Please Help Me Dry Out A Cellphone
August 8, 2007 7:57 PM   Subscribe

My husband's work-issued cellphone just went through the washing machine. He is required to be reachable by cellphone 24 hours a day. Can we dry it out ourselves and make it work? Details inside.

It's an older model Nokia (at least 5 years old). I can't find any identifying numbers on it. There was condensation under the display screen/face plate and he managed to pop the entire front of the phone off (it separated neatly into two pieces). It's now sitting on the kitchen table. Should we direct a table fan toward it or just let it dry naturally? Is there anything else we need to do to try to get it dried out and working again? Any advice or personal experience (hopefully success stories) is welcome.
posted by amyms to Technology (32 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Take the battery out immediately! Ive heared that covering it with uncooked rice will help speed up the drying process, that or those little sachets of silica gel you can get.

Good luck!
posted by gergtreble at 8:02 PM on August 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

The usual way to dry electronics is to put it in a sealed bag with something absorbent like dry rice and wait for a couple of days. I'd give you about a 50/50 chance of the phone surviving.
posted by Nelson at 8:02 PM on August 8, 2007

Thank you both, I'll go do that right now!
posted by amyms at 8:03 PM on August 8, 2007

Sorry... Regular rice or minute rice? (I have both)
posted by amyms at 8:04 PM on August 8, 2007

Yeah take out the battery, I guess the little connectors can rust. This happened to my roommate's phone (well not quite this drastic, but it got wet) and after a day or two, without the battery in it dried out and basically worked again. If he has to be reachable though, you might consider calling up the provider and seeing if you can divert the calls to your home phone or something. I know some phone companies allow you to do that.
posted by whoaali at 8:05 PM on August 8, 2007

Regular rice should do it. And removing the battery is so you dont have any current flowing through the sodden device, shorting out the tiny components inside it!
posted by gergtreble at 8:07 PM on August 8, 2007

Good luck! I was never able to get my old cell phone to recover after a trip through the wash (not even a full cycle—I realized what had happened about five minutes in). Completely submerged underwater is completely submerged underwater, regardless of how long. Verizon wouldn't test my phone with a new battery to see if that might have been all that was wrong.
posted by emelenjr at 8:07 PM on August 8, 2007

You could also try rinsing it with rubbing alcohol. But Ive never done it myself so I'm not sure where you would start.
posted by gergtreble at 8:08 PM on August 8, 2007

Regular rice should do it.

Okay, thanks. And thanks for the well-wishes everyone (I'm feeling cautiously optimistic).
posted by amyms at 8:08 PM on August 8, 2007

What provider is it? You might be able to take out the sim card and just drop it in another phone.
posted by AaRdVarK at 8:09 PM on August 8, 2007

Call your voice mail and have it forwarded. All major providers do this.
posted by __ at 8:16 PM on August 8, 2007

He's able to be contacted through alternate means (at home) until he goes back on duty tomorrow. I was just hoping I'd be able to get it dry and working again so he won't have to deal with a bunch of crankiness from his supervisor. He's a police officer and the phone is provided by the department, so I don't know if he'll get into any trouble (surely they understand that these kinds of things are going to happen to people occasionally). Oh well, he can always blame me (even though it's totally his own fault! lol)
posted by amyms at 8:30 PM on August 8, 2007

I don't think you would get it dry by tomorrow. I would leave it covered in rice for at least a week. And then only if you are completely sure its dry should you turn it on.
posted by gergtreble at 8:32 PM on August 8, 2007

I've seen a Motorola phone go through the wash and come back to life on its own, although it was dead for a few days. I do not know if it had a long life after the incident.

In my line of work it is pretty common to have electronics submerged in water and be somewhat usable. Phones, radios, beepers... even desktop computers in saltwater have been reborn after replacing a few parts.

Electric Contact cleaner can sometimes help the healing process, but you have to be careful as some plastics can have a bad reaction. I've seen a beeper case disintegrate in about 15 seconds. If the phone does work again, it may be wise to spray a little contact cleaner on a q-tip and wipe just the connections for the battery. I've heard Anhydrous Alcohol works as well.

If the phone has a SIM card, you may be able to take it out and put it in another phone. This would help the 24 hour call situation. My card will supposedly work with a Go-Phone that can be picked up for about $20 at Wal-Mart for example. Your husbands company probably has a box of phones that work perfectly well, but were cast away so a manager could check his facebook profile on the way home.

Your husbands company may also have insurance on that phone. Some company's put little stickers in the battery compartment that change colors when they get wet. The insurance may not be valid if this is the case.
posted by Yorrick at 8:33 PM on August 8, 2007

See also (there are other similar AskMe's, too).

I also accidentally washed my phone.

I put the phone in the hot water cupboard and let it dry there for a few days. It partially recovered (there's gunk under the faceplate, and some of the buttons didn't work for a while).

Taking it apart, not turning it on, and placing it somewhere warm and dry would seem to work reasonably well.
posted by Infinite Jest at 8:41 PM on August 8, 2007

This is a common occurance in my line of work (aquatic biology). Two to three days seems to be necessary for full dry-age of phones after a total dowsing.
posted by fshgrl at 8:42 PM on August 8, 2007

Thanks Infinite Jest. I did search for questions with the "cellphone" tag before I posted, but I didn't find what I was looking for (and I was feeling a little panicky, so I might have missed some, sorry).
posted by amyms at 8:46 PM on August 8, 2007

In the last two months, a close friend of mine has both run his cellphone through the wash and jumped in a lake with it in his pocket. I keep hearing how flimsy and crappy the Razor is, but after a few days of air drying ... it's still working.

