How to treat a water damaged phone

Back in the days when I just started working in phone repair industry, my primary job was dealing with water damaged phones. It was straight forward process and a good practice for a new tech. We all had phones where u can just take the battery out. Common sense told my customers that the best idea would be to take their battery out and go to the closest repair shop and ask us to take care of the rest. My success rate was very high. I would take the phones apart, throw the motherboard into ultrasonic cleaner, grab a tooth brush and an EC cleaner and get all that corrosion cleaned from connectors. A few more step and my customer’s phones were back on and running.

I remember when things changed for me.

My head tech was watching some TV show. I was sitting by, replacing a screen on an iPhone 4 when that detective from the show figured out that the victim bought a bag of rice that he was allergic to (lol srsly?) because he got his phone wet and he’s put his phone in the rice for a few days to get it working. I said “what the?..” My head tech was like “C’mon, it’s just a show”. I don’t know about the whole world, if all the rice madness really started from that show many years ago. Or it’s from all the articles that you find online, where they tell to put your wet phone in a bag of rice for a few days, or rice and a towel, or vacuum bag and rice. White rice or brown rice? I heard basmati rice is getting popular these days…

Let’s move on and find out what’s happening with your phone when you have liquid inside. You know that there lots of metal parts inside your phone right? Traces are copper, there’s lead and tin solder… Ever had a paint chip off on your car and get rust on the metal under? Yes, metals get corroded when exposed to liquid, salt solutions, oxygen and other things. There are metal pins inside your charge port that conducts electricity to charge your battery, there’s tiny metal plates under your power button that make contact when you press on it to turn your phone on. And so on. How long does it take to get those tiny metal parts corroded? I’d say a few minutes if there’s current running through them and a few hours if there’s no current. So here’s step one – turn your water damaged phone off and don’t charge it. Ever, until you make sure that there’s no more liquid inside.

Now let’s go back to the rice. I do acknowledge that rice absorbs water. How long does it take? Grab a bowl throw some rice in and pour some water and see. Been a few hours right? Why not just take a piece of cloth and wipe that water off your phone? So yeah, that’s step two – wipe all the water off your device, take the case off and make sure that your phone is no longer being exposed to liquid.

I’m not very happy to say this, but it’s all you can do really. Unless you’re up for taking your phone apart. Because right after these steps we have to deal with all the water that got inside. No worries, I’ll take it from here J

Now that we’ve established that it takes a fairly long time for rice to absorb water that it’s in contact with. How long does it takes for rice to absorb water from inside your phone? Does it even do anything? Well yeah, kind of. Water inside will slowly evaporate and rice will absorb that vapor little by little. While the corrosion process continues. So what difference does it makes if that water evaporates from your phone anyway? Got to say, if my customers had their phones in a bag of rice for a day or two there’s still could be liquid inside. If for longer – there just corrosion. Pretty bad. Depends on the purity of water though. More salted – almost no hope for the phone. My point is, if you just let all the water stay inside it will corrode your device. Here’s step three – open up your phone, blow or wipe all the liquid from inside. Don’t let it destroy all the metal components.

Perhaps this is a good time to talk about water resistance and water proofness of your device. I open up people devices and say “hey, there’s some water damage inside”. And they go like “that’s impossible, my phone is waterproof”. Well no, unless you have one of those bulky, super protected smartphones (land rover POPTEL, Blackveiw BV5800). That’s considered waterproof. What’s your device model? iPhone 7, Galaxy S8? Let’s see the iPhone 7 with an IP67 rating for example. An IP (Ingress Protection) rating includes two digits. The first one refers to protection against solids, including dust, on a scale from 0-6, where 6 is being the most protected. Second number on a scale from 0-8, where 8 may mean that device is hermetically sealed. Sounds good, but just because a device has rating 7 or 8 does not mean it has passed tests for the levels below it. For example, while iPhone 7 has an IP67 rating, which says that it can withstand brief submersion it may not been tested to survive a jet of water. Oh, and let’s be clear here: the rating is strictly for fresh water. Which means that it does not guarantee protection against other liquids – coffee, beer, soda or salt water.

Going forward it may be a good idea to look up an article on Apple website to see their comment over iPhones being water resistant: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT207043

I’ll just quote a few things here:

Your iPhone is splash, water, and dust resistant and was tested under controlled laboratory conditions with a rating of IP67 under IEC standard 60529. Splash, water, and dust resistance are not permanent conditions, and resistance might decrease as a result of normal wear. Liquid damage is not covered under warranty.

