Fixing a water damaged iPhone 4S

Fixing a water damaged iPhone 4S

Summary: There are no guarantees, but if your iPhone's gone for a swim, then this is worth a try.

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Today's mailbox question:

HELP! I just dropped my iPhone 4S into the toilet! What do I do?

Well, prevention is better than cure, but you're past that point now so it's too late to give you a lecture! This procedure will also work for the iPhone 4, as well as earlier models and iPods, but don't try to take these devices apart).

First off, you're iPhone's been dropped into the best liquid possible for a successful repair. Water, while perfectly capable of destroying delicate electronic devices is a lot better than other liquids. Beer and sodas are worse because they can cause more corrosion and the sugar makes it hard to remove the residue.

Chlorinated water, such as swimming pool water, is much worse and can severely damage the circuitry. Salt or sea water is by far the worse and can cause massive corrosion inside the handset in a short period of time.

If your handset's been damaged by anything other than water, I suggest that you seek a professional repair. My advice here relates only to water damage.

Here's what you should do:

  1. Fish your iPhone out of the water as quickly as possible.
  2. Power it off immediately. Running power through wet electronics can damage them beyond repair.
  3. Dry the outside of the handset. Remove the SIM card tray and SIM card and dry them off.
  4. If possible, remove the rear glass panel off your iPhone. Apple uses two special 5-point Pentalobe screws to secure the back, but I've managed to remove these little nasties with a small, straight-edged jeweler's screwdriver. Take care not to strip the heads of the screws.
  5. Find a Ziploc bag and fill it with either uncooked rice or silica gel, if you have access to it, and dump the handset into the bag and seal it up. Don't try to be clever and use heat to try to speed up the drying process as you're likely to damage the handset.
  6. Leave the handset in the bag for a day or two.
  7. After a couple of days take out the handset. If you took it apart, then you'll need to reassemble it, and see if it powers on. If it does, you're in luck.

For people who are prone to getting their electronics wet, it might be worthwhile investing in some BHEESTIE dry out bags. They're not cheap, but they're very effective.

One problem that I've both heard about and seen personally following repairing a flooded iPhone is that the battery can be damaged and no longer hold a full charge. If you notice this then you'll need to replace the battery. Fortunately, this is both quick and easy to do -- as long as you can get past those Pentalobe screws.

Topics: iPhone, Hardware, Mobility

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20 comments
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  • haha

    Did you just take this from what nokia released about fixing a water damaged phone and then add 1 point to take the screen off?

    Quite humorous....
    danjames2012
    • Probably not.

      Its all over the net. Anyway, my advice if it happens to you is to get it professionally repaired, even if it is ONLY water damage. Dropped my 4s into my daughters hot chocolate a week after I got it. Tried all kinds or things (including the above) and ended up having to call it a day after many nerve racking days of waiting, checking rice, etc. Probably should have sort out professional advice straight away which may have saved the phone. Now have a phone in a thousand bits and pretty much useless. I tell you, taking apart and attempting to repair an iPhone is certainly not for the faint hearted and probably not worth the trouble, IMO. Ended up getting an Android on a different contract....
      tora201
      • ..

        I once dropped my Motorola phone (before smart phones) into a pint of vodka i was about to neck, it worked great still, made me want a drink every time i smelt it though.
        danjames2012
      • Just don't try it with the

        Nokia Lumia 900 "Hero" phone. From what I've seen of them you can't even replace the battery, as the case appears to be welded shut.
        Jumpin Jack Flash
      • You were lucky

        @danjames2012

        Fortunately, alcohol tends to be less conductive than tap water... Depending on the impurities contained within said vodka.

        Much better than dropping into the toilet IMHO.
        WinTard
  • Just iPhones?

    Shouldn't this work for just about any phone or other electronic device?
    A. G.
    • But only iPhones get dropped in toilets.

      No one in their right mind would have another cellphone out, in the bathroom. Don't you remember that Ad for WP 7. You only drop iPhones in the bathroom, cause WP 7 will save us, from our phones ;)
      Jumpin Jack Flash
  • it does but....

