace the damaged components.

A water damaged hard drive. The platters will need to be carefully cleaned and dried in a data recovery lab.
A water damaged hard drive. The platters will need to be carefully cleaned and dried in a data recovery lab.

Your computer’s storage media, such as a hard disk drive, is especially at risk because while you can go to the store and buy a new hard drive, there’s nowhere you can go to buy all of the data you didn’t have backed up.

However, you can get help from professional data recovery labs like Gillware’s ISO 5 Class 100 lab. The data recovery engineers at Gillware have nearly 20 years of experience with desktop and laptop water damage repair.

It’s always a difficult experience when you suffer catastrophic data loss. You may be wondering how to fix your water damaged laptop. While it may seem counterintuitive, the best thing you can do is package up the computer, and send it to Gillware.

Hard disk drives have many very sensitive components within them that do not react well to water. Foremost among these are the drive’s hard disk platters, which contain all of your data. If even a small amount of water seeps into your hard disk drive, it can cause the platters to corrode and can also affect the lubricant on the platters.

“[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.

Want to know more about properly handling water-damaged hard drives?


  • 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. This can save you a headache, both financially and otherwise, later on.


  • 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-damage sit, the more you risk both internal and external corrosion.
  • 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 innards are 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.
  • 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 that has been exposed to laptop water damage, 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.
  • 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.

Does putting your phone in rice to dry it out actually work?

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.

Why Gillware is your Best Choice for Water-Damaged Hard Drive Recovery

We have 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 salvaging files from your water-damaged hard drive. If you need to get your data back quickly, we offer expedited emergency recovery services.

We’ve seen it all at Gillware. Natural disasters like hurricanes and floods, house fires, or someone who simply knocks over a glass and gets water spilled on laptop. Regardless of how you damaged your computer, all of our data recovery efforts are financially risk-free. There are no upfront fees or evaluation fees. We begin with a free in-lab evaluation (with free shipping of your device to our lab), present you with a firm price quote, and only charge you for our efforts if we’re successful in retrieving the data that’s actually important to you at an acceptable price.

If you have a water-damaged hard drive or other waterlogged devices, we can help.