To prevent liquid damage, avoid these:

  • Swimming or bathing with your iPhone
  • Exposing your iPhone to pressurized water or high velocity water, such as when showering, water skiing, wake boarding, surfing, jet skiing, and so on
  • Using your iPhone in a sauna or steam room
  • Intentionally submerging your iPhone in water
  • Operating your iPhone outside the suggested temperature ranges or in extremely humid conditions
  • Dropping your iPhone or subjecting it to other impacts
  • Disassembling your iPhone, including removing screws

 

Just saying, your phone is claimed to be water resistant and not waterproof. Under specific conditions. And not cover under warranty if it gets water damaged.

Going back to practical side. I’m going to open the iPhone 7 and see what’s there that makes it water resistant. First to notice – the charge port is not cover in any way, and it makes it a most common entering point for liquid. Then there’s black stuff around the perimeter of the screen. That a water resistant seal. What’s it made of? It’s some sort of double sided tape. Yes, just a piece of tape. I’d say it’s about 2-3mm wide. It doesn’t really hold your phone together. In case there’s a frame damage it might tear that tape apart. It wears off with time, losing its properties, also, once damaged by liquid or open your phone won’t ever seal back. So let’s say that your phone has some good chances to survive against first time water exposure, but its chances are lowering each time. In my experience, people don’t even know how many time their device has been in contact with liquid. We hold phones in wet hands, spill coffee over, take them to showers where all that vapor is in the air. Don’t rely much on that piece of tape that’s my advice. What else is around there to make it a water resistant device? Some rubber over the charge port, sim tray, home button. Those are the first places I’m looking at when I have a water damaged phone brought in for a repair. It’s an entering point for liquid and a little piece of rubber around is not doing a great job.

Ok, now that we have your phone open and got the liquid dry it’s time to deal with all the corrosion. Some repair shops are going to say that they will treat your water damaged phone with alcohol. If you hear that – walk away. Just saying. There’s been a mass confusion among service technician. My guess is that it happened over a thought that alcohol helps to evaporate water. But we are dealing with corroded metals here. Which alcohol has no effect on. So we need some other methods to get rid of the corrosion. First is plainly physical: I’m grabbing a tooth brush, spraying some EC cleaner over and clean out all the visual corrosion I can find. Now, it works and it’s good to clean a severe amount of the corrosion. But there’s gonna be some left, small amounts that the brush skips, sometimes you can’t even see it but it’s there. That’s why we have an ultrasonic cleaning machine. I’m going to load it with… distilled water actually. Don’t be surprised. It’s there so I can dissolve what’s in my opinion is the best for the purpose – Branson EC cleaner. It consists of a whole list of chemical components, you know, to the point where you can’t even read them. Back in 2012 we were using some cleaning substances, mixing them up from domestic cleaners and all. Everyone had their own recipe.

Long story short – ultrasonic machine loaded with EC cleaner will do the job. After I’ll take that board out, splash with some more distilled water to get rid of the chemicals left, blow dry and let it sit on a heater for around an hour to fully dry.

The rest of the work is pretty straight forward: assemble the device back, find faulty parts (can’t help it if water got inside your camera or LCD, those parts are manufactured as one piece), replace them and fully test the device.

I don’t really recommend putting too much hope in fixing a water damaged phone. There was a higher success rate back in the day when we could simply take the battery out and wipe our phones dry. Now, with all the new phones being fully sealed and claimed to be water resistant we have a success rate of fixing a water damaged phone significantly drop due not to be able to remove the current supply. Also, the seal won’t let the liquid inside evaporate quickly. And there’s this rice factor now… I strongly recommend at looking to fix a water damaged phone for data recovery purposes only, as I cannot promise that even after going through the whole water cleaning process there won’t be any corrosion left. I can’t guarantee that some traces under your phone’s processor didn’t get damaged and everything will work like it’s brand new. And I don’t think anyone can. I will make every effort to bring back your precious device and fix every damaged part I will find. And hope that it will serve you for a long time. And I’m counting on you not to put your wet phone in a bag of rice prior to bringing to our shop 😉

It was important for me to share my opinion on this topic. Thanks a lot for reading!

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