Dropped my iPhone in the water. How best to save it?
October 10, 2014 4:59 PM   Subscribe

Well technically *I* didn't drop my iPhone 5c in the water, my 3 year old son did while playing games on the potty. It was probably in the water for 10 seconds, in an Otterbox Defender case. I took the case off, powered it off (could see water under the screen at this point), and put it in a bag of rice. No warranty, no Applecare; what can I do to maximize the chances of saving the phone?
posted by KathrynT to Technology (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I have had luck with using a shop vac. Hold the nozzle over the openings (headphone plug, etc) and use your hand to form a seal so that air is sucked through the phone, drying it out. Repeat on the speaker side. Once water gets under the screen though, you'll probably always see some leftover deposits.
posted by jabah at 5:14 PM on October 10, 2014

Leave it in the rice for a week.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:14 PM on October 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure I can go without a phone for a week! Is that really the soonest it's safe to take it out?
posted by KathrynT at 5:17 PM on October 10, 2014

It's not that it's unsafe, it's just that it takes a long time for rice to absorb water out of a nearly-sealed case.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:19 PM on October 10, 2014

Open the phone/take the back off, put back in rice. Buy cheapy phone and put your sim in it for a week.
posted by GeeEmm at 5:33 PM on October 10, 2014

I dropped my brand new iPhone 5s in the washer (without knowing it) and let it run for a couple minutes before letting out colorful language and finding it. I got it to work perfectly again. There are many variables, but here's what I did.

- I put it in rice while I gathered up the vacuum cleaner, crevice tool attachment, and some tape.

- I took it from the rice, removed the SIM card, and, gripping it FIRMLY, shook and swung it, first with the bottom out, then the top, as hard as I reasonably could to let centrifugal force get the water out.

- Then I put tape over the nozzle of the vacuum crevice tool to make the opening smaller, about an inch wide, and sucked the area by each opening (sim slot, headphone jack, each speaker). I sealed the area around the vacuum nozzle with my fingers as much as possible to concentrate the air flow through the device. I did the for at least 10 or 15 minutes, alternating which opening I worked on.

- After that, I put it on a table and let a desk fan blow on it for a few hours, then put it back in the rice overnight.

- The next morning, I gritted my teeth and turned it on. (I had not touched any buttons once it was wet.) It went to the home screen but didn't respond to input properly. I shut it down and put it back in the rice for the rest of the day.

- When I got home from work that day, I tried it again and it worked perfectly. I could see a slight evidence of water under the screen for a couple more days, but it went away and I've have no problems with the phone at all.

Who knows how much of what I did was actually useful, but there you go. The main advice would be to not get in a hurry to try it out again. Give it a solid two days of drying time.

Good luck!
posted by The Deej at 5:33 PM on October 10, 2014 [7 favorites]

I dropped mine into the toilet, no case, two second rule. Towel dried it off, shut it off and put it in a ziplock Baggie of brown rice overnight. Was fine the next day.
posted by floweredfish at 5:53 PM on October 10, 2014

as someone who has repaired a bunch of iphones(for money!), i'm gonna have to second the "get another phone and commit to using it for a while and REALLY let it dry" advice.

the screen is laminated to the glass, so if you saw water under there it was probably between the backlight and the display. i've seen that before, and the display will probably always look slightly doofy now(like a color shift in that area, or clouding).

honestly, i'd put it in rice and put the bag of rice containing the phone on top of something that gets warm. Like the back of the top of the fridge, or the top of a stereo/home theater amp, or something. I've found warmth works a lot better than just rice.
posted by emptythought at 6:07 PM on October 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

What you need here is Damp-Rid. Rice is a poor, poor substitute. 24 hours in a zip-loc with a couple packs of Damp-Rid.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 6:07 PM on October 10, 2014 [7 favorites]

Silica gel desiccants will work much better than rice at drying out your phone, but I'd still wait at least a week or two before using it. In any case, the lifespan of your phone is probably significantly reduced, so I'd anticipate needing to buy a new one in the next several months.
posted by Aleyn at 6:16 PM on October 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

One thing you could do to improve your chances is to immerse your phone in 99% rubbing alcohol, then let it dry with the rice/Damp-Rid. The alcohol displace some of the remaining water and mix with the rest, helping it to evaporate faster. I know this sounds terrifying but I did this when I dropped my new-to-me phone in the toilet and it totally worked afterwards -- I think I let it dry for 2 days. (However, mine was an Android and I had the battery out. No idea if that makes a difference with an iPhone.)
posted by en forme de poire at 6:21 PM on October 10, 2014

Yeah, damp-rid or other serious dessicant. Also, warmer is probably better than cooler. Not *hot*, but definitely warm. Maybe even hit it with a blow dryer for a minute once it's inside the zip-lock with the dessicant to get that vapor pressure going on.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:22 PM on October 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

I assume you took the battery out? If not, do that as well.

Every instance of newer electronics that I've encountered that have gotten wet have bounced back 100%... eventually. Eventually being a month or more in some cases. My phone took a swim in a river a few months back. The backlight wouldn't turn off for a month, but then one day it magically started working again.

You just gotta be patient.
posted by zug at 6:28 PM on October 10, 2014

fyi to everyone suggesting pulling the battery out, that isn't really a thing you can do on iphones and you might make it worse by opening it and trying to and thereby pushing moisture deeper in to things. You need a proprietary screwdriver, suction cup, and specialized pry-bars to get to the battery on these phones. And honestly, i don't think i'd try.
posted by emptythought at 6:33 PM on October 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

Seconding silica gel rather than rice. You can get it cheap at crafts stores or Walmart if you have to.
posted by Camofrog at 7:22 PM on October 10, 2014

Shoved my (android but a phone is a phone IMO) cell phone into my bike pants waistline, screen side inwards, rode like a madman, long-assed ride, sweating like fifteen sweaty people, the phone was screwed. I just didn't think, that's all.

