I have a number of computer cables worth several hundred dollars in total which have come into my possession, that were stored in such a way that they may have been contaminated (nothing a good washing wouldnt fix). I would prefer not throwing them out. Most of us have probably heard about washing a keyboard in the dishwasher, and now I am wondering if the same logic can be applied to dirty cables. My assumption is that because the older PS2 keyboards used in these dishwashing experiments have their own copper cables attached, what could be the difference? I am wondering if any of these cable types have different material or fastenings that will not hold up in a dishwasher, under heat, or when wet.
The assortment of cables include:
VGA (DE-15) cables
Other DSUB types
Cat 5e/6 ethernet cables
USB cables (Micro, Mini, A to B printer types)
3.5 mm Stereo cable
Auxillary cables (to headphones jack, maybe same as 3.5 mm)
Computer Power Cables (IEC60320 C13 standard)
Any C-Type standard cables for that matter
DB-25 Parallel Printer cables (I know, throw it out)
Follow up questions:
- If there is concern about the temperature of the dishwasher (although I cannot imagine it hurting the cables and not a keyboard), can they be washed by hand?
- If there is any water left in the cables after several weeks of drying out, could they damage the electronics they are plugged into? Or will they simply not function?
Just like with a keyboard, it can be a bit of a crap-shoot. Might work, might ruin. That said, here's some of the effects that water might have on a cable and why it might/might not matter.
Depending on the design of the connector, water might be able to infiltrate into the cable. Connectors that are injection-molded around the pins will be able to prevent most water from getting into the jacket area, and there isn't much correlation between the type of cable and how it was assembled: you need to look at them and see for yourself. If there is no obvious way to disassemble it, if where the wire bundle enters the connector and inside the connector looks sealed, it might resist water.
If there are any holes and water can get inside, it might "wick" inside, both between the insulated wires, and also between the individual strands in stranded wire. Water there may or may not matter, depending on...
Any "high-speed" digital cables, e.g. SATA, USB 3, HDMI, DP, require some fairly specific characteristics to shove as much data across them as they do. Water is sometimes conductive, but it also has an extremely high dielectric constant, which is a sensitive value in many transmission lines. Among other things, water in close proximity to high speed conductors can artificially "lengthen" them to become out of spec. Because this is so sensitive to what you're connecting, the design of the cable with regard to something it shouldn't have to deal with (a dishwasher), it's anyone's guess.
High-frequency analog cables, VGA, RCA for video, might exhibit strange "ghosting" or other effects that you'd occasionally see in extremely long cables.
And while low-speed cables should be fine from a signals perspective, if sustained voltage is held across some wet contacts, they will eventually corrode because you're making a little plating setup, coating one contact with the other.
Anyways, the cable itself is almost certainly a non-issue; it's the connectors. If they aren't what's wrong with the cables, bag or wrap them tightly and things should be fine. If they are dirty, maybe you could try sealing where the contacts are and the cable meets the connector body temporarily with something like hot glue (pries off pretty easily).
People do all kinds of things that aren't a good idea. If you read the answers on your linked question, you'll see that some people managed to get away with it and some didn't.
Personally, I wouldn't use a dishwasher at all for cables (or other electrical/electronic components). The detergent requires very hot water to thoroughly dissolve and rinse, and can leave residue. It also tends to be a little corrosive. The plastic won't melt at dishwasher temperatures (unless a cable falls near the drying element), but it can leech out some of the plasticizer and make the plastic more brittle.
If you're going to use a dishwasher, I would limit it to molded cables like power cables or speaker cables, where there are just a few wires, the wires are heavy, you're dealing with low frequencies, and the molded connectors hermetically seal the ends.
Where you have openings into the connector or cable, water (and detergent), is likely to wick in and will be difficult to remove.
Cables used for high-speed data communication aren't just wires and connectors. Their performance relies on characteristics of the cable design. Introducing water can affect those characteristics.
What you're trying to get rid of is external. The cables should still be internally good. If you get water inside, you may create issues you don't currently have. A better solution is to just clean the cables externally by hand by wiping them with a rag and some isopropyl alcohol.
To your follow-up question about the risks of residual water, these would relate primarily to the performance (or service life), of the cable. The only risk of damage I can envision to something other than the cable would be getting water inside the plug of a power cord. You could potentially get leakage currents that could corrode the wires or cause other problems.
With the exception of network cables (whose underlying wires are exposed; see comment by Ron Maupin), none of the cables in question have any active components or exposed wiring that could be damaged by washing (even at elevated temperatures). Just make they're completely dry before you use them.
For cables with female or otherwise recessed connectors, there's the possibility that water will stay inside the connector for a while, but a few days in sunlight should be enough to get rid of most of the residual water. Any remaining traces should be completely harmless, though additional caution is needed for cables that connect to mains, such as the IEC C-series power cables you mentioned.
Also, dishwashers don't typically operate at such high temperatures that they could damage the cables; residential dishwashers typically top out at about 170 °F, while plastic doesn't normally melt until past the boiling point of water. (Some lower-quality plastic may noticeably soften at these temperatures but I doubt that a one-off washing process will do much damage.)
As for the network cables, I'd try to wipe them with a damp cloth instead of washing them, as they can be damaged by water ingress.
Your mileage may vary.
It is a bad idea for any cable that has wires consisting of 2 different metals. E.g. many cheap UTP cables don't use solid-copper wires but copper-clad aluminum.
You'll get a redox reaction on the boundary layer between the metals which will seriously comprise the signal quality of the cable.
This even happens without washing them. I've seen 10-12 year old Cat5e cable degrade to the point it wouldn't do Gigabit anymore (even on distances less than 5 meter). That was in normal indoor building use in the Netherlands (not exactly tropical humidity levels.)
Washing would make that happen overnight.
Same thing could happen to the soldering joints (or crimp-joints e.g. in RJ45 connectors) where the internal wires are attached to the connector pins.
You would be pretty OK with cables that have sealed connectors.
It ain't a good idea for optical cables either because of the potential for abrasives in the detergent to scratch the ends of the fibers.
I say: Try it.
The cables are a write-off anyway. You might be able to salvage some of them.
I would mark the "treated ones" so if they act up later I could easily identify which ones had the treatment and throw them away if they prove themselves to be unreliable.
P.S. It's probably best to use very little detergent or none at all. Use something biological: Less chance the chemicals in the detergent can react with the plastic of the cables/connectors.