Crap! Got my phone wet! Now what?

Ah, winter – Everything’s so white. So pretty. And so frickin’ slick and wet, it’s almost enough to keep any gadget-lovin’ person at home.

Unfortunately, I didn’t yesterday. Somehow I managed to invoke some cartoon mojo when I stepped outside, because I wound up doing some furious foot action on a patch of ice – you know, the kind that has you hanging in mid-air for a solid moment before ker-plunking onto your butt. Yep, I pulled an epic Wile. E. Coyote. Luckily I didn’t sustain any real injury to my person, just a sore derriere and a bruise to my pride. But it still hit me where it hurt because my iPhone tumbled end over end (I swear, it happened in slow-mo) into a pile of melting snow.

Friends, let me tell you – Something interesting happens in the face of tech tragedy: simultaneous disbelief (“You’re okay, i4. It’s just a little snow. See? You still work just fine”) and fear (“OMG! Adriana, what are you doing? DO NOT BOOT UP while wet! Shut it down, shut it down!”).

To be honest, the latter is the better way to go. Not the crazy yelling at yourself part, but the shutting it off part. You see, the thing with snow is that it melts into water. And water can kill your electronics. I know, I know – way to state the obvious, Ms. Tech Blogger. But in a panic, it’s hard to think straight. And yes, this can happen to anyone. So if it happens to you, here’s what you do:

(1) Shut it down. And do not freak out. You absolutely, positively don’t want to do what I did, which is hit the button to wake the phone, even if you’re just checking to see if it still works. Hitting the sleep button won’t do it either; you need to shut it down completely, and of course, do not plug it in. (If we had a removable battery, I’d even say you should take it out, just to eliminate the possibility of a current connecting in there. But we don’t, so at least turn it off.) This is such a crucial step. Even if your device isn’t broken, some wetness in there could short circuit something internally. And a fried logic board or other disaster is not something that is recoverable. (The wetness issue can be so grave, in fact, that Apple even included a water damage monitor inside the phone. Yeah, apparently this type of thing happens a lot.)

(2) Let it dry – at least overnight, if not longer. The one benefit of winter is that most people in cold climates have their heat cranked on. And all that hot, dry air can really help evaporate the wetness.

How long it takes to dry a phone can vary as much by device model as well as the circumstances surrounding the incident. Did you drop it in a pile of snow, in a puddle, in the toilet? In other words, was it introduced to a little moisture, or was it submerged? You need to give it a chance to dry out, preferably overnight as a minimum.

As for how to dry it, the methods can vary a lot. I’ve heard of people using everything from hair dryers to ovens. (Yikes!) Although it seems to work for some people, one of the biggest risks with hair dryers is pushing water further into the handset. And personally, I’d never put an expensive device in the oven, ever. So the two methods that seem the safest are air drying and the rice method, which involves sticking it in a couple of cups or more of uncooked rice (preferably in a sealed bag or closed container) to draw out the moisture.

(3) Leave it alone. I know you’re worried. And you may be waiting on pins and needles, to see if your little pet gadget is okay. But trust me, you don’t want to risk powering it on too early and shortting out your iPhone. Once you’re sure it’s dry, you may even want to hit the headphone jack and dock port with some compressed air, for good measure.

(4) Turn it on. Eventually, you’ll have to turn it on. But don’t do it unless you’re sure it’s bone dry, inside and out. If you are, then it’s time for the moment of truth. Go ahead and hit that button.

While there’s no guarantee that your device will be recoverable, if you follow these steps, then at least you know you did everything a normal end user could do. (Hardcore geeks might even try disassembling the device and drying out the components, but that would take a pretty extreme level of super user.)

For the rest of us, the hardest part in all this might be the waiting. Smartphone owners tend to depend on their devices like no other, so I know it’s tough to sit idly by. But you’ve got to give it time. And crossing those fingers wouldn’t hurt either. That’s what I did. And lucky for me, my phone powered back on a day later, no worse for wear.

Ever drenched a phone of your own and resurrected it? What drying method did you use? Let us know in the comments below.

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  • Does it still work? :0

  • dionysis

    Thankfully phones are low voltage. This means that voltage arcs are far less likely. Unless you drop it in salt water or soda your phone will most likely survive a spill if completely dried.

