How to fix a water-damaged phone

Try as you might to keep your phone free from danger, sometimes there’s just no helping it. We’ve all been there – a phone down the toilet, caught in the rain, dropped into a cup of tea. But how can you fix a water damaged phone? Here are the best tips and tricks for reviving a drowned phone.

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Phone with coffee spilt on it

Can a water damaged phone be fixed?

This is all dependent on a number of factors that take into consideration the level of damage and the resistance of your phone. As a rule of thumb, unless your handset has a high IP (Ingress Protection) rating, you should never expect your phone to survive anything as traumatic as being dropped in water. Even water-resistant models have their limits, so don’t be thinking you can survive a quick dip in the pool or in sea water when you’re roaming on holiday.

What to do when you drop your phone in water

1. Get it out

Obviously, the faster you can snatch your phone out of liquid, the better. The length of submersion is a big factor as is how many metres the phone has been submerged. For instance, even if your phone has an IP68 rating, then this will mean that phone is only protected for depths of up 1.5 metres.

2. Turn it off

You want to keep the internal circuitry safe, so you should immediately shut it down and do not turn it on again until your phone is completely dry. You may feel compelled to keep trying to turn it on and off but it’s best that no charge is added to the handset at all during the process of trying to dry it out. Even if it looks like the handset is still working after being in water, then still turn it off - there is likely water in the handset and it may take a little longer to get to connections in the phone, but once it does it will break them.

3. Remove what you can

Even though most modern phones don’t have removable batteries and the like, there are things such as SIM cards and SD cards that can be removed from a phone. You don’t want to keep them in a wet phone to slowly have water trickle down to them. They’ll also dry faster out of their casing. If you’re able to totally remove the back of your phone, then do so.

4. Dab off water

Be gentle - rubbing or shaking out water can have the opposite effect and send liquid to new parts of your phone. It is better to dab with a cloth to get any excess water off of the handset. Again, be gentle here - any excessive drying can have an adverse effect.

5. Leave it on towels

Set out a towel or paper towels and put your phone and all its components on it, then leave it for a couple of days. Don’t go running for the hairdryer, you don’t want to soak your phone and then overheat it all in one day. If water only hit the screen and managed to leak under, leave the phone screen-down first of all, so water can head back out and not deeper into the device.

6. Don’t plug it in until it is 100% dry

Water + electrics = bad time. If you take anything away from our guide, then this is it. Trying to plug in something that has been submerged in water before it dries out can have dire consequences as it will essentially fry the circuit board.

Repair a water-damaged phone with rice

The oldest trick in the book:

  • Place your phone in a bowl or bag of rice

  • Make sure it is completely covered

  • Leave for 2-3 days

Does rice actually work for water damage?

Possibly not, but no harm in trying. While placing your phone on a dry surface is essential, rice might not be the most effective choice. For one, it introduces dust and starch to the equation, but according to tests, it doesn’t actually work any quicker than just setting your phone on a countertop and letting it air dry.

How else can I fix water damage on my phone?

Silica gel

Some online stores sell silica gel packets (those little sachets that come in new shoes etc. to keep moisture at bay) and supposedly these can help draw water out of your phone. Again, there is no solid proof that this is any better than rice or just leaving your phone to air dry. 

Professional water damage repair

First things first, when repair shops offer this service, you should not take it as a guarantee that your phone will be repaired. You’ll still have to let your phone dry out completely and the repair shop will inspect, test and clean your phone parts. It’s less of a repair and more of a post-water-damage MOT. You should check your phone is working (after letting it completely dry) before you take this route, otherwise, you’re paying for a service on a dead phone. Even if your phone does work though, a data backup and a new battery might be a better investment of time and money.

The way that a repair shop will dry out your phone is likely putting it in a vacuum then ‘boiling’ the water - the lower the pressure, the lower the temperature needed to boil water and this should help save vital components. If a phone is dried out within 36 hours of submersion then the likelihood of the phone working is higher.

What about pool water or seawater in my phone?

It’s probably game over. Chlorinated pool water and seawater are highly corrosive and will do a lot more damage than simple tap water. Follow the same steps as above, you might get lucky, but the chances of having a phone that works afterwards are much lower.

How does phone water damage happen?

Obviously, dropping your phone in the bath is going to end in water damage, but there are other things you should be aware of, as they can lead to issues with your phone:

Leaving your phone on a wet surface

Leaving your phone on a kitchen counter is always a risky option, who knows what will be spilt or dropped on it. Certainly, you shouldn’t bring your phone to the bathroom with you, even if it’s just on the side while you shower, moisture can quickly build up on surrounding surfaces. 

