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What to do when your cellphone gets wet

There's nothing like a cool dip in the swimming pool on a hot summer day -- until you realize you have your phone with you.

By Stacy Johnson Aug 26, 2011 11:54AM

This post comes from Brandon Ballenger at partner site Money Talks News.


Cellphones and water don't mix. People know this, yet the tragedy plays out regularly in a variety of scenarios. It could be a slip into the toilet, a tumble in the washing machine, a beer-based lack of judgment, or a thorough drenching in a hurricane.


It's sometimes possible to save your electronic lifeline, but Step One is avoiding panic, because there are several "fixes" that might seem to make sense, but could do more harm than good.


In the video below, Stacy Johnson -- who admits to dunking his own iPhone -- talks about what you can try to restore your soaked electronics. Check it out, then read on for more tips.

As Stacy suggested, buying a cheap backup phone that's compatible with your SIM card -- the chip that holds your phone's personal information -- is cheap insurance, and something to consider if your cellphone is your only link to the world.


In fact, it's cheaper and more reliable than actual cellphone insurance, which may leave you without a phone for days. (By the way, water damage is almost never covered under a standard warranty, and many phones have internal moisture sensors that will tell the truth even if you don't.) Cheap phones can cost under $50, and taking the backup with you on water-related outings instead of your regular phone can prevent a lot of stress.


If your phone does get wet, hopefully it's fresh water rather than salt. Reviving a dunked phone is already an iffy proposition; a full recovery from the corrosive effects of salt water is nothing short of miraculous.


But whatever the watery encounter, here are the steps to take, starting with what not to do:

  • Don't turn it on. You'll be tempted to see if the phone still works. Resist. Leave it off, or you may cause a short circuit. Do that and it's game over.
  • No hair dryers. Blowing heat sounds smart, but there are two problems. First, the blown air may actually push droplets deeper inside the phone. Second, even on a low setting, a blow-dry may be too much heat for your phone to handle.
  • No sun. People have dried their laundry this way for centuries, but it's not the way to dry a phone. Don't leave it sitting in direct sunlight. It could bake.
  • No oven. This may sound crazy, but in researching this story we found people who actually tried it. Some even claim it worked, but we really don't recommend it. Especially if the battery is carelessly left in, it could explode. Same deal with microwaves, which you should keep metal out of anyway.

The smart approach to saving your phone is admittedly a little weird. It's the one Stacy described in the video, and involves rice. Rice is a natural desiccant, or water absorber (like those little "do not eat" packets filled with silica gel beads). Here's how the dry-out process works:

  1. Turn the phone off. If possible, immediately power down the device. Water-damaged phones can act a little weird and may freeze up or keep cycling on and off. You want it to stay off, with no electrical activity, to protect the circuitry. If you have access to the battery, carefully remove it along with your SIM card. (You may be able to save your contacts and data even if the phone is dead.)
  2. Grab a towel. With a paper towel or whatever you have handy, do your best to wipe off visible moisture on both phone and battery.
  3. Find some rice. You need uncooked rice and a sealed container. A large Ziploc bag will work, but a Tupperware container is best. Fill it up with rice, bury your phone, and then close it up. You'll want to leave it alone at least overnight, although some repair sites recommend leaving it for a day or more.
  4. Get a replacement while you wait. If a phone is vital and you don't already have a backup, head to the store with your SIM card and see if you can get a cheap one to keep communications up and running, and to help you avoid the temptation of trying your phone before it's fully dry.
  5. Check and recharge. Once the waiting period is up, retrieve your device, and after making sure there's no rice stuck inside, plug it in to charge and see what happens. Good luck.

Another idea to protect your phone is a waterproof case, which you can get for less than $20. They can be bulky, though, so a cheap backup phone may be a better solution. 


More on Money Talks News and MSN Money:

Aug 27, 2011 6:33AM
 I found a cellphone embeded in a glacier once. I chipped it out of the ice and put it in a bag with rice for a day and it worked great! It still had photos of dinosaurs on it. Wow, what a find! Surprised
Funny they should have this while Hurricane Irene is approaching!  Here's my solution, soak your phone in rubbing alcohol for one hour (the alcohol pushes the water out) then remove it and let it stand for one hour while the alcohol dries.  Then take the phone and throw it against the wall as hard as you can, while screaming dammit!  These procedures will do absolutely nothing other than make you feel better.
Aug 26, 2011 7:14PM
Yes, just before your car hits the lake from talking and driving, remember to roll down your window and hold your phone high over your head until you can completely exit the car.
Aug 26, 2011 7:41PM
All ideas are good but. It will only last a short time unless you displace the water as to avoid corrosion. DO NOT TURN IT ON TO TEST IT! Take the battery out, and dry both the battery and phone with a paper towel. Put the phone in a bowl of rubbing alcohol it will mix with the moisture inside and after re-drying with a clean paper towel then stick that puppy in an open bag of rice. When the alcohol evaporates the contacts will be clean and dry without residual moisture. It's been 3 years since my cell took a dunk in the Delaware River when I took a misstep trying my boat up. 
Aug 27, 2011 7:51AM
ok sure give the rice a try and / or take the darn thing apart.  seriously...first if you try the rice and it doesn't work it's already a brick so what are you going to lose.  second it's really not a big deal.  almost every phone if you google it someone somewhere will have posted detailed instructions and probably even a video about how to disassemble.  separate as many components as you can, ultimately you want to get at the motherboard as much as possible and the keyboard and all little connection ports.  then spray every piece down with a moisture displacing electrical contact cleaner.   see radio shack or a auto parts store.  spray everywhere you can think of and let dry.  then reassemble.

