What to Do When Your Water Cooling Leaks Inside Your PC
- If your computer is running, turn off your PC as fast as possible, using the switch on the power supply. Do not save your work, do not pass Go, do not collect $200. The biggest risk of damage comes while your PC is still on.
- Unplug your computer.
- Open up your case and pat everything dry with paper towels. If you had a big leak, like I did, you’ll probably have a lot of mopping up to do.
- Take apart your computer. That’s right, take everything out of the case, take the RAM and GPU out of their sockets, and so on. Anything that got wet, take it out of your case.
- Soak up any remaining drops of water. You’ve probably mopped up the big stuff, but it’s likely there’s still water clinging to the inside of your PCI slots, RAM slots, fan headers, or whatever else might have gotten wet. This is very important, as these are the parts most likely to get damaged by water—soak up as much as you possibly can.
- Clean up any gunk with some isopropyl alcohol on a cotton swab. I didn’t have to do this since I just used distilled water with no additives (as I highly recommend you do), but if you used any additives or colored fluid, you’re going to want to do a bit of extra cleanup with some alcohol.
- Lay everything out to dry, preferably in front of a fan, for at least 24 hours. Don’t get impatient. You want to make sure everything’s completely dry before you rebuild your PC.
- Rebuild your PC and see if it works. Cross your fingers.
My friend went through this exact process and was lucky enough to have 100% of his parts work perfectly fine, even though some of them (the video card in particular) were absolutely drenched with water when the loop burst. A leak isn’t as bad as you may think—as long as you turn things off quickly, it is possible to escape without any lasting damage.
How to Prevent This Catastrophe From Ever Happening to You
I can already hear some of you saying: “See, this is why I avoid water cooling.” To you I repeat: if you do everything right, it’s really easy to avoid this problem. Just do as I say, not as I do. In particular:
- Make sure your fittings are tight before you attach your tubing. Tighten each and every one with a wrench or a pair of pliers—finger tight isn’t necessarily enough! They don’t need to be insanely tight, even a quarter turn with a pair of pliers is probably enough. (and if it doesn’t feel like it’s screwing in correctly, there may be something wrong with the threads on your block—I’ve had that happen as well.)
- Use hose clamps or compression fittings. Don’t just stick your tubing over the barb and say “yeah, that looks fine.” My loop ran perfectly fine without hose clamps for over a year, but when I set it up a second time, it was my downfall. I’ve now switched to compression fittings which are much more secure (and look better, too).
- Leak test for 24 hours, inside your PC case, before turning your computer on. This wouldn’t have prevented my particular incident, but it’s still important. Don’t get too excited and turn your PC on before you’ve leak tested, and don’t think your system is okay just because you leak tested it outside your case. Things are different once you install everything. Leak test it inside your case, with everything set up as you’d normally use it, for 24 hours before plugging that 24-pin cable back in.
Almost all water cooling issues boil down to user error. Pre-built, closed units have been known to leak, but very rarely—and your warranty should cover damage caused by a leak (look for this kind of warranty when you buy a closed unit like the Corsair H100). With a little care and attention to detail, you should never have a problem.
Title image remixed from Mirek Kijewski (Shutterstock).