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What Happens When a Smartphone Gets Wet?

What Happens When A Smartphone Gets Wet?

By Jim Alcott, Data Recovery/Forensic Engineer
Wet smartphone
How many people do you know that have dropped their phone in water? Chances are you know at least two or three. If the data on a water-logged phone is backed up, then the data is safe. Just buy another phone, restore data from the backup and the new phone is good to go.
No backup? Well…that’s different. If the smartphone won’t turn on, you can buy a replacement, forget about the contents and start making backups for your new information.
However, if the data is important, you need to find someone to help. And this needs to be done quickly or the loss will become permanent.

What Happens Inside a Wet Phone?

There are three types of major internal components that can be damaged.
The capacitors, resistors and integrated circuits (ICs) including the memory chip are all mounted on the printed circuit board (PCB) inside the phone. There are hundreds of these components—some so tiny they cannot be seen with the naked eye. Work must be done under a high-power microscope.
For example, there are 760 capacitors in an iPhone 6 and every one of them is subject to failure, affecting the operation of the device. There are also thousands of solder connections that can and will be affected by corrosion. The process of checking each connection is complex but important in order to learn the magnitude of the problem and also to identify what parts need to be manipulated in the lab.

The Need for Speed

Speed is really of the essence. Even just a few days can make a big difference in the final outcome. Each story is different and there is no prescribed formula for the advance of corrosion on a device. It’s hard to estimate how quickly a phone’s components will break down, but the quicker we can get the device, the better our chances of a good recovery.
You need an experienced data recovery service, like DriveSavers, to work on a wet phone. The longer it takes to start the work, the greater the chance of losing everything important on the water-damaged device. The idea is to slow down any corrosion before permanent data loss occurs.

Step One: Cut the Power

If you are able to remove the battery from your water-damaged phone, that is the first thing you should do. An electric charge from the battery could cause more rapid corrosion of the phone’s memory, data circuits and other flash components. If the battery is not meant to be removed from the phone, do not attempt to do so. Opening the sealed device may cause further damage.
Never try to charge a water-damaged phone or attempt to restart it once it fails. Introducing an electronic charge in the device when it’s wet could actually speed up the corrosion process and make matters worse.

Step Two: Bag It and Tag It

Dry the outside of the wet device with a dry towel, put it in a ziplock bag and seal it. Do not add any additional liquids to the bag. By maintaining the current moisture level, we can slow the advance of corrosion that—over time—will destroy the phone’s components.

What About Rice?

Despite any “Internet” guidance to the contrary, do not put the device in a bag of rice.
If your phone has been submerged in water, that water has found its way into every nook and cranny. That’s what liquid does—it flows into any open space it can access.
Putting your phone into a drying agent like rice will only work to absorb water on the surface of your phone and close to the surface. It will not reach those little nooks and crannies between the metal components and connections that make your phone work. In addition, the epoxy that holds the electronics in place within your phone will retain moisture and will not fully dry from this method.
In addition, rice naturally has dust and grime on it that usually makes its way into the device. It can gunk up the components just like corrosion does. In fact, we see many devices with actual grains of rice still inside the enclosure.
If the phone does initially turn on after trying the rice trick, don’t expect it to function for long. The hidden moisture will work to corrode metal connections and sooner or later (likely sooner) your phone will fail permanently.
Once enough corrosion has occurred, no trick in the book, amateur or professional, will work to bring back your phone or anything you have on it. Your pictures and videos, your contacts, your notes—all lost forever.
If the rice does manage to dry out your phone enough for it to work temporarily, you can at least use that time to transfer all of your important data to another device before it is gone for good.
However, if you power up your phone when it has not sufficiently dried out, you will likely short out the circuitry of your phone, essentially frying its components and reducing the chances of saving your data to less than 10%.
Should you leave the phone in rice for a longer period of time? No, as this just gives the hidden moisture more time to corrode the inner workings, which may also permanently destroy the phone and any data stored on it.

Prevent Data Loss from Water

Clearly, the first suggestion is for you to backup your data. No matter what precautions you take, you never really know what the future may hold. If the data on your phone is important to you, back it up to at least two places. For example, a computer and the cloud.
There are all kinds of accessories meant to protect your phone from water damage. These include waterproof cases, bags and other containers. You could also purchase a water resistant phone, although you should probably avoid contact with water even with these.
Whatever path you choose to protect your photos, videos, contacts and other data, DriveSavers is here to help in any type of data loss situation. Call 24/7 at 800.440.1904.

Further Reading

Check out these other articles about wet phones:

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