Help! I dropped my cell phone in water!
A wet phone is a dead phone if you try to turn it on before it's completely dry inside and out. (Photo by Brandon Smith)
It’s the ultimate “Oh crap!” moment: You pull your pants down to use the toilet and hear a splash as that expensive cell phone slips from your pocket into the bowl of water.
That’s what happened to Angie’s List member Pam Murphy of Waxhaw, N.C., whose Motorola Droid smartphone took a plunge in the porcelain pool this summer.
“The first thing I went was, ‘Ewww,’” she recalls. “But I heard the splash and then just didn’t think. I reached in.”
Her quick reaction — swiftly removing the cell phone battery, drying off the water with a towel, wiping it with rubbing alcohol and letting the smartphone air dry — helped resuscitate and fix the cell phone. It works, for now, but Murphy’s phone-fishing adventure has her setting her sights on a new cell phone soon.
Water in your cell phone? Here's a fix
Highly rated cell phone repair experts say to avoid water damage, start by removing your cell phone from the water immediately.
• Remove the phone battery if you can. Some smartphones, such as the iPhone don’t allow the battery to be removed, so at least turn your cell phone power off.
• Resist turning it back on or plugging it in, which can ruin internal components and destroy the phone.
• Despite its popularity as a wet-device cure, placing your cell phone in a bag of uncooked rice may dry it out but won’t always be enough to fix the phone since minerals in the water can dry and potentially react with materials inside the phone.
• Take the device to a phone repair shop within a day or two, so they can take it apart, dry everything inside, clean off minerals that could cause corrosion and replace any parts that no longer work.
“When I go to trade it in, I’ll look at waterproof phones,” she says.
That’s not a bad idea. According to highly rated cell phone repair companies, water damage accounts for a significant portion of their business fixing phones, including the iPhone, Samsung Galaxy line and other top-level smartphones.
Consider waterproof cell phones
A 2012 study by marketing agency 11mark found that 75 percent of Americans with mobile phones admitted to using their phone in the bathroom, which adds up to a lot of cell phones precariously close to water.
Some smartphone manufacturers have even come out with supposedly waterproof phone cases and even water-resistant cell phones.
But for the oopsies with a cell phone that isn’t waterproof, there’s still hope.
While cell phone users typically void the manufacturer warranty for phones they drop in water — indicators inside change color when they get wet — highly rated cell phone repair companies offer storefront or mail-in services for everything from cracked screens to water damage.
Cell phone repair companies to the rescue
“We get ‘I dropped it in the toilet’ once or twice a day,” says Roger Kabir, owner of highly rated cell phone repair company Dr. Phonez in San Antonio, where water damage repairs start at $50 and go up depending on whether or which components need replaced.
When to repair or replace your cell phone
Dr. Phonez uses a proprietary system, “Drybox,” to draw out any moisture before cleaning internal parts with an ultrasonic alcohol bath.
Isopropyl alcohol is a key ingredient in scrubbing away any impurities in the water, according to Ned Hosic, founder of highly rated Boston iPhone Repair. Even if the a water-damaged cell phone appears dry, minerals that were in the water can corrode delicate metal components over time, Hosic says. A cell phone repair company can take the phone apart, clean off those minerals and sanitize a cell phone that fell in water, whether it was the toilet, the sink or the ocean.
“It may work fine right away, and slowly begin to lose one function, then another, until it’s completely dead,” Hosic says, adding it’s impossible to predict what’s salvageable without opening the device. None of the companies interviewed offers a warranty for water-damage repairs because of the unpredictable nature of the fixes.
Cody Spears, co-owner of highly rated Cell Phone Repair Atlanta, says when users bring in water-logged cell phones quickly after the damage — and the owner hasn’t tried to charge or use the cell phone, which can short-circuit the logic board — his company has about an 80 percent success rate on water-damage cell phone repairs.
The cost to repair smartphones at Spears’ repair shop starts at $35 and goes up until it reaches the “beyond economical repair” stage when it’s cheaper to buy a new phone than to fix the cell phone, Spears says. Other than steer clear of water, Spears advises customers with wet phones to keep electricity out if you hope to revive the dead cell phone.
“The best thing you can do is not power it on and get into a repair place as soon as possible,” he says.
Editor's note: This is an updated version of an article originally posted on Oct. 1, 2013.