What to Do If You Drop Your Cell Phone in Water

Cell phones and water don’t mix. People know this, but the tragedy plays out regularly in a variety of scenarios. It could be a slip into the toilet, a tumble in the washing machine, an overly excited leap into the pool, or a beer-based lack of judgment.

It’s sometimes possible to save the electronic lifeline you’ll pay $500 to replace, but step one is avoiding panic, because there are several “fixes” that might make sense in the moment, but could do more harm than good. In the video below, Money Talks News founder 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.

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 cell phone is your only link to the world.

In fact, it’s cheaper and more reliable than actual cell phone 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 freshwater rather than salt. Reviving a dunked phone is already an iffy proposition – a full recovery from the corrosive effects of saltwater 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. Speaking of baking… 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 away from 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’s 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 an uncooked bag of dry rice and a sealed container – a large Ziploc bag will work, but a Tupperware container is best. Fill it up and bury your phone, 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 for some people. Want more advice on phone protection? Check out 4 Smart Ways to Protect Your Smartphone and How to Protect Your Phone from Identity Thieves.

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Comments & discussion

We welcome your opinions, but let’s keep it civil. Like many businesses, we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone. In our case, that means those who communicate by name-calling, racism, using words designed to hurt others or generally acting like an uninformed bully. Also, comments that include links to email addresses or commercial websites typically aren't posted. This isn't a place to advertise your business.

  • Nancy Sherron

    Use instant (quick) white rice instead of regular rice.  It is more absorbent.  This works on keyboards too.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Christopher-Paden/511365489 Christopher Paden

    Remove the battery IMMEDIATELY after it gets wet. This will lessen the chances of the phone shorting out as there is still power going through most of todays electronic devices even when powered off.   (sorry iPhone owners)

  • Anonymous

    Should use a product like Silica Gel which is one of the most absorbent materials available. Silica Gel is used to dry things flowers, shoes, electronics, etc. You find these packets everywhere! Just google Silica Gel Packets and you’ll find plenty of suppliers, they are cheap as well!

  • Jim Barns

    I dropped mine in salt water.  turned it off. Took out the battery. Filled the sink with fresh water. Put the whole phone in the fresh water. Swished it around for a while. Took it out. shook it dry. Put the hair dryer on cool. blow dried the phone. Left the back battery compartment open.  Turned the phone over with the numbers down on a towel and left it shaking it every so often for about 2 days. Reinstalled the battery put the cover back on.  Turned it on and it worked great.