That dog don’t hunt and that phone don’t Float

Almost the worst thing that can happen to an electronic device is getting wet. This is a far worse issue than just dropping your phone and breaking the screen. Today we’ll discuss treatment and prevention of water damage.

Water and electricity don't mix.

Water and electricity don’t mix.

There are several problems with water. First, it conducts electricity. That’s why they make fiberglass ladders for working with power tools. That means if your device happens to be on at the time it gets wet, power can go places it shouldn’t, and that can cause permanent damage.

Second, water is corrosive. It’s not very corrosive, but when you’re dealing with the tiny circuitry in modern electronics, it’ll wreak havoc if not dried off quickly.

Third, water will go places where it’s hard to get it out again without extraordinary measures like complete disassembly.

The survival rate for dunked electronics is no better than 50/50 even if you follow the instructions below, but you do have a chance if you act fast. (If you drop it in salt water, you are most likely up the creek!)

What to do if your electronic gadget gets wet

  1. Don’t press any buttons or switches!
  2. Immediately, right now, remove all power from it. That means unplug it if it’s plugged into AC, take the battery out if possible, and don’t wait to shut down normally. Take the battery out now, whether it’s a laptop, phone, or other device. More damage can be done by leaving the power on long enough to do “Start, Shutdown…etc” than by just removing power now.
  3. If the spilled liquid is sugary, salt water, or sticky, you might try rinsing it off with distilled water, if you have any available.
  4. Dry off the exterior of the device. Turn it upside down and shake it to try to get water out of crevices.
  5. Remove all removable parts such as covers, memory cards, etc. and dry them off.
  6. Place the device in a sealed bag with a desiccant such as silica gel, a commercial “Wet electronics/phone emergency kit,” or, if you have none of these, wrap it in a piece of cloth or paper towel and put it in a sealed bag with a couple of pounds of ordinary (Uncooked) white rice. Leave it in there for at least a couple of days.
  7. There are also specialists that have phone drying equipment. Check to see if any are in your area.
  8. Using a hair dryer or blowing with canned air is not recommended. Hair dryers may get too hot, and blowing may push water further inside the device, where it can no longer get out.
  9. Just in case you’re thinking about putting it in the microwave, NOOOOOOO!

If, after all this, the device turns on and works, you may still have bought yourself only a temporary reprieve. You should back up all data as soon as possible, because it might stop working for good at any time.

If you still get no life out of the gadget, it’s usually possible to get some or all of your data back. A laptop hard drive can usually be easily removed and copied to another device. Memory cards are generally not damaged by a quick dunking, and may work fine after being dried off. Smartphones usually back up to a cloud service, although they don’t always back up everything. If necessary, there are plenty of data recovery specialists in the yellow pages, but they will be expensive. You have to decide how much your data is worth to you. It’s always a lot cheaper to back up ahead of any disaster.

How to minimize the risk

  • Phones, cameras, music players: Always be aware of where your phone is.
  • There are waterproof phone cases available. If you’re going to the lake, make sure you get one that floats! Resist the temptation to test your waterproof case with the phone inside. Some are only rated for very shallow water, like puddles.
  • Don’t jump in the pool until you’ve checked your pockets (Unless someone is drowning!)
  • Check pockets carefully before doing the laundry.
  • Be especially careful when using the restroom. You wouldn’t believe how many people drop their phone in the toilet!
  • Be careful where you put your phone down. A small puddle of condensation from a cold glass can do as much damage as a dunking.
  • Laptops: Put your drink on the other side of the table, or on another table entirely, so if it does spill, it won’t spill on the laptop.

It never hurts to be prepared for the worst-case scenario, and have a plan for how to deal with it.