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First aid for a wet mobile phone: ten top tips

After being careless enough to leave my mobile lying out of doors overnight, I was surprised to discover how commonly this happens. A 2011 survey of 2000 phone users found that 31% had damaged their phones with liquids. An amazing 47% of these dropped them down the toilet, which underlines that there are liquids worse than rain!


Online, I found lots of people offering "how I fixed mine" advice and others wanting to sell you repair kits - but what would you do with your phone while awaiting the delivery? YouTube features some of the worst-made, most frustratingly repetitive and incoherent videos that I've ever watched.

Here is a summary of what I learned:

  1. Stay calm: if the liquid is plain water and the phone hasn't been exposed for too long, act fast and your chances of complete recovery are good. (If too much water is already inside the phone, the damage done is probably beyond economic repair, but what follows may be worth trying anyway.)
  2. Do NOT switch the phone on to test it, however tempting this seems! If it was already on, don't press any buttons except the off switch. Get the battery out as fast as you can. Recharging comes later: your first priority is to avoid a short-circuit leading to sparks and fried electronics.
  3. Remove any bumper or other cover, and take out anything that you easily can (battery, SIM card etc). Shake out and mop up as much moisture as you can (I used kitchen paper), and try to dry in and around sockets.
  4. Do NOT be tempted to use direct heat (avoid the oven or even a hairdryer on low setting): patience is your best ally in the drying out process. You need to draw moisture away from the electronics slowly using a desiccant, not to risk moving the dampness around, let alone melting the plastic. If a friend suggests using a microwave or freezer, they either know no physics or they aren't your friend.
  5. Some people advise immersing it in isopropyl alcohol, but how many people who have just dunked their phone have a bottle of that handy? Also, if it isn't at least 99% pure, there's a risk of impurities doing further damage, so I didn't pursue this. 
  6. Most people can easily get hold of uncooked white rice: burying the phone in plenty of rice inside a ziplock bag will draw out the moisture eventually. But it can take several days, and there are many stories of people taking it out too soon in order to try it, only having to put it back for another 24 or 48 hours. And the rice flour/dust tends to get everywhere, which can't be ideal.
  7. Silica gel works much faster than rice. Even if the shops are closed when disaster strikes, have you a few little sachets marked "Do not eat. Throw away." lying around? (I assume you have followed the first instruction but maybe not the second.) Check cartons from anything electronic - TVs, cameras, computer stuff. Put the phone inside a ziplock bag or plastic box, and be patient. Ideally, leave it overnight before testing. It's natural to be in a hurry to see if your cure has worked, but patience pays.
  8. Prevention is better than cure, obviously, both for keeping the phone dry and for damage limitation. Start collecting silica gel sachets now: even if you never get your mobile wet, they may be a godsend to a friend!
  9. Most mobile companies won't cover water damage under warranty, and inside your phone there is probably a cheatproof Liquid Contact Indicator, so don't be tempted to economise with the truth. Apple won't repair, they will replace. Water damage may lead to latent faults which are near-impossible to diagnose and uneconomic to fix; and for sure, replacing wet iPhones is very profitable for Apple.
  10. Having pondered the above, I suspect that many folk (even if successful in the short term) may mistrust the phone after a soaking, and perhaps put it on eBay before too long. (I won't be doing that, but I also won't be buying a used cellphone on eBay, ever.)  

Although it was very careless of me to have left my phone outside, I don't think I'll ever do it again.  I just hope that anybody reading this will, if they are unlucky/daft enough to get their phone wet, be more likely to remember what to do and what to avoid!

When I found my phone I was too busy drying it off to think of photographing it. Credit for the photo above belongs to Liquipel - a Californian company that offers a waterproofing service - at $59 plus shipping!


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on May 5, 2013 8:16 AM.

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