iPhone with water on screen

Your Phone Got Wet. What Should You Do?

It doesn’t matter how it happened, the bottom line is that you have a wet phone. And now you need to save it. Fast!

So what do you do when you drop your phone in water or get it wet?

If you start by searching Google, you might already be off to a slow start. Do you know why? The problem with starting from Google is that advice from news outlets and technical writers often outranks advice from actual data recovery experts. 

And that is a problem because (as you will see below) advice from technical writers is often very different than advice from data recovery experts. 

One writes for a living, one recovers data for a living. Who would you rather take advice about saving a wet phone from?

If you answered data recovery expert, keep reading. 

Search Engine Results Are Confusing!

When you look at search engine results for saving a wet phone, almost all of them agree on the importance of cutting power to the phone as quickly as possible. But beyond that, there is not much consensus. 

  • DO use a hairdryer to dry out the phone and blow out excess water.
  • DON’T use a hairdryer because it will push water deeper into the phone, and the heat can damage the phone.
  • DO stick your phone in rice to dry it out. The rice will absorb any moisture.
  • DON’T stick your phone in rice. It won’t help to dry out the phone and will introduce more contaminants.
  • DO dry your phone out first. It’s the best way to save a wet phone.
  • DON’T dry your phone out first. The best way to save a wet phone is to first displace the water. 

The answers are all over the place! While there is some really great advice, there is just as much bad advice. It’s easy to see how starting with Google can be a good first step, but it can also be the first step to making a bad situation worse.

We’re here to help you sort through all the answers, to filter out the bad advice and focus on the good. 

What qualifies us to talk about saving water damaged cell phones? We have 18 years experience in data recovery and specialize in dealing with water damaged phones. Two out of every three phones we service has had some type of liquid damage. 

We have seen – and recovered – it all. We have an extensive knowledge base of common problems and fixes related to water damaged phones. And we work with a large network of data recovery professionals to share best tactics and techniques. We also support a consumer’s right to repair. All of this has taught us the best (and worst) ways to handle a phone that has fallen into water. We want to share our knowledge with you and in the process save as many wet phones as possible.

How Do You Save a Wet Phone?

So really, how do you save a wet phone? What do data recovery experts recommend that technical writers and news outlets miss? 

Save a Wet Phone in 4 Steps (Advice from Data Recovery Experts)

1. Turn It Off and Leave It Off!

If the phone is still on, shut the phone down via the touchscreen or by removing the battery. This is challenging because most newer phones are sealed and you can’t get to the battery with taking the phone apart first. 

Whatever you do, resist the temptation to turn on the phone – or even worse – plug it into a wall charger. Adding electricity to a phone’s circuits that have been compromised by liquid damage can cause irreparable harm to key components and make the phone unrecoverable, even by data recovery professionals.

2. Open It Up.

(This step was skipped by nearly all major news outlets, even though in many cases it is extremely important!) Unless you can see the liquid damage yourself, you won’t know how bad it is inside the phone. 

When you open up a phone, you get access to the phone’s internals in preparation for a deeper cleaning. To open up the phone yourself, we recommend a search of videos for your specific model phone with the word “teardown.” Pay attention to the tools you’ll need and the level of difficulty. If you’re confident you can do it, proceed. But if you’re not sure, or if the photos you need to recover are irreplaceable, what should you do then? This is where you call a data recovery professional. 

muddy iPhone logic board

3. Dry It Off.

If you made it this far, congratulations! You are a true do-it-yourselfer. Now disassemble the phone as much as possible. Remove the screen, battery, connectors and cameras. Dry off any visible liquid with a paper towel. 

Before moving on to the next step, we need to address the rice myth. Do not stick your phone in rice to dry it out. Why not? Put simply, because it doesn’t work. When you put your phone in rice, or even silica gel packets, you might feel like you’re doing something productive, but in actuality, you are only delaying proper treatment of the phone. If your phone works after the “rice treatment,” it most likely never needed it. One study evaluating the effectiveness of rice to dry out phones found that in a 48 hour period, rice was slower to work than just leaving the phone out on the counter. 

4. Clean It Out.

(This was the other step that most major news outlets and technical writers missed.) Once you have removed and isolated the logic board, you are ready to clean it out. Remove any visible corrosion from the logic board by gently scrubbing with 99% isopropyl alcohol and a toothbrush. Use a magnifying glass to help you to see what you can’t see.

Most newer phones also have shields covering some of the components. It’s best to remove them if there’s a chance water has gotten underneath.  Some shields can be gently pried off but to remove any soldered-on shields you will need to carefully remove them with hot air and tweezers. If you’re new to this shield removal, you’ll want to practice and learn the technique first before risking it in your water-damaged phone.

Can I Turn It on Now?  

You’ll have to make this call. It may be worth a try if the damage was relatively minor and you followed all these steps. After reassembling the phone and connecting the battery, prompt it to boot by plugging in the USB cable. If you see a logo and get to the home screen, great job – you did it!  

What are some other possible outcomes? 

  • The phone gets hot;
  • You have no display or touch;
  • The logo is looping on boot up or stays on indefinitely; or
  • The USB is not working.

If you experience any of these issues, rest assured that you’ve done all you can and it’s time to call a reputable data recovery professional. They have access to extensive troubleshooting and micro soldering tools, plus the hands-on experience that comes with working on dozens or more of similar cases, and a network of professional support.

removing iphone shield from logic board with hot air

Commonly Asked Questions About Water Damaged Phones

How long you should leave a wet phone turned off for, and when is it okay to turn it back on?  

There is no recommended timeframe. Each case is different. A wet phone should only be turned on after it has been thoroughly dried and cleaned following these steps.  To do otherwise risks damage to phone components that could otherwise make the phone unrecoverable. 

I only need the last day of photos. Are there any shortcuts to getting the data off the phone? Can I buy data recovery software do this?

No. Because the user data is encrypted by default, the phone itself must become working again before you can pull any data from it. Software can’t fix hardware issues. (The only exception are legacy phones that came with Android 5.1 OS or below – these are eligible for chip-off data recovery). The phone’s logic board must be repaired to a minimum level so that at least the display, touch, memory, and CPU functions work. Once the phone comes on and boots completely, it can be connected to a trusted computer to read the data. Locked phones will still require the user passcode or gesture to unlock. 

What should I look for in a data recovery service that can fix my water-damaged phone? 

First, it’s important to accept that most water-damaged phones will not be fixed by data recovery companies. The primary purpose of the service is data recovery – not making the phone 100% functional again.  Look for data recovery companies that are experienced in microsoldering, troubleshooting phone logic boards, and have top reviews. Be prepared to send your phone out to a professional data recovery service. Our experience is that most local repair shops do not do more than basic part swaps of screens and batteries.