Yes, he's a bit of an idiot.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 8:54 PM on August 8, 2007

I'm going to leave it in the rice for as long as it takes to completely dry out. He can just go on duty tomorrow, tell his supervisor what happened and face the music (hopefully they'll just shrug their shoulders and give him a new one). I'll report back on the life or death of the phone once it's done drying. Thanks again for the quick responses!
posted by amyms at 9:04 PM on August 8, 2007

After working as a corporate cellular salesperson for over 5 years, I can tell you that the failure rate of these phones is much less than the 50%/50% someone else mentioned - ultimately, closer to 0%

You can try any of the previously mentioned technics but none of them will stop the rust and eventual short circuiting that will eventually occur and cause all sorts of weird, totally unpredictable and random problems.

I've seen liquid damaged phones that work for hours, days, weeks, occasionally months afterwards but then one day *poof* the screen is displayed upside down or the battery shorts out and won't hold a charge or any other numbers of things that make the phone unuseable.

My advice for someone who NEEDS his phone is to simply buy a new one so that when this one dies he's got it ready to go.
posted by jeffmik at 9:53 PM on August 8, 2007

As jeffmilk says, even if you get the phone working, its days are numbered. If the phone was turned on at the time it got wet, it is unlikely to work again, in my experience.
posted by dg at 1:00 AM on August 9, 2007

My son threw a nokia into the washer one day several months ago. I dried it out, took it apart and cleaned it thoroughly. It still works. (And it's squeaky clean inside! Well, it was for a few days, anyway.)
posted by IronLizard at 1:07 AM on August 9, 2007

Whatever you do, don't put a hairdryer anywhere near it. I once made the fatal mistake of not only pouring coffee over an expensive keyboard, then trying to resolve the situation by drying it with the afore mentioned. It literally melted the circuits.

I second what others have said with regard to placing it in an airing cupboard, sealed in a plastic bag with plenty of packets of silica.
posted by Zé Pequeno at 2:24 AM on August 9, 2007

"...but then trying..."*
posted by Zé Pequeno at 2:25 AM on August 9, 2007

Remove battery, cover with rice, let it sit. (Day or so)

Remove battery, let it sit in a dry arid spot for a couple days. (At least 36 hours)

Safe and Fast:
Remove battery, dunk phone in highest concentration rubbing alcohol you can find briefly, then place in dry spot for 8 or so hours.'s not the water that hurts the phone, pure water isn't even conductive. It's other crap (soaps, and salts) that render it conductive, and leaving the battery on supplies a weak charge to the phone, giving it a very good chance of shorting out. Alcohol is also not conductive, but with its low evaporating point it will take the water with it, and in a hurry.

Also, don't try to take the phone back, there's a little sticker inside that changed color the second it got wet.
posted by TomMelee at 4:33 AM on August 9, 2007

I've run my phone through the washing machine twice.

The first time opening it up, taking it apart, and letting it sit in a window worked. The second time I stuck it in the refrigerator for a couple of days (it acts as a dehumidifier)--that worked great, if slowly. The phone survived both times.
posted by schroedinger at 5:00 AM on August 9, 2007

Second the refrigerator trick. Put in a dish of rice and then stick the dish in the back of the fridge. That's worked for a coule of phones I'm acquainted with. Good Luck!
posted by pearlybob at 5:36 AM on August 9, 2007

Seconding what the others have said about unreliability: it may work now but fail unexpecedly in the future. If it's needed for police work, I'd be wary about relying on it.
posted by blag at 5:41 AM on August 9, 2007

One more wet phone story - My wife washed my phone. It went through the whole cycle. Once I fished it out, I opened it up, took it apart, and devised a way to hang all the electronic parts in front of an air conditioner. I left it there for about 2 days, and it's been working perfectly ever since (that was about a year ago).

There ain't nothing like dry air straight out of an A/C.
posted by god hates math at 6:04 AM on August 9, 2007

N-thing the "stick it in a bowl of rice" method. I knocked my Razr into the dog dish last weekend, and (having read a Lifehacker article about this) immediately pulled the battery out & stuck the phone & battery into a big bowl of uncooked rice. I let it sit for a day & a half, and (so far) it has been completely back to normal. Granted, this was much less exposure to water than running it through the laundry, but...
posted by ekstasis23 at 8:20 AM on August 9, 2007

My daughter washed AND DRIED her phone but my husband somehow got it to work. He's not here so I don't know what he did, but it IS doable.
posted by konolia at 10:25 AM on August 9, 2007

Update: Well, sorry to say, I'll never know whether the rice method would have worked. My husband went on duty today and told his supervisors what happened (they reacted like it was no big deal and ordered a new one for him, which was good news)... BUT: They told him he needed to bring the old one in so they could turn it in for credit (apparently they do have insurance of some kind) to the cell phone company they contract with. So he came home and took it out of the rice and turned it in to his supervisors before I even had a chance to say "Wait! Let's let this run its course, just for the sake of science!" (I was really curious to see what the ultimate result would be!)

So, even though I don't have any answers about whether the phone would have lived, I do appreciate all of the helpful answers I got. Thanks! :)
posted by amyms at 8:21 PM on August 9, 2007

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