How to save a wet phone -- and what not to do

When your phone takes a dive into the bath, you'll need a solution -- fast. Keep these tips in mind for when it happens.

How to dry out a wet phone.
CNET UK

Washing machines, toilets, cups of tea, foggy weather...these are a few of our favorite things. That is, until they fill the lungs of our cherished cell phone, leaving us weeping over a soggy, lifeless metal carcass.

Dropped your handset in the bath? Fumbled your phone and plopped it in the loo? Don't panic -- just follow these steps and you'll have a good chance of breathing life back into your drowned smartphone. Just be sure to check out our list below of what not to do for some useful mythbusting.

What to do
While dismantling your phone completely would help it to dry out more effectively, doing so will void your warranty. It usually requires specialist tools and may jeopardize your phone if you're not careful, so I don't recommend it. Instead, follow these steps:

1. Firstly, retrieve your handset from the drink right away. A prolonged plunge will increase the risk of damage.

2. Resist the urge to check if it still works or press any buttons, since putting pressure on the keys could shift liquid farther into the device.

3. In all cases, the best thing to do is immediately pull out the battery, thus minimizing power to the device that may cause it to short circuit.

Phone buried in rice.
CNET UK

4. If you own a handset with a nonreplaceable battery, like an iPhone or Nokia Lumia, then pulling the battery isn't an option. You'll have to risk pressing a few buttons to check if it's still on and to swiftly turn it off if it is. Take care when handling the phone in this case.

5. Remove any peripherals and attachments on your phone, such as cases.

6. Extract the SIM card and any SD cards it carries, leaving ports or covers on your handset open to aid ventilation.

7. Dry off everything with a towel, including the exterior of your handset, being careful not to let any water drain into openings on the phone.

8. Even when everything's dry, it's very likely there's latent moisture within the device that you'll want to get out before turning it on. The most oft-reported fix for a sodden phone is to bury the handset in a bowl of dry rice. Desiccant materials, such as rice, have hygroscopic properties that can attract and absorb moisture. You can also use silica gel packs -- the kind used in shoe boxes -- to greater effect. If you don't have any lying around, uncooked rice will do nicely.

Silica gel packs
Silica gel packs work best for drying out a phone. CNET UK

Place your phone in an airtight container and completely cover it with your choice of desiccant. Leave the container for 24 to 48 hours for the material to draw all the moisture out of your handset. If you feel like splashing out, you can buy silica-lined, hermetically sealed pouches that are specifically designed for the task.

9. When you're confident it's dried out, replace the battery and try switching it on. Good luck!

What not to do
A purported fast-track method of drying out a wet phone is to use a hairdryer, or applying heat to the device in other ways. While this would successfully evaporate all the moisture still sitting within the handset, it risks becoming too hot and causing damage to the components.

In cases of severe waterlogging, the steam created may not be able to fully ventilate and would simply condense again elsewhere in the phone. You may get away with it, but it seems rather perilous, so my recommendation is to avoid this method.

Another recurring recommendation is to stick your phone in a freezer, wrapped in paper towel to prevent frost damage. Supposedly, the reduced conductivity of water when close to freezing temperatures will stop your phone from short circuiting when in use.

This is definitely not a long-term solution, however, since as soon as the ice begins to thaw, you're left with the same, if not exacerbated, problem. In the process you'll probably mess up your phone's very fragile screen, which hardly seems worth risking for a short-term fix of dubious effectiveness.

For less-severe dunkings, you may get away with drying your phone thoroughly on the exterior alone, paying special attention to openings like the headphone jack and USB port. To this end, a few have suggested gently poking into them with a toothpick wrapped in paper towel. While jabbing into your phone with a stick is always a bit iffy, the biggest risk is that rags of sodden paper could get stuck inside your phone and play havoc with its innards.

One suggestion is to overcharge the handset so that the build-up of heat is gradual and not excessive, but this carries all the risks you'd expect with running a current through wet circuitry.

Inevitably, someone reading this will wonder if it's possible to dry out a phone by putting it in the microwave. Please see this for an adept response.

Beware corrosion
If you succeed in reviving your phone, then congratulations! But you may not have yet won the war with the Grim Reaper of gadgetry. The metal within your phone coming into contact with water and oxygen may create rust that will corrode over time.

While a professional phone fixer may be able to clear out any corrosion by swabbing the circuitry with rubbing alcohol -- again, don't try this at home, kids -- in many cases, the eventual demise of your phone is only a matter of time. Sorry.

Is your warranty still valid?

LCI on an iPhone 4.
LCI on an iPhone 4. CNET UK
Seek out the liquid contact indicator (LCI) . It's a small white sticker that turns red when it comes into contact with water. Manufacturers place LCIs on their products to use as a litmus test when deciding warranty claims. In most cases, they can refuse to fix or replace your handset if the LCI has been triggered.

Their location varies from phone to phone, and increasingly, manufacturers have taken to hiding them out of reach of Wite-Out-wielding customers.

Irrespective of the LCI's state, you should contact the manufacturer to see if it can help. That's a long-term solution, but if you need a phone (or the data it holds) right away, you'll need to dry out your phone before you try to use it, as outlined above.

Let us know if you have any other tips for handling waterlogged gadgets in the comments below.

Originally published as " How to save a wet mobile phone -- and what not to do " on CNET UK.

 

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