One day in rice -- still screwed.

Two days in rice, seems like it's back to normal.

I'm lucky, in that I have another droid stuffed in a drawer, sortof a beater phone, in fact that should have been the bike ride phone. Again, I just wasn't thinking.

Your phone is gonna be fine. *Is* fine, just a couple days out is all. Borrow a beater phone from someone and slip your SIM in it while your phone dries out.
posted by dancestoblue at 8:13 PM on October 10, 2014

I've pulled the sim card and will put it in my old iphone 4 to keep me going for the next week. I had no idea you could do that, thanks you guys. I will also get a real dessicant! Since it was working fine when I turned it off, I have hopes that it will be OK after several days drying out.
posted by KathrynT at 11:59 PM on October 10, 2014

just wanted to add that it's not the water which kills phones when they get wet... most of them are designed with short protection, but the corrosion (often invisible) which sets in with moisture (and also impurities deposited i.e. if the toilet bowl was yellow)... which is why lowering the moisture level inside the phone as quickly as possible is crucial. even if it is working now, it could stop working once corrosion sets in.
posted by ennui.bz at 6:18 AM on October 11, 2014

Cheapest form of silica gel I know is crystal cat litter. A 2kg bag of crystal cat litter has way, way, way more drying power than any amount of rice, especially if you put it somewhere warm.

If that were my phone, I would take it apart as much as possible, shake and vac the hell out of it as suggested above (doesn't need a shop vac; there won't be enough water inside the phone to damage an ordinary domestic vac) then leave it inside the bag of crystal cat litter in a warm spot for at least a week.
posted by flabdablet at 9:24 AM on October 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

As a Macintosh technician for the past 13 years, I have to thank the internet for perpetuating the rice-as-miracle-absorbent myth; it makes my job ever so much easier as the inevitable kernels that have gotten inside confirm for me that the machine has been exposed to water or other liquids.

Rice and other desiccants do nothing that will help your machine. The damage is caused by water in contact with logic boards and other components, where it causes corrosion. There is no damp-rid style absorbent on Earth that will cause drops of water to magically transition to vapor.

The only thing rice does is make it worse, as when it gets inside where it can contact that nice wet component, it then absorbs it, and holds it nice and snug against all those corroding components. The water might have merely evaporated, but now it's locked inside a wet rice kernel, stuck against the board.

The truth is, it's a fool's game to spend too much time worrying about it. Put it somewhere dry and warm, and cross your fingers. Heat will make water evaporate more quickly, but then you have to worry about whether it's too hot or not. And all that extra warmth will also make the remaining water corrode things that much more quickly. Six of one, half a…

The good news is, if you have AppleCare+ you can replace an iOS device now for 50 bucks, and even if you don't, service centers are now instructed by Apple to play a little looser with the replacement/catastrophic rules for customers—just make sure the machine's not still wet or dripping water if you have to have it serviced/replaced.

Edited for word choice. absorbent>desiccant
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 1:03 PM on October 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

You need to learn something about vapor pressure and relative humidity, los pantalones del muerta. Water evaporates until an equilibrium is reached with the water vapor in the surrounding air. Desiccants remove water from the air, which shifts the equilibrium (rice is a poor dessicant).

Not that I'm endorsing that approach. I haven't had to do it since the iPhone 3gs, but my general approach is to separate the device from water (dry the exterior, blot up water in any seams and sockets, and power (unplug, disconnect battery if possible, power down otherwise) as quickly as possible and get the thing opened up so I can blot anything else up and maybe give it a rinse with distilled water to remove any minerals or sugars that will contribute to corrosion. Then I turn the oven to warm for a few minutes, put the opened device in, turn the oven off, but leave the light on and leave it in there for a day or two.

If I had the $50 replacement under apple care though, and I wasn't comfortable with opening the device, I'd probably do that.
posted by Good Brain at 5:52 PM on October 11, 2014

Condescending tone notwithstanding, no I don't really need to learn of vapor pressure and relative humidity all over again. I'm still quite familiar with them. There's not enough airflow inside a sealed iOS device for that to really come into play. If you try to open up a recent iPhone without the right tools, you'll have a mess that Apple terms "catastrophic."

I stand by my statement. Rice is worse than useless; it is actively harmful.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 10:57 PM on October 11, 2014

This rice fight reminds me of one detail I omitted from my above multi-step post: before putting my wet phone in rice, I wrapped it in a paper towel to keep and rice or rice dust out of the openings. Maybe too late to be helpful for the OP but there ya go. Anyway I'm convinced the vacuuming and waiting in a semi-arid climate (plus luck) was what saved my phone.
posted by The Deej at 7:58 AM on October 12, 2014

You can get iphone dissassembly kit at smaller computer stores. I got mine when my phone ahem... Jumped into the toilet.
Youtube had very good videos on how to take things apart, and some great stop by step guides are also available. I don't do taking things apart often, so just make sure you have space and label the little screws carefully. A good lint free cloth to absorb the water and you can do this nicely within 30 minutes. I agree with previous poster, rust and deposits are the enemy here, so the faster you remove droplets of water, the better.

My phone works fine, and now I am less scared to open it up if I want to change the battery or something like that.
posted by Yavsy at 8:10 AM on October 12, 2014

Well, I left it in the rice for 24 hours, then was in a situation when I really needed it, so I booted it up and. . . it worked just fine. And has continued to work just fine. There was originally some light streaking on the left hand side, but that seems to have gone away. Bullet dodged, I hope!
posted by KathrynT at 2:37 PM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

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