Oh No! I Dropped My Phone in The...

Category: Gadgets

For a variety of reasons, tens of millions of phones are “drowned” each year. When your phone stops working after falling into the sink, toilet, bathtub, swimming pool, muddy puddle, lake or the ocean, can it be saved? In many cases the answer is “yes,” if you do the right things and don’t do the wrong things. Hold the rice... here's what you need to know if your device is dunked...

How to Rescue a Wet Phone

A while ago, I dropped my brand-new Samsung Galaxy phone in a puddle of dirty slush, just outside a Chinese restaurant in Brooklyn, NY. While sipping my wonton soup, I tried to figure out how to get home without my non-functioning phone's GPS assistance.

I thought about asking for a takeout container filled with uncooked rice, but my fortune cookie told me "You will soon witness a miracle." So I decided against the rice, and that turned out to be a good thing.

Fortunately, I already knew that the worst thing you can do is the first thing most people want to do: press the power button to see if the device will still work. That is a good way to create a short circuit that will fry the electronics and ensure the device never works again. So resist the urge to power-up a dripping wet phone. (Hey, that would make an excellent fortune cookie saying!)

Rescue a drowned phone

Of course, if a device won’t power up then the obvious next step is to plug it into a battery charger, right? No; that’s like tossing a hair dryer into a bathtub. You may fry the charger as well as the device.

Speaking of hair dryers, they are often used to dry out a wet phone, laptop, tablet, or other device. This technique is based on the right idea: get rid of all moisture before attempting to power up the device. But it’s a long, tedious process if done correctly.

It is useless to dry only the outside of the device; it’s the moisture deep in the circuitry that causes electrical shorts. So to blow-dry a device effectively you will have to open its case, voiding the device’s warranty in many cases. Even then, you won’t be able to blow warm air directly on all wet components unless you completely disassemble the device. There are plenty of Youtube videos that show how to take apart various gadgets, but it's really something that’s best left to trained professionals. It is a good idea to open the device if it has a removable back panel, remove the battery, SIM card and memory cards, and set them aside.

Hair dryer heat can damage circuitry as easily as electricity can. Never leave a hair dryer blowing on a wet device even on its lowest heat setting. The “no heat, air only” setting will still generate hot air from the dryer’s motor if the dryer runs a long time.

If you dropped your phone in salty or dirty water, I recommend gently rinsing it in distilled water or isopropyl alcohol BEFORE attempting to dry it out. Distilled water does not conduct electricity and can safely be used for this purpose. Alcohol binds with water is very good at pulling moisture out of small spaces. Both distilled water and isopropyl alcohol can be found at most pharmacies. When possible, purchase 90% (not 70%) isopropyl alcohol.

What About the Rice Method?

You've probably heard that the best thing to do with a phone after it's been dunked is to put it in a sealed container with uncooked rice. Gazelle, a company that buys and resells used electronics, tested various drying agents on phones that had been submerged in water. What they found was that "Dry, uncooked conventional rice was the worst of the seven options tested. It absorbed the least water in 24 hours, losing out to silica gel, cat litter, couscous, instant oatmeal, classic oatmeal and instant rice."

What Gazelle and other researchers have found is that natural evaporation is the safest way to dry out a wet device. Just let the device sit in low humidity for at least three days. A fan gently blowing across the device will help by removing humid air that arises from the drying device. Do not leave the device where it will be exposed to direct sunlight, which may overheat it.

Desiccants such as rice and silica gel are able to absorb only tiny amounts of humidity from ambient air; they are not sponges for soaking up spoonfuls of water that may be inside of a drowned phone, tablet or laptop. Burying your device in a bucket of rice or silica gel granules will slow drying considerably, giving the wet components more time to rust, and dust from the desiccant may cause more problems. Use it only as a last resort, after giving the air-dry method a try.

This past summer, I had another wet phone incident. My Moto X smartphone was stashed in the side pocket of an inflatable boat, which unexpectedly filled with water when my friend climbed in after a swim. He offered to buy me a new phone, but I told him "Don't worry, it'll be fine." When I got home, I removed the back cover, gave it a few good shakes, and left the phone by a clip-on fan for about 24 hours. It powered on, and is working fine today.

Put It In the Dryer?

Of course, putting your wet phone in a clothes dryer, oven, or microwave is a bad idea. But if you’re really in a hurry and are fortunate enough to live near a TekDry service center, you can get your device professionally dried in as little as 30 minutes. There is no charge if your device fails to respond to the TekDry treatment.

And TekDry handles more than just wet phones. TekDry charges $39.99 to dry key fobs, e-Cigarettes, remote controls, and flash drives. The charge for smartphones, tablets, cameras, camcorders is $69.99. If you somehow dropped your laptops, XBox, or DVD player in the bathtub, that'll ruyn you $99.99. TekDry also offers a mail-in service. They will attempt to fix your phone and send it back to you. You only pay when it works.

The videos on the TekDry site show an impressive contraption, and give me a pretty good idea of how the patented system works. You device is hermetically sealed inside of a pressure vessel. Air is evacuated, creating a vacuum that pulls water out of the device. (One of the videos actually shows water bubbling out of a phone’s ports as air is exhausted.) To speed evaporation safely, the chamber is heated precisely and gently to a temperature lower than the maximum operating temperature specified by the device’s manufacturer.

No matter what technique you try, keep in mind that you might successfully dry out your device, but it may fail to power on due to a battery that was fried by the submersion. Before giving up, try a new battery (or borrow a friend's battery) and see if that does the trick.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

 
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This article was posted by on 26 Dec 2016


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Most recent comments on "Oh No! I Dropped My Phone in The..."

