Salvaging Motors, Switches, and Other Electromechanical Devices

While a fire may melt insulation, motor windings and plastic parts beyond repair, simple smoke or water damage is not necessarily a death sentence for robustly-built motors, power tools, starters, and switches. If you move quickly, you can stabilize these items and prevent more serious damage until you can get help from a qualified electrician or other electrical specialist.

Turn Off • Unplug • Disconnect from Power • Remove Batteries

Wet or damaged motors and electrical equipment are a serious safety hazard. In addition to being dangerous, powering up may permanently damage the devices.

Do Triage: Make an evaluation of whether the item is worth the time to save. Take into consideration the value of the motor or tool, the age of the item, difficulty of replacement, and the extent of the damage. It may make more sense to replace an older motor or tool with a more energy-efficient model. You may have to pay to replace bearings, or other components, so it the item is badly damaged or of marginal value, it is probably best to move on. On the other hand, a very expensive motor or tool may be worth trying to save. Keep in mind that flood waters often contain corrosive chemicals that may cause deterioration of electrical components.

Warning

DO NOT work on electrical equipment that has not been completely disconnected from a source of power. Doing so can result in serious injury or death.

Water conducts electricity, so do not work in an environment with electrical equipment and water unless the power has been completely disconnected.  For equipment that has been hard-wired or cannot be unplugged, seek the assistance of a qualified electrician before proceeding.

Useful tools and supplies:

  • Screwdrivers
  • Pliers
  • Wrenches
  • Fans
  • Electrical contact cleaner
  • Light oil
  • Rags
  • Paper towels
  • Protective gear: rubber gloves, goggles, respirator
  •  
    • Remove excess water. Turn motors and devices so water can drain from vent holes.  If motor is wet and covered with mud or other contaminants, rinse with clean water to remove contaminants. Be sure to wear protective gloves and a respirator. Flood water can be toxic. If you can, loosen covers to allow for better air flow and drainage.

    • Dry thoroughly.  Place where air can circulate around and through the motor, tool, or switch. Fans can be useful. Do not apply excessive heat (heat guns or hair dryers) that may melt insulation or damage electronic components. Electrical contact cleaner or a water displacement spray that is designed specifically for electrical equipment may speed drying and protect surfaces. WD-40 will leave a gummy film, so do not use it on electrical components or mechanisms. It may take several days to completely dry electrical equipment.

    • Once dry - coat steel surfaces with a thin coat of light oil to prevent rust.  If the motor is part of a larger tool or machine, dry the tool as above and coat all moving parts with oil to prevent rust.

    • Take to an electrician, or a motor/tool repair technician to check out before running.

    • Electrical motor specialists can often recover a motor by "baking." This process may be as costly as replacement for small motors, but may be cost effective for larger, more expensive motors.  Do not try this yourself as you may melt insulation or other parts that may cause the motor to become unsafe. 

    Artist-to-Artist Video

    Flood Triage - We had to make choices

     

    Gary Spykman talks about salvaging motors and other things in his studio after a flood.

    More information:

    The City of Virginia Beach, Virginia has some pointers on salvaging wiring and appliances in this document.

    The State of Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has a fact-sheet on recovering electrical motors and appliances.

     

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