I just saved several hundred dollars with a drop of nail polish remover

I fixed a non-responsive home button on my iPod Touch using a drop of nail polish remover. Your milage may vary, however.

Our family iPod (which is truly dead due to a bad hard drive, but that's another story)
Our family iPod (which is truly dead due to a bad hard drive, but that's another story)

I’ve had my iPod Touch for about 1.5 years and can’t really imagine living without it. I had a Palm Pilot at two different times in the past, and I never felt the need to replace either of them when they died. Life without the Touch, however, has quickly become unthinkable.

Thus I was pretty seriously distressed when the home button quit responding yesterday. It had been acting a little touchy for a while, but I could always get it to respond if I was persistent. Yesterday, however, it just went dead. Kaput. The end. This is the kind of thing you don’t repair, and I wasn’t super keen on spending a few hundred to replace it, especially since everything worked fine except that one crucial little button.

A little searching turned up this forum thread, which boils down to two recommendations:

  • Blow compressed air into the connector slot at the bottom
  • Put a drop of contact cleaner, nail polish remover, or other water-free solvent on the button, and then work the button to try to get the solvent to wick around to the where the contacts are

Both of these are based on the assumption that the problem is some dirt or or gunk that’s collected under the button and is interfering with the contacts. Since my iPod lives pretty much permanently in my jeans pocket (along with pens, keys, lint, and various other experiments in the spontaneous generation of life), that assumption seemed pretty reasonable.

Some of the people that tried the solvent approach got too much in there, and it seeped along the screen, giving them an undesired aquarium effect. Consequently, I tried the compressed air first, since that seemed least likely lead to some unfortunate side-effect. Sadly, it also didn’t lead to the desired effect either. Consequently I moved on to nail polish. I put a drop on the button, and then clicked and wiggled that little button to try to work the liquid around. And after maybe thirty seconds of fiddling … voila! It started working!

It’s now been most of an hour, and the fix seems solid. I’ve had it propped up with the button end down, so if there’s any liquid still in there it’s headed away from the screen and the bulk of the electronics, and by now I would assume that most of the liquid has evaporated anyway.

I’d think twice about trying this at home, especially if you have a working piece of electronics. Mine was completely unusable without the button, so I was willing to take the risk, but I can imagine a lot of ways in which this might not go well, so tread gently into these swamps.

For me, though, it’s all happy, happy, happy :-)

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6 thoughts on “I just saved several hundred dollars with a drop of nail polish remover”

  1. In your Tweet, you said “nail polish remover”; here you say “nail polish”. I surely hope it’s the remover!

  2. Cool tip.

    One thing: In the body of the blog post (in the bulleted section and in the paragraph that starts “Some of the people..”) you say nail polish instead of nail polish remover.

    While I think most people wouldn’t be foolish enough to put nail polish on their home button, someone might. Especially if they are scanning the article quickly.


  3. Great news, Nic. Glad to hear you got it working. That story reminds me of when my MP3 player stopped working. Turning it on would produce a faint clicking sound, presumably from the hard drive inside. After 30 seconds, the player would give up and display an error message. Posts on several forums suggested giving the player a good whack, because the problem is often caused by the hard drive’s head getting jammed (causing the clicking). So, as in your case, having an otherwise useless piece of hardware, I decided to give it a shot. Hitting it the first time produced no result, and the second harder slap sent it flying out of my hand. But it did the trick! Player still works to this day. I don’t travel with it much; it hangs out in my cubicle. But it does get plenty of use week in and week out. Pretty good for an 8-year-old refirbished MP3 player (Creative Zen Xtra). It’s starting to look a little long in the tooth, though. I was tempted by the cheap 30GB Zunes on black Friday.

    A thought on the iPod vs Palm. I too had a Palm when I was at Morris. I found it useful to track things I needed to do and places I needed to be. Now that I have a job with a cubicle, between the desktop at home, desktop at work, and a netbook, it’s just as effective to track those sorts of items online. I’m guessing that internet connectivity on the device is the killer feature that the Palms were lacking. It is striking how similar the iTouch/iPhone are to Palm pilots.

    1. I’ll have to try the thwacking trick on the iPod pictured at the top of this. We get exactly that clicking sound, and have presumed the iPod dead. We’re probably not going to replace it, but it would be nice if we could make it work again without spending a ton.

      I definitely agree that the internet access makes my iPod Touch a lot more useful than the Palm Pilots were. I think it’s more than that, though, and the interface and increased flexibility has a lot of value as well.

  4. Many thanks to all those who pointed out the mistake – yes, I definitely meant “nail polish remover“. I seriously doubt that putting a drop of nail polish on the home button would do anything but Evil and Bad.

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