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It can happen in a moment. Whether your “waterproof” case leaks, an unexpected thunderstorm shows up, or you simply get a bit clumsy in the bathroom after a couple of margaritas, it’s way too easy to end up with a soaked smartphone.
We’ll all been there. I’ve personally managed to saturate two smartphones in recent years: one in a tulip field in the Netherlands when the heavens opened, and one on a plane when I knocked a glass of water all over myself… and all over my phone.
This is one situation where a little knowledge and preparation goes a long way, whether you’re in your kitchen or traveling thousands of miles from home. These tips won’t save every phone, but if you’re lucky, they might just save yours.
Here’s what you need to know.
Get Your Phone out of the Water
Simple, right? Eww, but I dropped it in the toilet! I need to get some rubber gloves on… No. Tough it out. Every second of water exposure reduces the phone’s chances of making it. Wash your hands thoroughly later, but for now, the priority is to get your phone away from any more water.
If it’s raining, wrap it in any material that won’t let in more liquid (a plastic bag works in a pinch). And, obviously, get out of the rain as soon as you can.
Turn It off and Start Removing Things
The case, and any other accessories, need to get out of the way ASAP. Much like in the emergency room when your clothes get cut off instead of carefully removed, seconds matter.
If it was plugged in when water was spilled on it, carefully turn it off at the wall and remove the plug from the socket. Water and electricity don’t mix.
If the phone didn’t shut down automatically, power it off now. Take out the SIM card, microSD card, and if you can, the battery. These can all trap water inside, as well as get damaged themselves.
Dry It With a Lint-Free Towel
It’s time to coddle this piece of tech you’ve just abused. If you wear glasses or own a DSLR, you probably have a lint-free towel laying around. If you don’t, a paper towel or washcloth will have to do.
Get rid of as much water as you can. The front and back of the phone should be completely dry by the time you finish. Be sure to get the cloth into the charging port, headphone jack, SIM slot, and any other nooks and crannies you can find.
The more water you can remove yourself, the better.
Find Things to Help Dry Your Phone Out
Now you’ve got rid of the surface water, it’s time to do what you can about the liquid inside your phone. I’ve listed three options here, depending on how well you’ve planned and where you are when disaster strikes.
Note that whatever approach you take, don’t try to use high heat to speed up the process. You’ll damage your phone even more if you sit it on top of the radiator for hours, or try to blast hot air through it with a hairdryer or fan heater.
Option A: The “Emergency Kit” Method
There are a few premade kit options on Amazon, including this Nine Lives version. They all work in a similar way: you put your phone inside, seal the top, leave it for at least 24 hours, and fervently pray to any nearby gods.
The kits use desiccants to absorb moisture and reduce humidity. You know those little bags in food and electronics packaging that say ‘DO NOT EAT’? It’s the same stuff.
You’re unlikely to find kits like these while backpacking across Asia, so do yourself a favor and pick one up before you go. Think of it as a first-aid kit for your tech if you need to justify the minuscule weight in your bag.
Sadly you can’t cheat by using those little bags of desiccants you’ve been collecting from your Amazon boxes. For better or worse, these water-absorbing beads are a one-shot deal. Once they’ve been used, they’re basically worthless.
These kits are by far the best way of drying out your phone, but of course, it relies on you having been prepared enough to buy one in advance. If you didn’t, then read on.
Option B: The Old “Smartphone in Rice” Method
Putting your phone into a bowl of uncooked rice is a well-known way of trying to dry it out. If you’re traveling or otherwise away from home and don’t have access to the emergency kit mentioned above, it’s certainly better than doing nothing.
That said, a few small details make a big difference in how well this approach will work.
- Ensure your phone is powered off, taken apart as much as possible, and completely dry on the outside and in the charging port.
- If you have a container with a lid, use it. Fill it with enough uncooked rice to completely surround the phone on all sides.
- Put the rice and phone under a lamp or light to encourage the evaporation process.
- Give it as long as you can. Ideally you want to give it 24 hours or longer, but at least leave it overnight if you can. While some phones won’t be revived no matter how long they sit in rice, the longer the better.
- Before reassembling, check carefully to ensure no grains of rice remain inside the phone. Check headphone sockets and charging ports in particular. A toothpick or sliver of wood is the easiest and most available tool.
Option C: The “Air it Out” Method
Let’s say the grocery store is closed or you’re out in the middle of nowhere, and even a bag of rice is impossible to come by. What then?
Look around the area for a place with air movement. Hopefully you’re indoors, or some other place where there’s little chance of the phone getting wetter. Your main goal at this point is evaporation of whatever liquid is still inside.
A fan is ideal, but even a laptop, cable box, or TV has some exhaust vents. While you don’t really want dirty air blowing onto your phone, a quick wipe of the vents will help.
Be sure the phone rests at an angle — water should be flowing out of the device, not pooling inside of it. Put a paper towel or napkin underneath to absorb whatever water drains out.
The longer it can air, the better. Again, at least give it overnight if you can.
The Moment of Truth
Once you’ve finally run out of time or patience and decided it’s time to see if you still have a working phone, reassemble it, cross your fingers, and try to turn it on.
If it doesn’t work, don’t despair quite yet: it’s possible that the battery short-circuited and drained when it got wet. Charge it up for half an hour, and try again.
If you do see signs of life, go through a quick set of tests. Does the touchscreen or keypad work properly? Can you access Wi-Fi and get cell service? Does the screen look normal, with no flickering or discoloration?
If so, breathe a big sigh of relief: you may well have just dodged a bullet.
I’ll note that these tactics can also work for tablets and laptops, though laptops seem far less likely to survive more than a few drops of water. While phones and tablets only have a few places for water to flow in freely, a laptop is basically a glorified sieve.
If you still have a dead phone at this point, sadly it’s likely to be time for a trip to the nearest repair shop. Depending on which components got damaged and what kind of phone you have, though, repairs aren’t always prohibitive.
I once managed to get a soaked phone fixed for under 50 euros at a tiny phone store in Amsterdam, including the cost of a new battery! Your mileage will, of course, vary wildly.
If it’s too expensive to repair and you find yourself unexpectedly in the market for a new phone, a piece of advice: get one with good water resistance built-in! Look for an IP67 rating — this means it will handle being dropped in the toilet or caught in a thunderstorm with ease.
Article originally written by Chris Backe, updated by Dave Dean.