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How to repair a water damaged tablet or smartphone

Phone falling in water

It's the life-giving substance we all rely upon, but the natural enemy of the electronic devices propping up modern society. 

Yes, water and phones are not the kind of winning couple deserving of a tabloid nickname. This is a big problem when, for example, one drops their expensive smartphone in the toilet.

You may say that you shouldn’t text while attending the porcelain throne, and you’d be right, but that’s not much help when a £1000 gadget is already doing its best submarine impression and trying to disappear down the u-bend.

If this happens to you though, don’t panic; with some quick action, it is possible to dry out a water damaged phone and get it working again.

(By the way, while we’re referring mainly to phones here these tips apply to any electronic device, so will also help if it's your iPad or mobile dongle that's gone for a swim.)

How to save a water damaged mobile device

1. Remove it from the water as quickly as possible.

Not that you’re going to just let your iPhone sit submerged for hours if you can help it, but the quicker you can get the device out of the water the more chance you’ll have of getting it working. 

Gadgets are generally built to resist some moisture to prevent them from breaking down in light rain or sweaty palms. A quick drop in the sink or toilet is not necessarily fatal; sending them through a washing machine is far deadlier.

2. Take the battery out

Water plus electricity equals bad times, so removing the battery is priority one. If you’ve got an iPhone or another device with a sealed battery, switch it off straight away. Don’t plug it into the charger or try to use it in any way.

3. Remove all removable parts

Remove everything you can - cases, battery cover, memory card, and any port or slot covers. The SIM card should come out as well; dry it off with a paper towel and put it somewhere safe.

If the phone was dropped in saltwater you should rinse the handset in freshwater as the salt can cause corrosion.

With all removable bits out, give the device a shake to dislodge as much water as possible.

4. Put the phone in a drying agent

An effective method to draw moisture from inside the device is to place it in a drying agent, such as silica gel, instant rice (not uncooked), or couscous.

After drying the outside, cover it in the drying agent. Leave it for at least one day, preferably two or three. Turn the device occasionally to shift water which might be trapped inside. 

Silica gel is the most effective option and can be bought online for a few quid or found in an electronics store. You can also use silica crystal cat litter, but do not use clay or wood litter as this is very dusty.

If no suitable agent is available the next best thing is to leave the device on an open shelf in a well-ventilated room to allow it to air dry.

What not to do

Don't microwave your phone. We shouldn’t have to be saying it but this was the go-to solution for someone with a waterlogged Samsung Galaxy S3 and all it did was burn their handset and make them look foolish. Microwave energy does not play nicely with hardware, it’ll just cause more damage. And don’t we all know by now not to put metal in a microwave?

Don't use a hairdryer. This seems like it should work but you might just be pushing water further into the device’s inner workings. The heat is not going to help matters either, which is why you also shouldn’t stick the phone in an oven.

Don't try to return it under warranty. There are water damage indicators inside the phone which change colour, at least one is usually visible (often in the battery compartment) while the rest are secreted about the internal components. These are very sensitive (they can be tripped by sweat or humidity) so even if you just quickly dropped the phone the sticker will almost certainly have changed colour. If you do take it back to a shop you’re best off not trying to cover it up, they’re only going to find out anyway. Claiming on insurance may not be successful either as many policies exclude water damage. Look for a specialist phone insurance policy that does cover liquids (these policies are now available with many premium current accounts along with other benefits, so speak to your bank).

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