Using a liquid screen cleaner or wipe

These wet products can sneak under any cracks in your phone screen, you’ll usually be able to tell because your display will darken or be discoloured where liquid has entered. Always be careful when cleaning your phone screen, or use a screen protector.

Condensation

If you have been travelling to a destination with extreme weather, you might end up with condensation or misting under the screen. That probably means you have a crack in your screen. Extremely cold weather can cause screens to become unresponsive or to display with ‘ghosting’, but that doesn’t mean there is any water damage, unless you come into direct contact with snow. 

Is my phone water-resistant?

Making phones water-resistant is nothing new, so you may find your phone can survive an accident or two without a helping hand. You’ll find dozens of water-resistant models released over the past five years of so, here are just some of the names that are water-resistant:

  • iPhone 12 Pro Max

  • Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

  • Samsung Galaxy S20 FE

  • OnePlus 8 Pro

  • Google Pixel 5

If water-resistance is important for you, keep an eye out for an IP rating when you’re looking for your next phone deal.

What’s an IP rating?

An IP (Ingress Protection) rating is an international standard that means your phone has been tested to withstand varying levels of dust, dirt and water submersion. IP ratings come with different numbers, the first refers to resistance to solids like dust and sand, for phones, this is usually 6, meaning you have total protection against the ingress of dust. The second digit refers to water ingress and varies based on the water depth and time spent immersed:

Updated 27 July 2020
RatingWater-resistant depthWater-resistant time span
IP6715cm to 1 metreUp to 30 minutes
IP68*Approx. 1.5 metresApprox. 30 minutes

*The ‘8’ portion of IP68 must be defined and disclosed by the manufacturer, though most major phone brands agree that 1.5 metres for 30 minutes is the standard.

Phone water damage detectors

Some phones will come with a water damage indicator, a type of water-sensitive sticker to confirm if your phone has taken liquid damage or not. You can find this under your battery or near the SIM card. When your phone is in good condition, it is white, but when water damage occurs it will turn pink or red. Pink suggests your phone may be saved, while red means the damage is more extensive. These indicators can sometimes be triggered by non-lethal damage like a raindrop getting into a headphone jack, though, so it’s not always an indication that your phone is doomed. These indicators will also be used by insurance companies. So, if you have immersed your handset and decide not to tell your insurance company when it stops working, then it is likely they will find out that water is the source by checking these stickers. 

Does my phone insurance cover a water-damaged phone?

This depends on your cover. The main UK mobile networks have the following coverage:

EE phone insurance

  • Full cover

  • Damage cover

EE makes no clear distinction about liquid damage, saying only that deliberate damage will not be covered. This suggests that water damage, along with scratches and smashed screens, will be covered, but you should make sure this is the case before you sign up for insurance. EE will supply you with a service phone delivered the next day.

Vodafone phone insurance

  • Damage and breakdown cover

  • Loss, theft, damage and breakdown cover

Vodafone will provide you with a service phone delivered the next day and water and liquid damage is covered on both its plans. You must be able to prove that this damage was completely accidental though, and not due to being reckless with your phone.

O2 phone insurance

  • Damage cover

  • Full cover

O2 provides a service phone or a new phone replacement the next day. O2 insurance covers water damage, but not deliberate damage.

Three phone insurance

  • Damage cover

  • Full cover

Both of Three’s insurance policies will cover water damage, as well as other things like poor battery performance. You’ll get a replacement phone the next day.

Obviously, you cannot retroactively apply for insurance for an already damaged phone. 

What is meant by water damage in my insurance?

You should read the small print of your insurance carefully, as while water damage cover means the physical damage of your phone may be repaired, there is rarely an obligation or even option to have personal data restored or covered. That means you should always have a backup, as your phone may be saved, but only at the cost of being reset and losing all your prized photos.

Will I need to pay insurance excess for phone water damage?

Probably, and the exact amount will vary depending on the sort of cover you have as well as the value of your phone. 

Is my phone warranty the same as insurance?

No, a warranty is like your network’s guarantee of quality – a reliable phone should last at least as long as your given warranty, and if it fails on this front, a warranty means your provider will replace it, or fix the issue. Insurance means your phone will be covered for things that are beyond the remit of the provider, like your phone getting stolen or you dropping it on its screen. 

How can I help prevent water damage?

Aside from keeping your phone away from water, you can help your phone survive any watery encounters by buying a waterproof case. These usually won’t set you back too much, and if you’re going on holiday then you can even get pouch designs – sure, they’re not pretty, but then neither is water or sand damage. 

You can also buy covers just for your phone jacks, depending on your model. While this doesn’t directly do anything to make your phone resistant to water, it can help delay or prevent liquid from entering these vital parts of your phone.