There is a pervasive myth that has been around for years, that if you drop your phone in water, put it in rice overnight, and it will be fixed by morning. This sometimes goes along with removing the battery immediately, which is a good idea, but is becoming less and less possible, due to phones not having a removable battery door. While removing the battery immediately is an excellent idea, telling people to put their phone in rice is not.
I have been hearing this myth ever since the flip phone came out, and I have even been tempted to try it myself, since it seems to make sense. In fact, you can’t get three people in a room without at least one of them having said they have tried it, and it worked. Well, that should prove it, right? It works for people, so it can’t be all nonsense. Well, it works about as good as blowing on your old NES cartridges made them work when inserted in the machine. We associate a cause with an effect, often when there really is no link between the two. Phones will often dry out and work fine, and the method of drying doesn’t seem to matter. Putting your phone in rice has a causal link to your phone working like the link between your alarm clock going off and the sun coming up. Just because they happen at the same time doesn’t mean one causes the other.
Why is rice bad?
Rice just doesn’t fix your phone. It doesn’t even dry your phone. In tests done by Gazelle.com, they wetted sponges with the exact same amount of water, and put them in different substances to see how much water was removed after a set amount of time. They tested silica gel from cat litter, regular cat litter, uncooked white rice, instant rice, rolled oats, instant oats, chia seeds and couscous. Uncooked rice performed worst of all the substances they tested, even compared to leaving the phone in the open air. In fact, open air seemed to be the best way to dry things. It was better than all other methods.
Second, rice has dust. While most rice is pretty clean to the naked eye, there are particles of rice dust that can make it into the openings on your phone. This dust can cause problems, depending on how much gets inside the phone, and where it lands. It can, in fact, make it harder for water to escape your phone, especially if it is dropped into water in the future. It leaves a residue that will absorb liquid water, and will hold it for a longer period of time than a clean surface would. This can allow the electricity in your phone to find paths through the phone that are damaging, or cause corrosion.
Finally, rice does not repair corrosion. When you get liquid inside your phone, corrosion starts instantly. This is the reason for removing the battery. The electricity in your phone might reach a bad path if it gets wet, but more often than not, what really kills a phone is the corrosion that is sped up by the electricity. The electricity from your battery can cause electrolysis to happen inside your phone. This eats away at the microscopic connections, and can damage those connections beyond repair in no time.
What should I do?
If your phone gets wet, it isn’t necessarily a death sentence for it. What you should do yourself is to remove the battery, if possible, as soon as you get it out of the water. If you can’t get your battery out of your phone, there isn’t much you can do about it. I don’t recommend people open their sealed phones without the proper equipment and knowledge.
Get your phone to a shop that has the proper equipment to handle water damage right away. The process at our shop is to open the phone, remove the main board, remove any shields that can trap water, and put the board in a sweeping ultrasonic cleaner. After cleaning, we soak the board in 99.9% isopropyl alcohol to displace the water, and then blow it dry. We then put the board in an oven to evaporate any residual alcohol or water. Once this is done, the liquid is gone, the board is clean, and we put everything back together and test it.
90% of the time, this is enough to prevent permanent damage to your phone. It is not uncommon for speakers and microphones to be permanently damaged by the liquid though. If that is the case, we can replace those parts.
This is a lot of work, but it is the only way we can guarantee to prevent additional damage from happening than has already happened. If the phone isn’t opened up, the water takes a very long time to dry out. The water trapped under the shields takes even longer to dry out if the shields aren’t removed. Water has minerals in it, and can cause strange things to happen inside the phone if those mineral residues aren’t removed, even if the board is completely dry. This is why the ultrasonic cleaner is important. The only truly unnecessary step in the process is the isopropyl alcohol soak and oven drying. We use purified water that has no minerals in it, along with additives that help prevent corrosion in our ultrasonic cleaner. If we simply left the board lay out overnight after cleaning, it would be completely dry in the morning. We use the alcohol and oven simply to speed up the process so we can get your phone back to you.
Whatever you choose to do about your water soaked phone though, don’t put your phone in rice.