Instructables

Save your Gameboy Color and other small electronics from battery leaks

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You must know that feeling, the dread that fills you when you find that batteries have leaked in one of your expensive pieces of technology. You'd think that would've been solved by now in 2014, but you're wrong!

I know it's been a while since I created an Instructable. Now that I'm in college, I do not have as much free time to mess around as I used to. I tried to make another one a little while back, "Turning an old router into a wireless bridge with DD-WRT", but I ended up bricking the router instead. So, I figured that I should probably not instruct people on something that is above my skill level to begin with. Anyways, I hope you find this Instructable just as instructive!

*I did not expect this Instructible to take off like it did. Thank you for all of the favorites and suggestions. I have made some edits to the steps based on your suggestions.

 
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Step 1: Gather your weapons!

Picture of Gather your weapons!

First, know what kind of battery leaked into your electronics. Disposable batteries are either acid or alkaline, usually alkaline. Check what it says on the batteries. From chemistry, you should know that you can cancel out an acid with a base, and vice versa.

The batteries that leaked into my Gameboy were alkaline, and as the name implies, were made with basic chemicals. You will need:

-Vinegar(an acid) or baking soda(a base) (which you use depends on the type of battery that leaked)

-Paper towels

-Toothpicks (optional)

-plenty of Q-tips (cotton swabs or an old toothbrush would work just as well)

-Shot glass or other small container (for the solution you will clean with)

-Electrical tape (optional, but good to keep liquids and dust particles out of the circuits)

-A pencil eraser

-Steel wool (optional, but useful as a last resort)

Pour the vinegar or water into the shot glass, add the baking soda to the water if making a base solution. Go to a cleared and cleaned area, preferably well ventilated too, with your electronics and sit down.

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paqrat6 months ago

Very informative instructable. I wish I hadn't deep sixed the 4 batteries that went south on a digital camera recently. I was wondering if you had tried aluminum foil? I have been fairly successful using it in cleaning rust off of knife blades. The aluminum is soft enough that it won't scratch the steel, not all by itself, at least. I suppose if you managed to get some grit on the steel some way rubbing it with the AL foil might scratch.

gamerguy13 (author)  paqrat6 months ago

I suppose Al foil is another option. I agree that it shouldn't be too abrasive for this purpose. However, these connections are typically made of silver or gold plated copper, not steel, so there is always the risk of ripping off the coating which is designed to resist regular corrosion in the first place. It is possible to imagine that you could shape the foil into different shapes and tools to fit what you are trying to clean.

paqrat gamerguy136 months ago
Seems to me I have seen, perhaps on Instructables, about making a conductive paint, it may have been using carbon. If that is the case might it not be a good idea, once the connections are cleaned to paint them with the conductive paint?
DasBigfoot6 months ago

I'm just wondering... have you had problems with Duracell batteries leaking over the last year or two? Or is it just me. I know they have to be fresh and have come from Costco. They never used to leak... only cheapo cells did. Whats up?

gamerguy13 (author)  DasBigfoot6 months ago

I haven't noticed any problems with Duracell batteries in particular. This issues extends to most alkaline batteries.

ElectroFrank7 months ago

Good call and Amen to stevetork on the subject of steel wool ! The
gaps between copper tracks and between IC chip pins on modern PCBs is
tiny, and little shreds of steel wool getting in there will be deadly to
your electronic device.

Another useful substance: Railroad Modeller's Track Rubber. This is like a pencil eraser with embedded fine abrasive grit. Very good for cleaning all kinds of electrical contacts. (But useless for model railroad tracks !)

gamerguy13 (author)  ElectroFrank7 months ago

Where is the best place to get that? That railroad rubber seems lie the perfect things to clean up my slot car tracks when I whip them out of storage.

It should be sold at any model shop selling railroad stuff. BUT, I won't recommend it, for the same reason I think it doesn't work for railroads.

The original model railroad track was tin-plated steel, so the track rubber just sanded off the plating, and it went rusty and became useless.

Modern railroad track is nickel-silver, so the oxide is conductive, so it doesn't need sanding off, just a wipe to keep it clean. But the track rubber leaves grit and rubber on the track, which is bad for both traction and contact.

If your slot car track is tin-plated steel, I suggest cleaning off any rust with a green scouring pad. (Even steel wool would strip off the plating) (Another good trick: make a disc of of green scourer for your dremel.) Then ALWAYS preserve the track with a wipe of ordinary household oil or WD40 type oil before storing, and just polish it off with a cloth or tissue before use.

Do they make nickel-silver slot car track ? (If they don't, then they should.)

askjerry7 months ago

If you have some distilled water on hand... I would suggest wiping the contacts with that when finished to remove any residue. Once they are completely clean, a THIN layer of WD40 applied to the contacts will also help.