(See all 25 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

Anton
26 Dec 2016

About 20 years ago my wife dropped her flip phone into the toilet in a restaurant.
Her purse tipped over from the water tank, behind the toilet, and dropped the phone and other things into the toilet. It is a Kyocera 5135 model, and we did use it for many years.
I shook the water out of the phone and when I got home I put it on end on our baseboard heater which was on because it was fall.
As of today the phone still works. Even the original battery is in it and working.
Cheers,
Anton


Posted by:

Ken H
26 Dec 2016

Get an iPhone.


Posted by:

rmcdonald
26 Dec 2016

Would a home food shrink wrap machine work similar to TekDry? Seal-a-Meal etc.


Posted by:

Charley
26 Dec 2016

I have a coffee container that keeps the coffee fresh by creating a vacuum and sucking the air out of the container. I wonder if that would work to effectively suck the water out. That plus maybe some silica gel? Fortunately I never have had to try this.


Posted by:

P Correz
26 Dec 2016

Shark Tank very recently had a presentation for a machine to take care of this. One or more of the Sharks invested...so looks like a remedy is coming.


Posted by:

Mike in Colorado
26 Dec 2016

I'd also like to know what to do if the phone is powered on when it's dropped. Should we try to immediately power it off? My phone is on 99.9% of the time.


Posted by:

Art F
26 Dec 2016

I'm not sure how much of this is applicable to new phones, but...

A few years ago, I had a phone with water exposure that, upon powering up after some drying, showed a message like "car mode" or some such and refused to work. Upon googling the problem, I found that some people had reported that they had successfully managed to get out of this mode (removing and reinserting the battery doesn't do it) by sticking something conductive into the phone's charging slot and shorting pins together. Sure enough, this worked great for me and the phone worked perfectly thereafter!


Posted by:

Ronnie
26 Dec 2016

"Get an iPhone."

Why? I've never heard of them being advertised as waterproof. Several brands are water resistant, though.


Posted by:

Ken H
26 Dec 2016

The iPhone 6S and all the 7s are advertised as water resistant (Apple says splash resistant), but independent tests have showed them to be rather more than that. The worst result of one test was that the speakers never sounded the same after being dunked for 1/2 hour in a glass of water, but other tests don't mention that at all. I'm not taking my 7+ swimming, but I don't worry about dropping it in a puddle or spilling on it and just dropped it in the snow trying to smoke a cigarette and take a picture at the same time the other day with no ill effects. One tester took it completely apart after a series of tests and found no trace of moisture inside.


Posted by:

colin B
26 Dec 2016

Charley, fear not, the grammatical police! Either of "have had" or "had" is correct.


Posted by:

Ken H
27 Dec 2016

The iPhone 6S and all the 7s are advertised as water resistant (Apple says splash resistant), but independent tests have showed them to be rather more than that. The worst result of one test was that the speakers never sounded the same after being dunked for 1/2 hour in a glass of water, but other tests don't mention that at all. I'm not taking my 7+ swimming, but I don't worry about dropping it in a puddle or spilling on it and just dropped it in the snow trying to smoke a cigarette and take a picture at the same time the other day with no ill effects. One tester took it completely apart after a series of tests and found no trace of moisture inside.


Posted by:

Dave J
27 Dec 2016

I wish I'd read an article like this a few years ago when I dropped an expensive VHF/FM handheld transceiver overboard in 35 feet of water. A diver got it our the next day but I didn't know how to attempt to fix the situation and it "rusted" out. $$$$$$$$$$ :-(


Posted by:

Anne Hassell
27 Dec 2016

What I have done is that I've placed the wet phone inside a gallon ziplock bag with a container of desicant, such as DampRid. Personally, I buy the cheap stuff from the dollar store. I keep the desicant in its container, put it in the gallon ziplock bag with the phone, making sure to keep the desicant off of the phone, and leave it for 3 days. I haven't had a problem using this, and have about a 75% chance of success.


Posted by:

cairyn
27 Dec 2016

I would put it in my refrigerator (natural dehydrator) for a few days and let the fridge remove the moisture. Of course if you dumped it in salt water I don't believe anything will help it because of the residual salt will eventually create massive corrosion.


Posted by:

Hardie
27 Dec 2016

I worked in a plant that had a flood. Drying equipment in ovens was useless. We had to pull a vacuum on them to extract the water. Some equipment was placed in a vapor degreaser with chlorothane vapor at low heat and recovered that way.


Posted by:

Hardie
27 Dec 2016

Many years ago a storm came through Cape Kennedy Space Flight Center the day before a launch. Many video and sound equipment installations were flooded by salt water and could not be accessed for several days. Technicians were advised the only solution was to soak the equipment in salt water, "The deeper the better."


Posted by:

matt
27 Dec 2016

I suggest people look into TekDry. Its a company run by good people and they are bringing an interesting and useful solution to the market.

You know, a wet phone in the US for many people may be an inconvenience, but for the poor, and those in underdeveloped countries, it may be a financial hardship if not disaster.


Posted by:

Asteriks
28 Dec 2016

Wouldn't placing the wet phone "in the air"
(such as resting atop a(n empty) glass)
help? Yes? No?


Posted by:

David
01 Jan 2017

As usual a very informative article BUT (quote) "I tried to figure out how to get home without my non-functioning phone's GPS assistance." What have we become when we can't find our way home without gadgets?


Posted by:

John
26 Jan 2017

You mention not to power up a phone after it has been submerged in water. You didn't however comment on the fact that at least 99% of all phones dropped into water are already powered on when dropped.
I once dropped my phone in water when it was already powered on. I retrieved it within seconds, removed the battery immediately in the hope that with no power flowing my phone might just survive the ordeal. I allowed it to dry out for over a week before attempting to replace the battery and power it up again. It did power up but obviously even though it was in the water for about 5 seconds, some damage was done that it could no longer make or receive calls.


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