    Corrosion buildup on any of the internal components can cause a short. In devices that you can NOT remove the battery you stand a better chance of ending up with a paperweight due to power still running though the wet device. Nearly the same thing when a customer spills something on their laptop. Most do not rush to take out the battery before drip damage.
    Nate_K
    • In the late 90s are early part of this centruy

      Aqueous cleaning systems were all the rage. Manufacturers would clean PC boards in these large dishwashers used De-ionized water to clean printed circuit boards, without damaging them. I have in the past put computer parts in a dishwasher with out detergent and when it was out of Jet-dry, to clean them It always worked before I've even intentionally put a cellphone through a wash cycle, after it fell in the bathtub, the four year old slipped, and my wife dropped the phone to catch her.
      Jumpin Jack Flash
  • AppleCare+

    If you had AppleCare+, I think that covers accidental water damage now.
    teetee1970
    • They do charge an additional fee

      AppleCare+ costs $99 to get the coverage, and then a service fee of $49 per event for the maximum of two events. So basically it will cost you $150 to fix it if you drop it in the toilet. Better than a full replacement, but I'm sure Apple is making a lot of money off these insurance packages.
      Digger_z
  • Lanyard....

    I must be the ONLY ONE missing the hand lanyard hook option. Even Maglite removed it from their XL lights. Odd, but phones in the EU have hooks. Maybe the vendors want us to drop the phones. So far all the pocket cameras still have them, maybe they will learn from the Apple marketing gurus!
    SnappyD3
  • Take it as a sign

    Flush it and take the opportunity to upgrade to an Android or Windows phone :)
    john-whorfin
  • EEEW

    Could you at least specified they dropped it into the toilet BEFORE they used it?
    fldbryan@...
  • Non removable batteries: baaaad

    This is one of the problems with non-removable batteries. On the rare occasions in which I've done something similar (to an old feature phone) the first thing I did was yank the battery.
    dsf3g
  • iPhone 4 Water Damage Repair Guide

    We, at Florida iDoctor, do things a bit differently in terms of addressing water-damaged smartphones that make their way into our shop. You see, we are located in Palm Harbor, Florida and only a stones-throw away from the beach!

    Of course, the first thing we tell our clients is IF your phone hits the water, to get it to us asap. Rice can work okay in a pinch, but the actual success rate using a bowl of rice is quite low if it were scientifically studied. Fresh water is bad for any smartphone. Pool water (with chlorine) is the next worse type of water infiltration. The most caustic of all water is salt water. Water with high levels of NaCl (salt) is very damaging to electronics due to the high level of corrosivity. Our recommendation is if your phone falls in salt water, to actually rinse it off under tap water in order to try and wash away some of the salt residual. We also ask them to remove the battery (if possible). One word of extreme caution...DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT try and power on your phone to see if it still works no matter how tempting that may seem. You are certainly likely to short out motherboard components if current is applied through the circuits of a water-logged phone.

    With that being said, once a client brings us their water-logged phone, the first thing we do is remove the battery. We then tear the phone down to the basic components (battery, frame, motherboard, cameras, etc). Once it is taken apart, we place the motherboard in an professional-grade ultrasonic cleaner using a proprietary dielectric cleaning fluid. This is one of the keys along with making sure the fluid is heated up. Once the board has come out of the ultrasonic cleaner, we rinse it off thoroughly with a deionized (DI) water. DI water is ultra pure and this rinse step will ensure that there are no trace contaminants on the board.

    We then take the clean motherboard and put it into a container of desiccant along with all of the other components of the phone. We use a proprietary desiccant with the highest adsorption rate of any desiccant available on the market. This is super-critical so that you can wick away any moisture from the motherboard and the components as quickly AND EFFECTIVELY as possible.

    We let everything sit in the desiccant for 24 hours to ensure complete moisture removal. Once complete, we reinstall all of the components and also install a NEW BATTERY (NOTE: We recommend never reinstalling the same battery once it has come into contact with water).

    I hope this helps the readers of this great guide. We utilize iFixIt every day in repairing phones in our shop and therefore, we believe in contributing to this guide. If anyone needs further help with this process, simply let us know. Since our store is located near the Gulf of Mexico in Palm Harbor, FL we see water damaged iPhones in our shop every day. This process we listed here has achieved over a 74% success rate in restoring water damaged iPhones.

    Rick
    Florida iDoctor
    Florida iDoctor
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