WD40 is "Water Displacement formula 40" and is designed to keep water vapor off metal surfaces. A thin coating can help keep the metal from oxidation which can act as a resistor and/or insulator. Use a Q-tip and only apply enough to leave a thin film.

gamerguy13 (author)  askjerry7 months ago

I never thought to use WD40 on small devices. I imagine that if it is over applied, it can block the contacts.

Not really... I just don't know if it would deteriorate the plastic housing or not. It's okay for some plastics... but I don't know about all plastics. But to prevent contact corrosion... it works well.
stevetork7 months ago

Thanks for writing this Instructable. A lot of people will find it useful. Most circuit boards have a thin coating that protects from water, but the coating may not cover connections made after the board is made. Power connections are one of those later connections, so your advice to use small cotton swabs is good. I would avoid steel wool because it can leave small particles behind that could migrate to an exposed electrical contact and cause a short. Avoid shorts by taping off openings and cleaning up residue. Blast with compressed air or canned air. I avoid steel wool by using a set of small diamond abrasive files from an on-line tool dealer.

gamerguy13 (author)  stevetork7 months ago

I like the suggestion with electrical tape. Would that be enough to keep particulate matter out of the circuits? I'm glad you like my 'ible. I have several more in mind for this summer.

KennyH7 months ago

I find a "pink" eraser works better than steel wool, Allow the corrosion area to dry first, and then carefully erase the remaining crud. Steel wool is conductive and will leave conductive powder and bits behind that can short out your device. For really heavy duty work, a wooden stick can help too. Popsicle sticks or one of those cuticle probes (check with wife or girlfriend if you don't know what these are) can chip away large bits of corrosion.

gamerguy13 (author)  KennyH7 months ago

Thanks for the suggestions! I have toothpicks that could also be good in place of popsicle sticks for smaller devices.

robmawe917 months ago

I have always used hydrogen peroxide. Does this work any better? I don't have anything to test it on right now.

os22 robmawe917 months ago

I use HCl (Hydrochloric acid) 30% to clean these residues, fast and easy but be caucios with this acid. I drip some HCl to an ear cleaning bud, and rub the surface a little bit. It cleans like magic. (Tho it cant be used on any metal surfaces to clean, the acid can remove any coating of the surface as well...for e.g.: anti-rust coating, etc.) Oh and make sure you dont leave there any acid...do not spill the acid on, dont let it flow around. After you clean the surface, use a dry bud to clean off any residue! Do not let the acid stay there, it will probably oxidise the hell out of that metal :)
Also wear a rubber gloves to protect your skin! Be careful!

robmawe91 os227 months ago

I have some HCI around, next time I'll give it a try. Thanks for the info! It sound like that would clean a lot better than vinegar and baking soda.

gamerguy13 (author)  robmawe917 months ago

For the reason os22 stated, I would not use HCl on electronics as it reacts strongly to metals. Weak acids like vinegar of lemon juice should work nicely, if also a bit slowly.

LesB7 months ago

From the "Ounce of Prevention Department", for valuable electronics DO NOT use alkaline batteries, for the obvious reason. They are likely to leak and damage your device. And this may not be covered under the device warranty.

And never use zinc-carbon batteries at all, for the same reason, plus they are just plain junk. Sometimes these are hyped as "Heavy Duty" or "Extra Super Heavy LITHIUM batteries don't leak and they have extended operating range. Worth the extra expense for things like remote controls and expensive audio equipment.

Some times I find zinc-carbon batteries in new stuff I buy, and in that case I immediately remove them and send them to recycle, and replace them with alkaline, or with lithium for valuable equipment.

gamerguy13 (author)  LesB7 months ago

Yeah. I am never leaving these batteries inside anything of mine again. I love using lithium batteries, they're just a bit pricey!

Ninzerbean7 months ago

Perfect timing for this 'ible as just 3 days ago I dropped and broke my wireless mouse and when I went to get another mouse from a long-gone computer, I found that the batteries had corroded all over the inside. I cleaned the residue enough to use the mouse but it's very temperamental - thanks to you now I can clean it up correctly. Thanks for sharing.

And I am going to go take out the batteries from my metal detector right this minute.

gamerguy13 (author)  Ninzerbean7 months ago

I'm glad you liked my 'ible! I definitely learned my lesson with leaving batteries inside electroncis.

alcurb7 months ago

Thank you for this instructable. I favorited it.

Everything sounds good except the steel wool part. The liquid method is a bit easier to control because you are using a cotton swab to clean the contacts. However, cleaning with steel wool has a tendency to shed tiny metal fragments that WILL get into your electronics because the residue likes to hide in little crevices unnoticed.

