When Your iPhone Falls in the Toilet, a Beer Mug or Pile of Snow
If you take your smartphone with you everywhere you go, you may one day find yourself rescuing it from a puddle or fishing it out of the bottom of a pool. Don't panic. Water damage is a bad thing, but if you take the right steps -- either on your own or by turning it over to a trusted professional -- your phone can likely be repaired.
May 3, 2011 5:00 AM PT
If you have gotten your smartphone really wet, odds are it is not functioning properly. The initial steps for an eventual water damage repair are vital and consist of taking out the SIM card and battery immediately and letting them dry out.
Most important, when the phone is wet, you don't want to turn it on or leave it on at all. If it is off, the only threat is rust. Rust can be repaired. Ultrasonic technology and other methods give phones the best possibility for repair.
A big myth is that rice is the preferred method for drying a wet phone. While it may help, rice can get into the phone and be messy, so any help that it provides is offset by that risk.
I've even heard of people placing their water damaged Droid X or iPhone 4 on a frying pan (low heat), completely ruining the phone and bloating the battery. This is a really bad idea!
A better approach is to simply let it dry out gradually in a dry room -- maybe where heat is being blown in.
Not Just One Way
The methods for repairing water damage differ significantly. Even with a well-established methods, there's generally room to tweak things and experiment.
I don't want to get into the exact process because there is no precise right and wrong way. The damage that may occur from exposure to moisture varies greatly from one device to another.
Still, there are basic steps that everyone should follow.
The first big concern with any repair is disassembly of the phone. For popular models of the iPhone and Android phones, tutorials exist through forums, cellphone repair shops and DIY sites; find them and follow them, but know they are not perfect -- just helpful. Steps will be left out, and surprises are inevitable. Proceed with caution.
If you are considering DIY repair, you need 99 percent strength alcohol. Nothing else will work at all. With it, you can scrape rust off with a toothbrush or similar tool. Just be careful that you don't cause more damage than there was to begin with.
Looking at the connecting ports, you may see rust. Clean all of that off the best you can. If you see burn marks, it may indicate something fried, which is bad. This may result in a bad part or -- if on the motherboard -- a bad phone altogether.
When repairing a water-damaged phone in our shop, it's at this point that we place the motherboard in an ultrasonic machine. We don't use a basket or let it touch the sides because this can cause more damage. So, we find a tiny hole in the motherboard and hang it in, using a custom-made lever.
The following video shows an ultrasonic machine helping to knock the rust off a water-damaged motherboard.
After one session in the machine, we remove the motherboard and again soak it very briefly in alcohol. We then dry it using our own custom process.
Dry packs or other methods are also options.
Back in Business
Now it's time to reassemble and test the phone to see if it works.
Water damage is a bad thing, but if you take the right steps -- either on your own or by turning it over to a trusted professional -- your phone can likely be repaired.