    Back in the day when Keyboards were expensive we used to put them in the dishwasher after they got spilled on. Worked like a charm, just made sure that everything was dry before plugging it back in.

  • daniel

    mine once fell in the bathtub and shut off completely. so i turned it back on and the screen was shorted out so it wouldn’t recognize my touch. so i took the rice trick to the extreme by completely submerging it in a box of rice for a week or so and it worked great after that!

  • luweeboi

    My iPhone 2G (I have the iP4 now) got drenched one time and my heart stopped for a couple of seconds. Fortunately, my dad was there and he came to the rescue. He powered it off immediately. He asked me to look for a small bag inside the shoe boxes in our storage room, placed my phone and the small bag (which contained silica gel, he said) inside an airtight container. After leaving it in overnight, viola! It turned on and worked as if it were brand new!!

  • rice sucks up the moisture. it works extremely well

  • Shaun

    Just leave it they r algud if they get wet i dropped mine in a bucket of water left it over night and nothing wrong with it but it does void warrenty due to water sensors :( thanks apple

  • KenC

    Jumped into lake with iPhone4 on my hip. 30 secs later, jumped out horrified. Shut it down, cause it was obviously still alive. Stuck it in rice for a week. Took it out to find it dead, but not dead. Just needed recharging.

    When all was said and done, everything works, except for the power button on top, so no screenshots.

    Since my iP4 was new, and I bought it with a credit card with accident insurance for the first 90 days, I contacted Amex, and they told me to take it to Apple and pay the replacement fee of $200, and they would reimburse.

    Took it to Apple, told them what happened, the Genius took it into the back and opened it. He came back told me the interior sensor had NOT tripped, and would be able to replace it under warranty! I was a bit shocked because I told him my credit card company would pay. He said that he had yet to see an iP4 with a tripped interior sensor, because they were so much tighter than the previous models.

    • Adriana Lee

      That’s amazing. I have a friend who dropped hers in a big puddle, and it totally tripped the sensor. She’d forgotten about it when she went to the Genius Bar due to a funky microphone issue (that made everyone sound like they were in a wind tunnel). Turns out, the water damage messed up her mic.

      Now I’m wondering if the impact caused the water to seep in further or otherwise helped the sensor register the moisture. The fact that she didn’t really dry the device out, but continued to use it, probably had something to do with it too. Then again, I’m no sensor expert, so that’s just a wild guess.

      But glad you had a better outcome!

  • AMEX FTW@ Ken! Gotta love it

  • Shaun

    Yea it tripped both sensors on my 3GS got an IP4 now though 3GS is still going just a craked screen

  • How do you turn off your iPhone without hitting the sleep button? 0_o

    • MICHEAL_101

      You let it fall asleep. That’s the only way.

  • Bryce Daniel

    Apple also just changed their policy. Now If there is no physical damage (corrosion, ect) you may still be under warranty.

  • Thank you! This is so timely and now I know what to do if my iPhone has another encounter with liquid. I had a bit of a water accident with my iPhone yesterday. It was still under warranty and Apple kindly replaced it with the caveat that it was the only time they’d replace the device for water damage. The outside looked as good as new. Seems like they knew the new policy was about to take effect. Only downside is it was the second replacement in as many months (weird considering I had an iPhone for 10 months problem-free), and this new one doesn’t seem to have as long a battery life as the one that died yesterday. Hoping the new one isn’t defective and I need to get a third replacement in three months.

  • Scott

    ahh…. my old old razor….. pushed in the pool and heart stopped(over a feature phone… lol) took the batteru out and let it sit for two days to find it power on with damaged speakers and a water damahed screen…

  • Pakal

    Very hard to believe, my friend dropped her iphone 4 in a pool. Took a good 30 seconds to fish it out of a 10 feet deep bottom. She was not even upset because she had already shattered the back of the phone, and was just ready to get another one. She just let it dry and the morning after the phone was up and running as nothing ever happened. I would have never believed if I was not there when it happened.

  • it’s hard to think straight. And yes, this can happen to anyone. So if it happens to you, here’s what you do.