Look around the room. How many electronics do you see? At the very least, there’s the device in your hand you’re using to read this, but you probably can also count a TV, a tablet or e-reader and a few smart gadgets that make your life easier. You probably wouldn’t choose to live without these electronics — but are you doing anything to keep them safe and functioning properly?
Even if you are taking the proper digital precautions to protect your data, you need to do more to keep your electronics safe in the physical realm. Here are some tips to ensure your electronics remain in peak condition for the foreseeable future:
Taking advantage of warranties
Many people actively ignore the word “warranty” when they see it, but that is an exceedingly costly mistake. Warranties help protect your belongings from all sorts of damage and disfunction, and especially when it comes to electronics, warranties cost much less than repairing or replacing the device out of pocket. There are three main sources of warranties for electronic devices:
- Manufacturer warranties. Provided by the device manufacturer, like Apple or Samsung, these warranties guard against certain problems, usually factory defects. Manufacturers offer warranties on exceedingly expensive devices, but they might only last a year or so.
- Retailer warranties. Some retailers, like Costco and Amazon, offer their own warranties on some electronic devices. These warranties are essentially an extension of manufacturer warranties, meaning they don’t cover all problems, but they do last anywhere from three to 10 years, depending on your plan.
- Home warranties. A home warranty serves to protect various systems in your home from damage due to wear and tear. You can add a home electronics warranty onto your home warranty policy, extending the protection of home systems to your electronics.
Generally, warranties don’t keep your electronics safe from damage that you inflict. For example, if you run your car over your smartphone or spill coffee over your laptop, no warranty will come to your rescue. Still, it is worth looking into the warranties available to your devices and signing up for those that offer advantageous protections.
Monitoring their temperature
Just as you wouldn’t thrive in Antarctica or on the surface of Mercury, you shouldn’t expect your electronics to function well when they are outside comfortable temperature ranges. Cold can be devastating to a device, but the most common nemesis to devices is heat. This is because electronics rely on electricity to function, and a natural byproduct of electricity is heat. Thus, it is exceedingly easy for a device operating in warm weather to overheat.
Experts place the range of acceptable air temperatures for electronics at 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius) to 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius). Yet, different gadgets have different limits for hot and cold, so you shouldn’t push the boundaries or take unnecessary risks.
It’s a bad idea to leave electronics outside in any weather, but especially during summer or winter when the extreme temperatures can wreak havoc. However, it’s also unwise to leave electronics inside near a sunny or drafty window, a roaring fireplace or an active HVAC vent. By being mindful of where you place your electronics, you can extend their lifespan, preventing you from investing in costly repairs or replacements prematurely.
Plugging in with caution and care
Rechargeable devices are all the rage, and it is easy to see why: They cut back on waste and tend to cost less to consumers over time. However, rechargeable batteries require specific care to ensure they last as long as possible, and it’s more than likely that you aren’t charging as you should.
The key to understanding how to charge lies in understanding the lithium-ion battery, which is what the vast majority of rechargeable devices use. As the battery charges, lithium ions flow from electrode to electrode, leaving electrons in their wake. As you use the device, the reverse happens, and power flows to circuits outside the battery. This chemical reaction can only occur a finite number of times because layers of atoms start to form around the electrodes, obstructing the lithium ions from flowing in and out.
In general, shallow charges and discharges are better for long-term battery health because they put less stress on the battery. This means you should avoid allowing your electronics to drop below 50 percent charged, but you should also prevent them from reaching a full 100 percent when they are plugged in. Then, once per month, you should complete a full discharge, where you allow your devices to drop below 5 percent charge. This helps the device recalibrate, giving you a more accurate estimated battery reading.
Finally, it should go without saying, but you shouldn’t plug too many electronic devices into the same outlet. Electronics draw extreme amounts of electricity, and overloading an outlet with too many devices will cause frustrating electrical shorts, or worse, sparks that result in fire. Typically, an outlet should not exceed 1,500 watts, but you should also be aware of items plugged into other outlets on the same circuit.
Cleaning them like anything else
Your kitchen appliances would be unusable if you didn’t clean them periodically — and the same is true of your electronics. Dust, dander and other debris don’t just make your electronics unsightly; they also impair their function. For example, when the inside of a CPU isn’t cleaned regularly, the dust can settle on the delicate components, scratching them or, worse, insulating them and increasing the chance of overheating. At least once per year — or more frequently for devices in constant use — you should deep clean your electronics to keep them safe. However, as with your windows, you need the right tools and techniques to clean your electronics without doing further damage. Here’s a guide to the most common devices in need of cleaning:
- Your smartphone. Mix one part isopropyl alcohol with one part water, and spray the solution onto a lint-free cloth. Wipe down the phone gently to remove fingerprints and grime. Use a cotton swab damp with the same solution to clean gunk trapped around buttons or in crevices. Clean any hard smartphone cases the same way.
- Your laptop. Turn your laptop upside down and gently shake to dislodge any crumbs, dust or debris trapped in the keyboard. Use canned air to remove anything particularly tenacious around the keys. Dampen a microfiber cloth with distilled water and gently rub any plastic or metal surfaces. LCD screens require tailor-made products that don’t damage the delicate material or cause streaks.
- Your desktop. Clean your monitor the same way you did your laptop screen — with a microfiber cloth and an appropriate cleaning solution. Use cotton swabs dipped in cleaner to scrub the plastic or metal parts around the screen. Turn over your keyboard to loosen crumbs and debris, and scrub the keys with a microfiber cloth damped with distilled water. Read and apply this more extensive guide for taking apart the CPU and cleaning its components.
- Your flat-screen TV. Do not use glass cleaner, which can corrode materials outside and inside your TV. Instead, use distilled water on a microfiber cloth to scrub away smudges and grime. Clean your remote controls using cotton swabs dipped in a half-alcohol-half-water solution.
- Your smart devices. Specific techniques applied will depend on the specific devices, but most smart tech benefits from a simple wipe-down with a dry microfiber cloth to remove lint and dust.
Your devices do so much to keep you comfortable and happy — the least you can do is make sure they live a long, productive life. By modifying your behavior to keep your devices safe, you can relax and enjoy them without great expense for as long as possible.