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What to do if your water-cooled PC springs a leak

PC Water-cooling
PC Water-cooling (Image credit: Rich Edmonds / Windows Central)

This rare emergency can occur and has the potential to cause hundreds of dollars worth of damage, depending on your response. Liquid can escape a closed loop through a loose fitting, cracked tube or block. That is why it's especially important to triple-check a loop once it's finished and perform a test run with distilled water for around 24 hours.

Spotted a leak? Don't freak out! Each and every second is precious, but here's what to do:

  1. Turn the PC off, immediately, as soon as you spot the leak.
  2. Unplug the power supply from the socket.
  3. Take off all case panels for access.
  4. Insert paper towels to soak up liquid.
  5. Extract all components that were hit by liquid.
  6. Dry each component carefully.
  7. Leave everything to dry for around 48 hours.
  8. Put everything back together and hope for the best.

With luck, everything should work. Unfortunately, if the system doesn't boot or you run into issues, you'll be required to do a little troubleshooting.

Water-Cooling

If you haven't yet had a leak, here's how to ensure your system is as water-tight as possible:

  • Visual checks: Check each tube after putting everything together for cracks and other damage.
  • Test the loop: Run the loop with only the pump on power for at least 24 hours with distilled water. This will unveil any leaks or issues that may affect performance and reliability.
  • Use adequate components: Double check that everything matches up.
  • Tighten fittings: Ensure that fittings are tight on each connection to prevent liquid from seeping out.

Don't be put off by water-cooling if you're considering it as an option for your PC. Leaks are rare and can be avoided almost completely if you take your time setting the system up and ensure everything is perfect before plugging components in and firing it all up.

Rich Edmonds
Rich Edmonds

Rich Edmonds is Senior Editor of PC hardware at Windows Central, covering everything related to PC components and NAS. He's been involved in technology for more than a decade and knows a thing or two about the magic inside a PC chassis. You can follow him over on Twitter at @RichEdmonds.

9 Comments
  • Hopefully these fanless processors get to 3.5ghz soon. I'm excited to see :D
  • 1.b - Sob Profusely
  • I know people like to do this to overclock etc but I would live on constant fear of PC death, there's no way I could ever consider using a watercooler. I don't overclock anyway
  • and OC nowadays is unnecessary and brings not as much power boost as it did in the 200x era
  • Very true
  • Water cooling is joke. At least it was in my AIO. I expected it to be quiet, but it sounded like the old Xbox360s.  Paid an extra 100 for it too. I took that out and just installed a 20 dollar fan. Much quieter and cheaper. Though when I watch naughty things it revs up and slows down my stream to dial up days. Maybe it's the govt putting extra stress on it. My iPad runs smoother in that scenario. 
  • Yeah, the 30 bucks CM hyper 212 evo pwns almost every 12cm radiator AIO on price/performance and noise. And forget about the small chance of leaks that can destroy practically all your pc components in the process.
  • 3a - Lie down 3b - Try not to cry 3c - Cry a lot
  • I saved up for quite a while to build a "project" PC. I went with an AIO cpu cooler and the GTX1080 AIO card. They all came with very quiet fans, and compared to the last PC I built about a decade ago, I can't hear any noise at all from any of the fans. Did I "need" the water-cooled AIO's? Probably not, but I wanted a fun "project" PC that I could learn how to do over-clocking and (hopefully!) not worry about destroying something.