The most sustainable device you will ever own is the one you currently have.
Learn what you and others can do to help keep your devices working by learning to troubleshoot and repair them. Yes, YOU can do it. No, you don’t need experience, we’re here to help walk you through the troubleshooting process to figure out what’s wrong, what parts might need to be replaced, and how to replace them. If you can solve puzzles and read recipes, then you’re about 80 percent of the way ready to jump into repairing a phone or a laptop. The other 20 percent is a combination of patience, practice, and a willingness to learn.
At the Gadget Garage, we want to keep as many devices out of landfills as we can and that all starts with YOU.
Find us at the Champaign Public Library (Friends meeting room, second floor) on Saturday, April 21st from 1:30-4:00 PM for our (day-early) Earth Day event. Find out more from us about: battery, CD/DVD, and CD case recycling; where to take working electronics you no longer want; where to recycle non-functioning electronics in the CU area; where to find local repair shops for those of you who do not want to work on your own devices; etc. We have a lot of information to offer! Stop in and help us help the Earth.
And help you of course.
Because you love it when technology works like it’s supposed to. We all do.
Have broken gadgets or questions about what we do? Find us in the Champaign Public Library’s Library Friends Conference Room this Saturday, March 10th from 1-3. If you have items you are interested in repairing, we encourage you to email us about the items ahead of time, so that we can do some preliminary research and can accommodate the time and tool constraints needed for the repair. Contact us at: illiniGadgetGarage@gmail.com
Join the IGG staff this coming Sunday, December 10th, from 1:00-3:00pm for an afternoon of festive repair! Bring in your broken holiday lights and we will help you repair them. After your repair, enjoy some hot chocolate or tea and create a card out of recycled electronics. This event is free, but we will be accepting a suggested donation of $5 to help defray the costs of running the Illini Gadget Garage. For more information on how to donate, follow this link to our online form.
After getting removed from a parent’s basement, my friend showed me the bag of retro games and consoles her parents had returned to her after years of sitting dormant. In my excitement of holding an original Game Boy, I flipped the device on only to have nothing happen. Batteries must be dead, was my natural assumption. I opened the battery compartment to find the batteries had leaked and corrosion EVERYWHERE.
A younger me would have said, “Well, nothing we can do with it now. We’ll have to get rid of it.” And if time travel were a thing, I might go back and give my younger self a rough shake and an education on when to declare an electronic dead.
My younger self was told to never touch exploded batteries; “it’s acid and it will burn”. Well, it was a half-truth from my parents to keep me from playing with something potentially dangerous. Alkaline batteries don’t leak acid, they actually leak a material that registers as a base on the pH scale: potassium hydroxide. Potassium hydroxide is a conductive solution used in alkaline batteries that can be harmful to us if the proper precautions are not taken in handling it. It’s a corrosive and can cause an itchy/burning sensation if it comes into contact with your skin, eyes, or if inhaled, so be sure to use gloves, safety glasses, and work in a well-ventilated area. Also, I wish it could go without saying, but DO NOT INGEST and wash your hands and work area after any contact with it, gloves or no.
Cleaning Alkaline Corrosion
(Please make sure you’re working with alkaline batteries before performing this cleaning method.)
When cleaning alkaline battery leaks, you want to use an acid like vinegar or lemon juice to take on the base corrosion. What you don’t want to use are other base materials to clean it like baking soda, ammonia, or bleach, you may just make things worse this way. If you’re concerned that the acid may be too strong for cleaning your device, feel free to use a 50/50 mix (equal parts) of distilled water and vinegar or distilled water and lemon juice instead.
Use a Q-tip or small brush (soft bristle toothbrushes work just fine, just don’t use it for teeth cleaning afterwards) dipped in your chosen cleaning acid to scrub off/eat away the corrosion. Wipe with a dry cloth to remove any lingering corrosive particles. Repeat as necessary and let it dry completely before trying to put new batteries in. (Recycle old batteries.)
Some devices are caked in corrosion and require a more thorough cleaning which involves taking the device apart and soaking the contacts as I had to do for this poor Game Boy.
What if I can’t save it?
Corrosion is the eventual fate of all metals, whether they are corroded irreparably depends on the type of metal and the type of corrosive as well as the amount of corrosive it’s been exposed to and how long it’s been there. I don’t know how long the batteries in this device have been leaking exactly, but the corrosion had eaten through enough of the top layers of metal to pockmark it. Fortunately, it was not enough to cause it to be irreparable for this project, a good scrub allowed us to get this device up and running again.
Should the damage to your device be irreparable and replacement parts unable to be found, recycling your device is the best course of action to take. Since Illinois state law has a ban on electronics like these in landfills, you can find local recyclers that can take your devices. Nintendo also offers repair of their products and take back programs which will allow you to send your old Nintendo devices (and sometimes other companies devices) in for recycling for free. Sony also offers a version of recycling as well.
What if it’s not Alkaline Battery Corrosion?
In regards to other types of corrosion, the cleaning methods vary. Different corrosives require different techniques. Isopropyl alcohol (90% and higher) is frequently used to clean/rinse motherboards as it dries quickly, but you could also soak/rinse a board (only the board, no power source or hard drive, etc.) in distilled or de-ionized water. It’s not the water itself that causes the corrosion, but the impurities and chemicals found in the water (like fluoride and chlorine). We don’t recommend submerging the boards although it can be done, we find it a bit risky and wasteful of resources, instead we use Qtips to apply cleaner/remove corrosion and soft bristle toothbrushes for some extra scrubbing power when needed.
Illinois is one of 12 states currently with proposed legislation that would support what is called the “right to repair”—that is, the right of consumers and smaller independent repair businesses to have access to instructions, parts, and tools necessary to repair electronics. If passed into law, this type of legislation would require manufacturers of electronic equipment to sell repair parts and release service information to consumers and independent repair shops.
Other states with similar proposed legislation include Nebraska, New York, Minnesota, Kansas, Massachusetts, Wyoming, Tennessee, North Carolina, Iowa, Missouri, and New Jersey. To learn more about proposed legislation in those states, see https://repair.org/stand-up/.
Incidentally, as in so many cases, the European Union is ahead of the US in terms of facilitating the repair of consumer products and thinking about designing products with repair in mind in the first place. On July 4, 2017 the European Parliament voted to approve a resolution calling on the European Commission, member countries and producers to take steps to improve repairability. While the resolution doesn’t place requirements into law, it does illustrate the desire of elected officials to address the issue of repair and design for repair in future laws and voluntary programs. See the 7/13/17 E-Scrap News article “EU body takes aim at planned obsolescence in devices“ written by Jared Paben for further information.
Calling all University of Illinois students, faculty and staff, plus members of the broader Champaign-Urbana community! The Illini Gadget Garage will have a booth at this weekend’s Taste of Champaign at West Side Park in downtown Champaign, Friday, August 18 and Saturday, August 19. See the Facebook event for more details.
Stop by to learn more about the “do-it-together” troubleshooting and repair we provide to campus and community members, and why we think it’s so important that you consider repairing the electronic devices and small appliances you own rather than immediately replacing them when there’s a problem! Set up an appointment to come into our workshop to work with us on your device, learn about volunteer and educational opportunities, hear about our employee engagement event offerings, and learn how you can support continued efforts. Also, if you’re the sort of person who thinks, “oh, I could never repair a device” or “repair is too complicated,” we’ll have some practice devices on hand along with tools, so you can sit down and get a feel for what it’s like to open something up and use the tools–all without the pressure of worrying that you might make things worse with your personal device. We’re pretty sure (from our own experiences) that once you get a taste of repair and tinkering, you’ll be hungry for more!