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I am fortunate enough to live at the beach and am a big electronic gadget guy. Almost every afternoon there is a solid onshore wind that blows in the house. The dust that comes off the beach has a high salt content and the area is very humid. I am worried that this wet, salty air is going to corrode every piece of exposed metal in my electronic gear.

Has anyone heard / seen / done anything to prevent this from happening?

(I've seen things like computers run in a tank of oil, but I am looking for a less drastic solution)

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7 Answers

Electronics manufacturers that have to cope with this environment varnish their PCBs. The main cost on a production line is the time to mask off the connectors rather than the cost of the varnish. You can buy spray on varnish and it doesn't always need an oven to cure it.

When a really heavy duty protective layer is required, this is called conformal coating, and can be achieved by dipping the PCB into the coating. Again, it's the masking thats the expensive part (time consuming), and thicker coatings may require an oven bake to cure them. The ability of hot components to dissipate the heat will decrease when they are coated, so then a derating factor applies to power components. This is one of the reasons that industrial electronics is more expensive than consumer electronics.

The main reliability issues you will have are on contacts of connectors and switches. Decide if you'd rather get ruggidised, marine type equipment eg Panasonic Toughbook or just replace things when they fail, at a higher rate than normal. It may well not be worth that much effort to protect consumer grade items which will obselete in a short period anyway.

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I'd recommend wiping down the exposed areas with WD-40. This may not be an option or other smaller gadgets, but for bigger things that sit exposed to the environment everyday, this may help you out.

http://www.wd40.com/faqs/

Here's a list of 1,997 uses from the Tacoma Wheelmen's Bicycle Club: http://www.wd40.com/files/pdf/wd-40%5F2042538679.pdf

some of the unofficial uses:

  • Protects snow shovels from the effects of salt
  • Protects bike frame from salt water corrosion
  • Prevents salt damage on aluminum exterior components of personal watercrafts

If it works for you, perhaps you could drop them a line and add yours to the list!

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WD-40, or Stoddard fluid, ranks at the bottom for rust protection. However as a penetrant, it is good for getting between electrical connections and creating resistance. If you want a good rust protectant with a great history, reputation and the scientific studies to back it up, use Fluid Film. Just don't use it on electronics either. –  kmarsh Sep 11 '09 at 12:34
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Keep your system free of dust.

Dust attracts moisture, and holds it against components. Moisture combines with salt to corrode metal. Blow the system out with compressed air once a month. Change your furnace+A/C filters monthly.

Keep the humidity low. See above.

Avoid wide temperature swings

Fast changes in temperature, up or down, causes condensation.

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Three sentences for you :

  1. Get a dry box.
  2. Close your windows.
  3. Wipe gadgets with dry cloth regularly.
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I live right next to the sea, and have for.. 20 years and well, other than copper, we haven't that many problems(well we have had fungus issues, and dust issues, and users applying too much force but never corrosion related failures of electronics). If you're really paranoid, i suppose i'd suggest investing in silica gel.

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silica jell packets can be place inside your electronics, This will not really help with salt, but it will moister. You do need to replace them regularly. Most, but not all, such packets can either be baked or microwaved to dry them out for reuse.

Most of our problems will be with connectors. A good can of contact cleaner can help.

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You can buy conformal coating in spray cans, like spray paint.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conformal%5Fcoating

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