Oops! I Dropped My Phone AGAIN
For a variety of reasons, 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, and the tale of my unsuccessful attempt to teach my phone to swim...
How to Rescue a Wet Phone
A few years ago, I wrote about how I dropped my brand-new Samsung Galaxy phone in a puddle of dirty slush, 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!)
With apologies to Brittney Spears, oops, I did it again. This time I took it for a 15-minute swim in a chlorinated pool, and my Moto Z3, less than a week old, proved to be a poor swimmer.
If a waterlogged 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 when possible, 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.
That reminds me, last 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 worked fine until I eventually replaced it.
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 laptop, XBox, or DVD player in the bathtub, that'll run 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.
If there's no TekDry near you, there's a similar device called the Redux, which is available at Verizon's Wireless Zone stores. It costs $10 to try, and $90 more if the recovery works. Because I was traveling, I stopped into a nearby Verizon store and gave my Moto Z3 the Redux treatment. The Redux machine looks like a tabletop scanner, and an attached tablet shows exactly how much water is being sucked out of the phone. My phone was relieved of 2.1 milliliters of water after an hour in the Redux, but it still refused to power on.
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. Mine is a sealed unit, so I can't open it for further examination. Bummer, I'll need to replace it.
Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 24 Apr 2019
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