My quick way to deal with corroded contacts --when I'm in a hurry-- is to gently rub the contacts with a clean eraser on the end of a pencil (remember those?); the eraser is gentle on the contacts and the residue is not an issue with the electronics.

For the cotton swab method, as a precaution, you might consider stuffing a piece of paper towel or toilet tissue under or around the contact area to avoid getting a drop of conductive cleaning liquid into the electronics which would most certainly ruin the circuits.

gamerguy13 (author)  alcurb7 months ago

Thanks for the comment. A lot of comments have said not to use steel wool for this reason. I never thought to use a pencil eraser, but that does seem like a good idea. For openings, I think I'll use electrical tape in the future.

zamirii7 months ago

Try using the fabric style makeup qtips -- they should be stronger and more durable

gamerguy13 (author)  zamirii7 months ago

I've never heard of these. *Checks with mother*

gamerguy13 (author) 7 months ago

I never knew this Instructible would be so popular! I will make changes to it based all of your feedback in the comments!

Mark5103707 months ago

Thank you

Gamer Guy- very helpful!

I have used oil or sesame oil to clean battery connections and it worked.

MrArtist7 months ago

I discovered glass-fibre scratch/cleaning pencils a while ago and they are just the business for cleaning off corroded and dirty terminals and connections. Easy to find on eBay and fairly cheap.

Essentially they are like a pen containing a bunch of glass fibre rods that scratch away at whatever you rub them against, bringing back the raw surface and shine. Obviously not good for delicate things like plastics, fine jewellery, etc, but if you need to clean something up before resoldering or particularly for temperamental contacts (including the battery ends), they are brilliant and get into all the nooks and crannies behind the springs and terminals.

Tap or blow the dust out carefully when you are working with them as you don't want the created glass dust or corrosion particles blowing in your eyes or to breath it in.

The pencils have a knob at the other end to wind down more filament as it wears down. You can even get versions with brass and steel filament in them for different delicate jobs but I have found the glass-fibre to be brilliant for electronics as there is no danger of tiny particles causing possible shorting - there again, be careful with the debris of what you clean up, preferably clean major muck off with the item upside down over a bin or something to avoid anything falling inside the item.

C0UTZ MrArtist7 months ago

dear lord I had no idea these even existed! What will they think of next?!?

MrArtist C0UTZ7 months ago

Nor me for years. They are the business for sure.

They're also great for removing the film of corrosion on copper circuit board pads and old components before soldering.

fixfireleo7 months ago

my AA batteries leaked inside my $800 metal detector. i tried something i bought at lowes that was suppose to be for cleaning the contacts and it worked but not real well. the problem is, the batteries dont go in long way, like in the picture, they go up and down, so it's almost impossible to get down in there to scrub the contacts very well. it half works now. maybe i'll see if i can figure out how to try this but i'm a little worried if the chamber is water tight.

Deep recesses can sometimes be "scrubbed" with a pencil eraser, make sure it's new and flat on the top, then gently spin it by hand in the same direction the battery contact wire spiral is oriented. Do this upside down to keep the rubber eraser dust out of the battery compartment and electronics. In tough cases try an ink eraser but beware, they have pumice (volcanic stone dust) and WILL scratch your contacts and remove the coating. Then the contacts will corrode again quite quickly.

ibwebb fixfireleo7 months ago

Go to a Pharmacy or large store with a Pharmacy in it. In the isle with the gauze, tape, etc there will be what appears to be long, wooden q-tips with the swab on only one side. Usually they are used for applying ointments, etc to wounds or the like. In a doctors office they are used to do non-sterile throat wipes/swabbing. Sometimes they are sold singly wrapped other times 20+ in a package. The wooden stick will be about 4-6" long. Below I am posting a link to them on Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Cotton-Tipped-Applicators-Swabs-1000/dp/B000L196TE/ref=pd_sim_sbs_hpc_4?ie=UTF8&refRID=1WTDH43GYS7XXJE5CTXW

fixfireleo ibwebb7 months ago
i appreciate the link but i need something that can scrub the corrosion off the contacts, like the spiraled wire on the negative contact. maybe this will work, it wont hurt to try. better than paying to get it repaired.
ibwebb fixfireleo7 months ago

I misunderstood what you were needing. Perhaps a small piece of steel wool pushed onto the end? The things that I have been told that are good for removing corrosion I might be afraid to use in there because of them being liquid. I know my grandfather swore by strong Epson Salt water and then a hair drier to make sure the contacts were dry (He would put me to work doig such to the control pedals to industrial sewing machines. He owned a repair shop for them). It did work well it seemed, but the pedals would open up and I imagine that the area you are talking about it pretty tight. Sorry I couldn't help.

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