How to Rescue a Wet Phone

Category: Gadgets

For a variety of reasons – most of them hilarious to onlookers – some 22 million phones are drowned each year. When your phone (or any electronic device) stops working after falling into the sink, toilet, bathtub, swimming pool, 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. Here's what you need to know if your device is dunked...

HELP! I Dropped My Phone in The...

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.

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.

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 20 minutes. There is no charge if your device fails to respond to the TekDry treatment, but if it works be prepared to spend up to $70 for rescuing a phone; more for a tablet or laptop. 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.

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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Most recent comments on "How to Rescue a Wet Phone"

(See all 24 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

Jim
01 Dec 2015

I used a food vacuum sealer bag and rice with good results once. I think the same apparatus with a jar and silica would work better but I just used what I had available. I also think it would be good to replace whatever absorbent you use at least daily in case it becomes saturated.


Posted by:

hammondmike
01 Dec 2015

Forget the vacuum sealers. A continuous vacuum is required for a period of time. Use the air-dry method and blow-out all parts with Refrigerant-11. R-11 is what is in the so-called compressed-air cans used to blow-out computers. Refrigerants love water and should help remove the water blown out of your device. Make sure you use the gas, as the liquid refrigerant is extremely cold and will give you a freezer burn if you get it on your skin. Now, if only TekDry would expand its stores to the rest of the country.


Posted by:

Monte Crooks
01 Dec 2015

As usual, Bob, great advice. As in any disaster recovery scenario, Patience IS the primary virtue. I've only had two "dunking" incidents in the many years of having personal cell phones; once when I was caught outdoors in a torrential downpour, and once following my unintentional and unexpected entry into a pond. Both times, the phone I had apparently turned itself off, nor did I try to turn it back on. Instead, I simply put it on a shelf for a (very peaceful) week. Each time, when I finally tried it, it came on and worked until replaced a year or so later. Granted, I live in Arizona. Don't know if this method would work in a humid area. What do you think?


Posted by:

Charles Eldredge
01 Dec 2015

Although apparently not recommended, I have used a hair dryer with the heat on. Stopping when the phone would get heated up, letting it cool down a bit, them back with the heated air. Very effective. I have also used a warm oven set below 150. Also effective for me. In one of those instances I also dipped the phone in rubbing alcohol before the drying process. Never had success with rice.Again, my ways are not recommended, but worked for me.


Posted by:

Rick
01 Dec 2015

Water evaporates quickly in a vacuum but it has to be a greater vacuum then a vacuum cleaner can produce. The R-11 is a good idea but like Mike said it has to be air not liquid. Best idea here is the hairdryer with not heat but it will take days not minutes to get your phone dry. I would just send it to TecDry. That is your best chance.


Posted by:

Kenneth Heikkila
01 Dec 2015

All the solutions I have seen seem to presuppose you walk around with your phone shut off. They never say to power it off, which would have the effect of running current through the device to send that signal anyway one assumes. Seems to me I would get a message, alert or phone call before I could carry out any of these plans. iPhone 6 batteries are not easily removed. So my question is, what is the first step?


Posted by:

Rick
01 Dec 2015

About 18 months ago I had a Samsung which wasn't directly exposed to rain still got wet, it was in a jacket pocket and the moisture, which was great, found its way to it. It didn't work so I tried the rice method and it brought it back to life however a few months later it died. I tried to get it covered under warranty but Samsung said there was water damage. Perhaps Samsung should make a better phone in the future.


Posted by:

Anne
01 Dec 2015

I don't use loose silica gel, I save the little packets that come in pill bottles, shoes, purses, etc. and keep them in a zip lock bag for just such emergencies. This way, there is no damage from the silica dust, and the packets give a little (very little) airspace around them. people need to be aware that if you keep the phone in the bathroom while showering,even if it doesn't get wet, it can still can suffer water damage. This applies to ALL cell phones, not just one manufacturer. It is recommended to dry the cell phone for at least 3 days to be on the safeside.


Posted by:

Alex
01 Dec 2015

Let me start from the beginning. In the early 90's, I had my first cell. I've dropped some cells in a puddle, snow bank, and the ocean. After learning from these "accidents, I buy my cells and carry them in a belt clip, plastic slide-in holster (won't fall out, and the screen is faced in to protect it). My cell is also wrapped in a 2 part cover, rubber and plastic, to protect it from "wet." Now, that being said, I remember years back when you drive through a street puddle, the distributor would get wet, and the car would stall. I always kept a can of ether in the car (learning from experience), because all you had to do was click open the distributor cap, spray ether in the cap, and replace it. The car would start, and off you went. Well, now there's no distributor caps, and I don't know if they sell ether any more.
Just another thought: WD-40 might dry out the moisture (I think I read that somewhere, but I wouldn't bet on it. Just a thought).


