Mobile Miracle: How To Revive A Wet Cell Phone

So, your fancy new cell phone is dripping wet and dead as a doornail. What now?

Matthew McKenzie, Contributor

July 22, 2009

3 Min Read

So, your fancy new cell phone is dripping wet and dead as a doornail. What now?I recently made the mistake of taking a swim with my cell phone in my pocket. (It's a long story.) Although I quickly realized what had happened, the damage was done: My phone was waterlogged and lifeless.

Look around online, and you will find this is a common mishap. In fact, I was lucky: Way too many of these incidents involve either salt water or the inside of a toilet bowl.

First, the good news: It is entirely possible to get a wet cell phone working again.

Many of the phone-fix remedies described online involve drying the phone with a very effective natural desiccant: rice. Quite a few, however, combine this sound advice with other, far less useful, recommendations.

Popular Mechanics offers one of the best wet-cell-phone resuscitation procedures you'll find online. (If you need help, go read it -- now. I'll wait.) It endorses the idea of using a bowl of dry rice as a handy desiccant, and it also makes some other smart suggestions:

  • Don't drip dry. Before using the rice, you'll have to get most of the standing water out of the phone. If you have a can of compressed air handy, that will work fine. Otherwise, use a vacuum. In a pinch, even blowing into the phone with a straw is better than waiting for the water to evaporate on its own.

    No heat, no nukes, no solvents. Hair dryers can warp plastic parts and melt adhesives. Rubbing alcohol and other solvents will leave a phone's innards squeaky clean but completely trashed. If you're drying your phone in a microwave oven as you read this, go ahead and start shopping for a new phone. And don't tell anyone you did something that stupid. Start now! Those little bags of silica gel are a neater solution than a sack of rice. But if finding silica means wasting several hours, you're better off with the Uncle Ben's. Save your SIM. One of the great things about a GSM phone is the fact that its onboard SIM card may be fine even if the phone itself goes belly-up. The same is true of add-in memory cards used in many smartphones. Pull your SIM and add-in memory at the same time you remove the battery (i.e. immediately!), and you just might rescue important business data. Rinse first? The article's least intuitive suggestion is also one of its best: If you drop a phone in salt water, rinse it in fresh water before drying it. Salt residue will have a lasting, and invariably fatal, effect on the phone's electronics.

Now the bad news: Based on anecdotal evidence, your revived cell phone may not live long, and even if it does, some things may never again work right. Make the most of the time you have, and get all of your data off the phone while the getting is good.

Then again, one never knows: Many people report that a carefully dried cell phone works perfectly for months or years afterward. My own wet-phone incident happened more than a month ago, and the phone has worked fine since I dried it.

Next, prepare for a cold shoulder if you go crying to your provider for a free replacement. Most standard cell phone warranties don't cover water damage. If you try to fib, the service rep will look at the little water-damage sticker inside the phone's battery compartment, see that it has changed color, and call your bluff.

On the other hand, optional product-replacement plans typically cover any loss or damage, no matter how stupid or bizarre it might be. So if you like to text on a set of water skis, consider buying the extended warranty.

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