This is the second in a series of posts we’re calling “Repair Smarter,” with tips and tricks for how to make your repairs go more smoothly.

The insides of gadgets are complicated, as you know if you’ve ever seen one of our teardowns. But don’t let that complexity intimidate you. A little reading goes a long way—even people who have a lifetime of experience with circuitry need to brush up every now and then. Here are some tips to help prevent damage to you and your device, so your repair comes off without a hitch. 

1. C is for capacitor

It goes without saying that you should unplug the power cable and battery while doing a repair, but simply removing the power source doesn’t mean there isn’t a chance of getting shocked. Capacitors store charge. They can be found on power supplies and scattered throughout circuitry. While a shock from most capacitors in consumer electronics isn’t fatal, they can still give you a decent jump. When working with electronics, be sure not to grab capacitors directly or touch them with any conductive material.

If you plan on replacing a capacitor, you may need to discharge the capacitor first. If that’s the case, use our guide to build a capacitor discharge tool. Discharge time varies with size. It is important to give the tool enough time to discharge the capacitor completely.

2. ESD, the way to be

Speaking of shock, you don’t want your device to get a jump from static electricity either. Using tools designed to prevent electrostatic discharge (ESD-safe) will keep your electronics from getting zapped during repair. We carry some ESD-safe tools, such as the anti-static wrist strap, small screw extracting pliers, and tweezers. But others can be difficult to come by. If you can’t get an ESD-safe tool, make sure to work on an anti-static surface.

Using non-metal ESD-safe tools not only prevents unwanted static discharge but also will keep your devices scratch-free, inside and out. Using a flathead screwdriver to peel up a connector can damage both the connector and the board. Using a metal spudger to crack open your phone can lead to unsightly scratches. ESD-safe spudgers, which are designed to pry, get the job done without scarring disappointment.

3. Make the connection

Consumer electronics are chock-full of connectors. Yanking on a cable without releasing its connector is a great way to rip a socket off of a circuit board or tear a cable. You will begin to recognize different connector types as you gain experience. In the meantime, there are a few basics you should know.

Zero Insertion Force (ZIF) connectors require you to lift a little tab before sliding the cable out. There are lots of variations on this type of connector—some have the flap on the opposite side of the cable, others release a tab by squeezing. Your best bet is to scour the connector for tabs or clips before you start pulling wires. If you feel resistance, stop and check again.

If you have a connector without clips or tabs, the connector will likely come out either perpendicular or parallel to the board. Look for any retaining pieces on the board that may prevent motion in a given direction. Then try gently sliding the cable straight out of the socket. Pulling as straight as possible prevents damage.

4. I can’t believe it’s not butter fingers

Your fingers are host to lots of oils. No, I’m not talking about the leftover pizza grease from lunch. Even freshly washed hands have natural oils in them. These oils, though seemingly harmless, can erode markings on chips. For many repairs, this probably won’t be an issue, but play it safe by cleaning your hands before working. Always handle boards from their edges and never rub your finger directly over a chip. When in doubt, slip on a finger stall, which keeps grubby fingerprints off of delicate components. Finger stalls also protect against ESD and keep delicate electronics safe in case electrons get excited and discharge.

5. Clean sweep

It is important to get a device clean; in fact, sometimes all a device needs is a good cleaning to work again. Repairs are the perfect time to clean out your device—especially the fan. So, you’ve got your keyboard open and your first instinct is to flood the dust bunnies and Cheeto crumbs with Windex. Before you go rifling under the sink, read on! Many commercial cleaners can damage electronics. Your first method of attack: compressed air. Give the device or component a good blast of air to get rid of as much particulate matter as you can. Follow up with an ESD-safe brush or a lint free cloth. If your device is still dirty, try spraying a gentle electronics cleaner, like Omnicleanz, on a clean, lint-free cloth and wipe the device again. Never use any household cleaners, abrasives, or solvents unless you like your electronics like you like your eggs: fried.

Tune in next time for five more tips as we continue our “Repair Smarter” series.

Brittany McCrigler is the Director of Education Services at iFixit. She also teaches technical writing, creates resources for the technical communication classroom, and is on the teardown team. Brittany has a background in physics and astrophysics. She is a pluviophile, a patron of many local coffee retailers, and loves everything DIY from power tools to puppet-making.

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