Posted by:

Doc
01 Dec 2015

Bob says "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."

1) distilled water can be found a most pharmacies and some hardware stores and works GREAT.

2) when using isopropanol ("Alcohol") do NOT


Posted by:

Sueann
01 Dec 2015

My daughter used a compressor to blow out her phone then put it in rice and it works like new.


Posted by:

Doc
01 Dec 2015

whoops! -- When using Alcohol make sure you have AT LEAST 70% or it can take forever and a day to dry your device out. (Literally, not figuratively). You can find 70% 'Alcohol' at any drug store. Your BEST bet is to go to a hardware store and get 90% denatured Ethanol or Methanol - the Ethanol is 'denatured' so you can't drink it without going blind, destroying your liver and kidneys and frying your eyes as well as your brain. The higher the percent (proof)and the better you soak your device the faster it will dry -- place in a warm spot, back off, battery et.al, OUT -- and you can bet on a dry device in a couple of hours -- add the absolutely lowest setting on a hair dryer, and you can be up and running in about half an hour -- just because it looks dry to your eye on the outside, doesn't mean the water or water-alcohol solution has left the premises -- let it sit for another half hour to be certain.

I've used this technique ever since the dawn of consumer transistors, and never had it fail once -- and that's been well close to 1000 times or so.

HIGH PERCENTAGE METHANOL, ETHANOL (hardware store in the paint department) PLUS HAIR DRYER ON LOW, AND REMEMBER HEAT IS NOT YOUR FRIEND HERE - USE IT **ONLY** TO GET THE ALCOHOL TO PULL THE WATER OUT - THEN SET THE DEVICE IN A WARM AREA, WITH SOME MOVING AIR - AND YOU WILL BE READY TO GO IN ABOUT AN HOUR -- WITHOUT ANY DAMAGE. If you can't get 'distilled' water, soak it in the very high percent alcohol - 80% is low so look for alcohol in the 90% range, and here heat can be your friend helping pull the water out of your device as the alcohol clings to it as IT evaporates; then to be sure, just let it sit in a warm air-moving environment for half an hour or more if you feel you need to - and you have saved your phone. But remember this is like CPR for your device - and unless you do the right things very fast and in the right order, you will have the same 'quality of life save' as CPR -- about 5 (as in FIVE) percent.


Posted by:

Dave
02 Dec 2015

Recently bought 90% isopropyl at Walmart.


Posted by:

Ted
02 Dec 2015

Lowering air pressure lowers the boiling point of water. As we go up a mountain, water boils at increasingly lower temperatures. Thus, putting a wet phone into a vacuum, or near vacuum, does not "suck" the water out, it is boiling it out -- that's steam rising from the wet surface, even though no heat beyond the ambient heat in the room is applied.


Posted by:

Charles MacDonald
02 Dec 2015

This is the method used when archival documents get wet. Except it is normal in that case to put them in a blast freezer first to arrest deterioration. the Frozen documents are then "Freeze Dried" with a vacuum chamber. The water will come out right from Ice to Vapor.


Posted by:

Jim
02 Dec 2015

Contrary to previous post, vacuum sealers WILL
provide a long term vacuum if a proper container is used.


Posted by:

Geoff
02 Dec 2015

My phone fell out of the belt crop and into the toilet(it was turned on) I wiped it dry with paper towels and then placed on top of the stove which was still warm from supper. That night I placed the phone on the hot air register overnight. The bout side temp was not too cold and I turned the stat down to 65F. I have my fan on all the time so the phone got a lot of air over eight hours. That was two weeks ago, still working! Lucky me.


Posted by:

Tom Plain
02 Dec 2015

Back in the pre digital days when a film camera got soaked in the rain or worse, we would remove the film and put the camera in a freezer for a few hours. Then use canned air to blow out the ice crystals. I wonder if that would work for a phone?


Posted by:

Nearly McPhee
31 Dec 2015

After drowning my Iphone with a bottle of water. Wrapped in tissue placed in bottle if rice. Left for several days. Works a treat. Hasn't missed a beat in over 12 months


Posted by:

curious
05 Jan 2016

how did you get so lucky that your phone was turned off before it landed in the puddle?


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