So your precious iPhone or Android just had an unexpected encounter with a body of liquid — maybe the toilet, or the sink, or the local pond. Is everything lost? Or is there hope to recover your smartphone data and/or get everything back in working order?
By David Nield
Here’s what you can do to get the situation under control.
What to do right away
First of all, don’t panic—while iPhones aren’t officially waterproof, they can withstand a certain amount of water torture (especially the later models). Some Android phones, like the latest Samsung Galaxy phones, actually are billed as waterproof, so if you have one of those you might be in no trouble at all. Either way, the first step is to turn off your handset then dry it off with a clean cloth or towel first to assess the damage. Pop out your SIM card too, just to minimize the risk of it getting affected.
It may be that your iPhone turns back on and actually works fine after a quick dry and an hour or two sitting on a table top, and it’s definitely worth trying this first before attempting anything more exotic.
Hair dryers, microwaves and chargers are no nos, because of the risk of extra corrosion or heat-related damage to the phone. While some sources recommend sticking your phone in a bag of rice to draw out the moisture, many others (including local repair shops we spoke to) say this doesn’t work and can actually harm your phone further.
If the damage is light and you think you can dry the iPhone out yourself, the key is to do it as naturally as possible and while the phone is powered off and with the battery out, should it happen to be removable. Think towels, clean cloths and warm spaces. When you think all of the moisture has dissipated, then turn your phone back on and assess the damage.
The newest iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus models, while still not fully waterproof, are rated to withstand half an hour in water at depths up to a meter, so if you’re quick and you’ve got one of these handsets, you should be okay.
What to do after that
If your phone still won’t turn on, or is behaving in any sort of unusual way, it’s time to go a little further. Years of testing across the internet seems to have singled out silica gel or silica cat litter seems to be the best serious-business drying agent in most cases—if you can get hold of a few packets, put them together with your iPhone in a ziplock bag and leave for a day or two.
Silica packets are often included with shipped electronics for this very reason, but it’s still open to debate whether it’s actually more effective than leaving them to dry out in the open air. It’s certainly a better idea than using rice, though the aim is the same: drawing out the lingering moisture from your iPhone.
If you’ve having no luck with your DIY methods of cleaning, then a reputable repair shop should be your next port of call. Naturally, you wound up here in hopes of avoiding an expensive repair bill but these places have equipment and expertise that’s worth calling on and which you can’t easily replicate on your kitchen table.
Even if there are no obvious, visible signs of water damage on your iPhone, if liquid is sitting on the internal components then it’s only a matter of time before something goes awry internally.
What a repair shop can do that you can’t—unless you’re prepared to really roll your sleeves up—is completely disassemble your phone and treat its individual components with professional drying tools and solutions before putting it all back together again, and putting it together correctly to boot.
While you can do that at home, it’s a job best left to the experts, particularly if you’ve dropped your smartphone into something more abrasive than water. Be especially wary if your wounded gadget is an iPhone—disassembling your iPhone yourself, or handing it off to a third-party repair shop could leave your TouchID rendered permanently useless. iPhones are designed to disable the feature permanently if it fears the closed security loop has been compromised. And it your phone very well may fear it’s been compromised if it’s fiddled with by non-Apple repairmen.
What to do in the future
Besides just being careful with your smartphone in the future, there are a few preventative steps you can take to minimise the damage the next time your phone inevitably takes a tumble into water.
A waterproof case is a worthwhile investment and can save you a lot in repair bills or replacement phone costs. There are a ton of third-party options to pick from for all recent iPhone models as well as the lion’s share of popular Android phones.
We won’t go into a full case round-up here (there are plenty around on the web), but waterproof cases from the likes of Lifeproof and Dog & Bone usually come highly recommended, so those are two good starting points.
Other than that it’s important to make sure all of your important data is backed up somewhere should your phone take a dive or indeed get lost or stolen.
Thankfully, this is much easier than it used to be. With an iPhone, you can use iCloud or iTunes to make regular backups of the stuff on your device. Android phones can be pretty well insured using Google’s built-in back up services. Cloud-based services like, Dropbox, and Google Photos, meanwhile, will happily handle the job of moving all your photos and videos into the cloud and off your phone.
If the worst does come to the worst, Apple now accepts water-damaged iPhones as part of its trade-in program, though you are of course going to get less back on your gift card. Buyback services like Gazelle will also take your water-damaged Androids, but also at a lower price. The good news is that fully waterproof phones are becoming more and more common. That—combined with rumors that the iPhone 8 will be fully waterproof—hopefully means that soon even the clumsiest of users can feel safe.
Image credit: Lifeproof
This article was originally written for and published by Popular Mechanics USA.