Snow, Ice and Electricity
Can snow or ice conduct electricity?
If I put snow or ice on a micro chip, will it short circuit, or hurt me?
On a microchip, it probably will not hurt you unless you are touching it
yourself. However, because they are much colder than an operating
microchip, and because they will quickly begin to melt and put water on the
microchip, chances are you will quickly destroy the chip. (The case may or
may not remain intact, but the chip will still be ruined)
** I DO NOT recommend putting any water, ice, snow on or in your PC or any
other electrical circuit for the purposes of cooling it down or for any
other reason. **
Liquids / solids conduct based on one simple idea which I may be
oversimplifying here: They need CHARGE CARRIERs. If you were to place snow
or ice on the uProcessor it would more than likely immediately melt on the
IC / uProcessor. Also, the runoff water will more than likely STILL
interfere with the operation of the IC.
Will it SHORT CIRCUIT. Well, of course it will not SHORT circuit. But it
really kind of depends on how many other IC's are attached to this IC.
Water is NOT an inert gas that has zero electrical properties. If it were
to dissolve some solids on the PCB after the snow / ice melted the
conductivity could very well increase acting as a partial short circuit to
Personally, I have dunked an entire PCB filled with IC's in a small bath of
water to keep it cool. But that is because I knew that the IC's were pretty
tough (electrically) and that there was a lot of water used. So if there
were any dissolved solids on the PCB they would be so rapidly DILUTED that
there would be very very little conduction in the water.
Will it hurt you? No one can ever make any absolute promises that you
get hurt from dumping water on an electrical circuit...so I will error on
the side of caution and say that if do not know enough about the circuit (IC)
and DO put ICE / water on it...chances are you could get shocked if you were
to touch it the wrong way.
a.) Example of NO ELECTRICAL SHOCK HAZARD would be a simple 5 volt circuit
with a 555 timer w/ NO Inductors / coils / transformers present.
b.) Example of an ELECTRICAL SHOCK HAZARD would be a SEEMINGLY harmless
circuit that contains a triac that may be used to switch off and on a 120Vac
voltage source. If you were to put ice / water on that the higher voltage
would cause greater current to flow. Furthermore, the greater current may
be responsible for the metal finish eroding from the PCB surface and going
into solution. This presence of more FREE IONS caused by metal erosion will
further increase the conductivity of the water causing the 'situation' to
cascade out of control until either a fuse blows or a circuit trace blows
open...or even worse.
The above two examples are not just supposition. THEY ARE FACT. I have
experienced both and know them to be true. "SO DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME". ;)
Hope this was helpful.
Extremely pure water is a poor conductor of electricity, as is extremely
pure ice. However, it is extremely difficult to produce sufficiently pure
water. For example, glass is sufficiently soluble to cause contamination. I
would not recommend putting water on a micro chip, it is quite likely to
short out unless the circuit has been over-coated with a protective
coating. It is not likely to harm you because the electrical power is low
in most micro chips -- but it is not going to do the chip any good.
Not my field, my layman's opinion. Snow and ice are just other forms of
water, so would you put water on your chip?
Then, consider the snow, or ice changing to water under the conditions. This
opens the thought about vacuums, or climate controlled safe rooms. So, I
would guess the answer depends on under what conditions.
The microchip will not hurt you, but putting any form of water on anything
that uses any kind of electricity requires the supervision of a knowledgeable
If the microchip and everything in the vicinity (everything that any melted ice
might possibly touch) is powered by a low-voltage, low-current supply (for
example, three ordinary AA batteries makes 4.5 volts, which many microchips will
be happy with) then you can take relatively simple precautions to remain safe.
The voltage from three AA batteries cannot hurt you, but even such a weak supply
can produce enough heat to burn your finger, start a fire, or melt or vaporize
something that was safe as a solid but is not safe as a liquid or a gas.
If the snow or ice is uncontaminated (for example, ice made from distilled
water, and not touched by anything that might add impurities, such as your
finger) it will be a very poor conductor of electricity, and will not short
out the microchip. The microchip and circuit board must also be very clean
(washed with alcohol, for example) or any water that melts out of the snow
or ice may pick up enough impurities from the surface of the chip or the circuit
board to become conductive.
That is an iffy, on-the edge situation, with lots of little things
to say about it.
You were not very specific as to what kind electronic device you might see
doused with snow.
Snow or ice usually have melted water on the surface, or could get some
Especially because most microchips make some heat.
Water does conduct, and definitely can make short-circuits.
If there is high voltage, yes, it could hurt you.
Snow and TV's, for example, are a really bad idea.
Ice itself does not conduct very much. Especially below about -10 degrees C.
A desk computer that was pre-chilled and filled with very cold dry snow
would probably work OK until the heat it normally makes started melting
And continue OK for a little while even then.
Only the power-supply box would have dangerous high voltages in it (120
although you could get a nasty bite from grabbing a wet 12 v wire and a
wet ground (0 v) metal part.
Some of the lowest-power microchips could live normally in a solid block
of ice at -10 degrees C.
A digital quartz wrist-watch, for example.
The LCD display might have a problem showing clearly, but the clock chip
behind it would be doing its job.
I think the battery would be OK, too.
Most of the chips I would call "micro-chips" only use 3v or 5v, not
normally enough voltage to hurt you.
Try touching the terminals of a 9v battery to your tongue. Carefully,
because it is strong; it almost bites.
You can imagine that 5v is less, and your skin is blocks electricity more
than your tongue even when it is wet skin.
But power transistors and power-amplifier chips, say in TV's or maybe in
audio power amps,
look a bit like micro-chips, and they often handle hundreds of volts.
They can be plenty dangerous. All glass-tube TV's are dangerous.
Battery-powered electronics usually are not, unless they are TV's..
There are many low-power digital microchips that couldn't hurt you or even
themselves by being shorted,
but they might be unable to work properly until the short is gone.
Corrosion can kill your electronics.
Sometimes when you get water on a circuit-board with micro-chips,
it wicks into hidden places and stays there a long time,
and while the power is on, voltage + water will power-corrode the printed
wires and IC pins,
and then later even if the water is gone the corrosion makes short
circuits which keep on interfering with the whole thing.
It could work again if shorting-trails of corrosion were removed, or
prevented from forming.
If I had a computer or Game-Boy that got snow into it, I would treat it
the same as if it had water squirted into it.
I would turn it off right away and take out the batteries, open it up with
a screwdriver soon and dab out the excess water with towels. Then later do
a big job of LIGHTLY scrubbing the circuit-board with 70% rubbing alcohol
and an old toothbrush, maybe rinse it with 90% rubbing alcohol, then dry
it with towel, then with a hair-drier an arm's length away.
Then put it back together, of course.
If the electronic board did not have visible corrosion-crust anywhere yet,
there is a fine chance it will still work.
I wonder what stories an electric-company linesman could tell us about
downed power lines in snow.
That sounds very dangerous.
Snow and ice are pretty good insulators. Neither one is as good as
conventional insulators such as glass or plastic.
Snow or ice should not have an effect on a microchip. Of course, if some of
the snow melts into water, the water will conduct electricity much better.
I do not know why you would put snow or ice on a microchip. If you want to
use a homemade integrated circuit in a machine like a snowmobile, it will
pose no problem. Microchips are sealed against water.
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Update: June 2012