Oops! I Dropped My Phone AGAIN

Category: Gadgets

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!)

Rescue a drowned phone

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...

 
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Most recent comments on "Oops! I Dropped My Phone AGAIN"

Posted by:

Huapakechi
24 Apr 2019

Would the application of WD40 help? The stuff was originally formulated to dry missile circuitry, so it's worth a shot, but I'm not about to deliberately dunk my phone to find out.


Posted by:

susan
24 Apr 2019

What about using a food vacuum sealer like FoodSaver, for example? There are bags and containers a phone could fit in and the air vacuumed out. Could that possibly work?


Posted by:

bill
24 Apr 2019

WD40 will leave a nasty petroleum based residue that may cause damage to some materials.

Isopropyl alcohol sold in drugstores may contain lubricants used for massage.

Denatured alcohol is sold in hardware stores and is always close to 100% alcohol. It also mixes with water like isopropyl alcohol but is ethanol (the same stuff they add to gasoline and also the alcohol used in all drinkable beverages).


Posted by:

Ted
24 Apr 2019

"creating a vacuum that pulls water out of the device."

Reducing air pressure will reduce the boiling point of water. A vacuum chamber will cause any water to become steam, at a much lower temperature than we know at sea level, bringing it out of the device, and drying it. This is why some cookbooks will have high altitude variations for recipes.


Posted by:

Doug
24 Apr 2019

How timely for me but just a day late. Spending a few weeks at Gulf Shores and got my Verizon LG phone wet. It's totally dead, but the salesperson I talked to told me I had purchased "mobile protection". After at least 10 prompts through their system, plus talking to a representative, a new one is being sent overnight. These new phones, I found out are Really expensive, but they peddle them as "a dollar down and twenty dollars a month forever".


Posted by:

BaliRob
24 Apr 2019

Bob - you invite thoughts on this topic. Your article was superb in its simplicity and will be bookmarked all over the world now.

The raison detre (sorry no circumflexes hahaha) for my interest is that a girlfriend of mine dropped hers in a public wc bowl 12 years ago - mobiles in their infancy then - but, as my friends call me McGuiver (can repair anything), I used plain common sense by removing excess water by tipping the water away from electronics and especially battery, managed to get a few sheets of blotting papers and cut it into very thin strips which would go under resistors, condensers, etc or between their legs and then the beautiful ambient Bali weather did the rest - within the day the phone was ok.


Posted by:

Charley
24 Apr 2019

First, as Bob points out a lot, just like your PC make sure you have your phone backed up. I have all my photos, documents, etc. backed up. I use several methods (including Google, Dropbox, etc.). The point is that if my phone dies, I can get another and not lose anything (other than the hassle of getting a new phone and restoring everything).

Second, some insurance companies have a rider available for cell phones. I pay $18/year that covers all my cell phones and computers for all risk coverage. That $18 total for all the phones, not for each phone!

So if my phone gets wet and doesn't dry out and work, I pay $50 deductible and get a new phone.


Posted by:

Reg
24 Apr 2019

Denatured alcohol, whether from a drugstore, like rubbing alcohol, or from a hardware store is poisonous and contains Pyridine and/or Methanol both of which are poisons that are added to ethanol to make it undrinkable. It kills people. the government began doing this during Prohibition to stop bootleggers from repackaging industrial alcohol and the practice continues to this day.


Posted by:

mike
24 Apr 2019

Wait...you actually carry a phone around with you. How inconvenient is that? I am sure it is so anyone that feels like calling you can interrupt you whenever they feel the need. Oh, it in case of an emergency. How often has that really happened? What? You spent $800 for this privilege? Now it sounds like you have more $ than sense. Hang up the phone and get on with a real life.


Posted by:

Charley
24 Apr 2019

LOL mike. Have you ever tried finding a pay phone these days? Also, they have removed the emergency call boxes from the freeways in the SF bay area. Too expensive to maintain and not used anymore because of cell phones.

So it does make sense to carry a cell phone for emergencies. You can leave it turned off so no one "can interrupt you whenever they feel the need".

And I have no "real life" anymore anyway.


Posted by:

Kenneth Heikkila
24 Apr 2019

Or just get any iPhone after 7 and don't worry so much! What, too expensive? It's been many years since 64 GB was enough memory for my iPhone, I'll soon be upgrading to a 512 GB XsMax because the 256 GB in my 7+. is nearly full. Too expensive. I use it a lot! Not just for emergencies. Not really just a phone.


Posted by:

Baz
24 Apr 2019

Hello I did the dropping phone in the looe I finished drying of my phone by putting on the aircon vent in the car as cold air is very dry It worked for me
Keep up the good work
Baz


Posted by:

Noe
24 Apr 2019

I remember way back when the Palm Pilot first appeared there were stories about incidents of people who carried their Pilots in their shirt pockets and when they got done using the toilet and turned and bent down to turn down the toilet seat were shocked as they watched the Pilot slide out of their shirt pocket and dunk into the toilet water. So this situation is not new.


Posted by:

Delton C Baker
25 Apr 2019

I used the rice method, but ultimately the recovery was a failure. The phone (Samsung S6), was able to boot again and was able to make phone calls, but could only be charged wirelessly. Plus what ever damaged occurred to the charging port also was discharging the battery ever so slowly. I think it is a crapshoot as to failure or success. Plus it took 4 weeks to dry out. I can’t go without my phone that long. I suggest you plan on failure and get a new one and if it is successful sell it on the Internet. I also advise against insurance because the replacement is old tech and not the latest and greatest. If check out the auction outlets you will always find newer for less than the insurance premiums. I usually get the insurance at first and cancel it after three months, just in cases the phone is a dud.


Posted by:

BaliRob
25 Apr 2019

Hello Bob again - there you go - good number of very interesting comments - funny as well - watching one's phone slip out of one's top pocket into the toilet was very funny but very sad also hahaha


Posted by:

Susan Willard
27 Apr 2019

I'm hesitant to write this because I might not believe it if someone else wrote it. After a morning of yard work, I threw the clothes I was wearing in the washing machine along with my Samsung Galaxy 7 that happened to be in a pocket. It went through the entire wash rinse spin cycle. Since I had not read Bob's advise about not turning in on right away -- I did just that. I had no hope of it surviving. The screen had a faint cloudiness, but I was so excited that it actually CAME ON. An afternoon in 80 degree sunshine and overnight under a 100 watt light bulb did the trick. I was extremely fortunate. Might just have been my lucky day. That was 7 months ago and the phone is still rockin' it.


Posted by:

Ron Atkinson
27 Apr 2019

My £10 Casio wristwatch is good to 5 metres depth of immersion. At many times the price, why cannot phones be the same?


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