Last updated: 27 August, 2016
You went and did it, didn’t you? Whether the waterproof case you bought leaked or you dropped it in the toilet while, er, slightly intoxicated, your phone got wet.
A bunch of tech blogs will tell you to stick your smartphone in a bowl of rice, so that the moisture in and on the phone can be absorbed. I can tell you from experience this works, but the success rate is not 100%.
The aim here is to be prepared with a few things in hand — call it a cheap insurance policy to save a piece of hardware worth several hundred dollars.
Here’s what you need to do.
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 get it away from any more water.
If it’s raining, wrap it in any material that won’t let in more water (a plastic bag works in a pinch). And, obviously, get out of the rain as soon as you can.
Turn It off and Remove the Case, Battery and SIM Card
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. Again, seconds matter.
Take out the battery and SIM card if you can — the last thing you want to do is risk losing your contacts and your phone. In the odd chance it was plugged in and water was spilled on it, unplug everything carefully. Water and electricity don’t mix.
Dry It off 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.
Find What’s Available to Help You Out
I’ve listed three options here, depending on how well you’ve planned and where you are:
Option A: carry a kit specifically designed to absorb moisture from a phone.
There are a few options on Amazon, including the Dry-All Wet Cellular Phone Emergency Kit.
This kit, and others like it, use desiccants to absorb moisture and reduce humidity. You know those little bags in food that say ‘DO NOT EAT’? Those are desiccants, and help to prevent the food from going bad.
You’re unlikely to find these while backpacking across Asia, so do yourself a favor and pick up a couple of these kits from Amazon or elsewhere. Think of them as a first-aid kit for your tech if you need to justify the minuscule weight.
By the way, don’t think for a second that you can cheat and use those little bags of desiccants you’ve been saving. For better or worse, these water-absorbing beads are one-time-use only – once they’ve been used, they’re basically worthless.
Option B: the old ‘smartphone in rice’ trick
Reports vary on its effectiveness, but a few small details can make all the difference:
- Ensure your phone is off, taken apart as much as possible, and completely dry on the outside.
- If you have a container with a lid, use it. Fill with enough uncooked rice to surround the phone on all sides.
- Put the rice and phone under a lamp or light to encourage the evaporation process.
- Give it 4-6 hours, or 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 in the phone. 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. What then?
Look around the area for a place with air movement — hopefully you’re indoors or some place where there’s little chance of the phone getting wetter. Your main goal at this point is evaporation of whatever water’s still inside.
A fan is ideal, but even a cable box or TV has some air vents. While you don’t really want dirty air blowing on it, 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 the water. The longer it can air, the better — give it overnight if you can.
Whichever Option You Choose…
Reassemble it, turn it on, and give it a test charge. Do a test call, tap the screen, and check carefully for discoloration. If it makes a call and the screen shows no discoloration, breathe a sigh of relief — you’re practically home free.
I’ll note that these tactics can also work for tablets and laptops, though laptops seem far less likely to survive any sort of submerging or more than a few drops of water. Where phones and tablets have a few places for water to flow in freely, a laptop is basically a sieve.
If it’s time for a new phone, the Samsung Galaxy S7 is certfiied IP67, a fancy way of saying it can survive 30 minutes in up to a meter of water. The iPhones aren’t waterproof, but there are plenty of cases that are.