I have done 5 different phones so far and all have returned to pre dunk status.  it seriously is not that hard to do
Aug 26, 2011 6:51PM
I have dunked 3 cell phones over the last few years - all 3 have been successfully revived by spending time in a bowl of dry rice... dismantle and dry off every spot you can reach - then bury it in rice and WAIT 24 hours...
Aug 26, 2011 7:44PM
When I was in the Coast Guard; we had the electronics compartment(room) flood on our ship!
It was completely filled with sea water.What they did to revive the equipment was to soak it in fresh water for 24 hrs then let it dry at room temp for 3 days; always worked just fine afterwards!!!Of course this was back in the days before cell phones were small(like holding a brick to your head) but it's the same rice,no beads just time and air! Worked every time!!!Nerd
I had a buddy who would always spill a White Russian on his remote control for His TV!!! Crying
I showed Him this trick and He was amazed it actually worked...saved Him almost $75 for a new remote... electronics were expensive back then too!!!
Aug 27, 2011 2:51AM
My 15 month old Daughter put my phone in a glass of water. I put the phone in rice for two days and it really does work. Remove the battery too!
Aug 26, 2011 7:53PM
The absolute best and most reliable method I have come across for a wet cell phone is to put it in a food dehydrator.  I've done it twice myself and have helped people with 4 other phones.  100% success rate so far.

I fell in lake with cell phone in my pocket my solution was i opened the back wiped it down and set it over my cable box not directly on the box but raise up so warm air could circulate after a day or more of this phone was working again and in few days the moisture spot the the screen dried out an phone has worked fine since this incident. I was lucky i guess!!!

Aug 26, 2011 10:46PM
The rice method works great!! My Iphone has fallen in the pool and it worked just fine after leaving it in the rice for a day! Always use this method if your phone fell in the water.
Aug 26, 2011 10:49PM
Hah!   We sent an ATT LG through the hot water cycle of the washing machine....extra agitating and bleach.   We had a very SAD daughter who immediately went out and got a new phone because she could not wait for it to dry out. We did the remove battery and rice trick for a week and it still works!!!!!!....OK so it'
s not perfect but it is good enough for her mother.
Aug 26, 2011 5:34PM

Better solution: Purchase a water proof cell phone like the verizon/Casio GZone Boulder. Water proof down to 3 meters (that is 9.84 feet) if you are going to be around water very much. This phone is also shock and dust resistant. I have had mine for 2 years now. I have dropped it in the creek when I prospect for gold & fish (more than once), ran over it twice with my Dodge Ram 2500 4X4 and take it with me when I ride my ATV. Knock on wood; No problems at all. It is an ugly phone and doesn't do all the things a so called smart phone can do but it has a push to talk feature, a camera, and I can surf the web with it in addition to using it as a cell phone.


Of course the best bet is to simply not let your cell get wet beyond a little rain!

Aug 27, 2011 3:12AM
I droped my Blackberry in the creek, did the rice thing over night and it worked perfect  and still is
Aug 27, 2011 12:01AM
my new cell phone fell out of a cooler while getting out of a boat , it sank to the bottom of the lake which was about 12 feet. My friends husband dove down and found it after about 10 min.( what a great guy!) i took the battery out and let it dry for about a week and it worked again and i was able to use it for two years!!:)
Aug 26, 2011 10:16PM
My phone recently took a swim thanks to my 2 yr old granddaughter, I had heard of the rice trick from a representtative with my phone service provider.  I took everything out, my SIMS card, my battery and my sd memory card, buried everying in the uncooked rice (I used long grain), left everything in for about 2 - 3 days.  When I put everything back together, there was just a little water behind the screen and it dried up within a day.  Haven't had a problem since, but this trick can be short lived.
Aug 26, 2011 9:06PM
Just replace the phone ASAP. Even if you manage to dry the water out... the water damage will cause corrosion issues that will degrade the phones performance overtime and cause intermittent problems i.e. drop calls and random shut downs.  Save yourself a headache.
Aug 27, 2011 1:10AM
I have washed my husband's phone three times, the last on two hour setting w sanitizing.  Bag of rice works every time, on the older models, the newer smart phones probably not... the newest toys are not always the best, if you work in "hazardous" conditions!
Aug 26, 2011 6:27PM
So I have to say from personal experience.  My iPhone vibrated right into the dogs water bowl.  I quickly grabbed it and took two bags of white rice and dumped them into a Tupperware and put the phone on top and sealed it.  Two hours later it worked just fine, only thing was that now I had rice where the USB connector is and the ear bud jack were.  :) Nothing that a good shake did not take care of.
Aug 27, 2011 12:50AM
Not so lucky, after being in the pool for about a half hour I felt the pocket of my trunks and guess what.  Told to put in rice for 24 hours and did let set for two days then turned it on.  Sounded just like bacon frying and that was it .  I really like my new phone but it never goes near the pool......
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