fix a wet phone

How I saved a soggy iPhone

July 14th, 2009  |  Tags: ,  |  4 Comments

Andrea accidentally left her phone on the roof of our car for about a day and a half last week. While the phone was on top of the car we drove about ten miles and there were several substantial rainstorms. Fortunately, the phone was not physically damaged or lost, but it was totally soaked by the rainstorms: there was water inside the case and obvious condensation inside the phone itself.

When she discovered her phone, it wouldn’t power on. I assumed that the battery was simply dead (probably a good thing). I plugged it in via USB, just to get an idea of whether the phone was completely toasted or not. The phone powered up, but the display backlight flickered and cut out. The touchscreen seemed to work (when the display was working, at least). I could see a thin layer of water inside the display itself (not merely under the screen) on about a quarter of the face of the device on the top and right edges. There were fairly large water droplets visible in the camera lens, as in the “from outside” picture below:


Here’s what I did next, which wound up restoring the phone to working order:

  1. I powered the phone off and considered my drying options. (I rejected a hair dryer, because the heat was too hot, too focused, and because the device was too fiddly.)
  2. I figured that solder would probably be the first thing to melt inside the device. (Anything else would be attached via solder and presumably less likely to melt first.) I don’t know of any commercial solder that melts at less than 200 degrees F (most solder has a much higher melting point), but some components of the display might not react well to such high temperatures.I was interested in not exceeding the typical operating temperature range of the device. Therefore, I needed need a way to keep it at around 100–130 degrees in a fairly dry environment.
  3. The oven I had exclusive access to would preheat to 170 degrees, but not to the 100–130 degrees I was interested in. I figured that through some combination of preheating the oven and then turning it off, opening the oven to cool it to 120 degrees, and using the oven light, I’d be able to maintain a a reasonable temperature. (The oven light by itself will keep an oven warm enough to raise bread or make yogurt — about 100–115 degrees.)
  4. I set the phone at an angle between the base and wall of an enamel saucepan, since I didn’t want too much of the phone’s surface area touching the pan. I then placed the pan in the oven with the phone facing the oven light.
  5. After a few hours, the large droplets were no longer visible in the camera lens. (See the figure above.) However, I noted that there was still water in the display at this point, which began evaporating (and condensing on the lens) after about four hours. All in all, the phone was totally dry after about eighteen hours in a lukewarm oven; I left it in for a while longer just to be sure.

I think the major points to take away for people who find themselves in this situation are simple: an oven light is probably your friend, it will probably take at least an overnight stay in the oven, and don’t power it on unless it’s appeared dry for a while — there may be more water left. Oh, and you probably don’t want to power on the soaked phone (that will likely do more harm than good). However, because I did, I know that this method of drying phones actually restored a nonfunctional phone to working order. Although “data” isn’t the plural of “anecdote,” I’m interested in hearing from anyone else who uses this method to save a phone.

Finally: follow these instructions at your own risk. Specifically, don’t blame me if your phone comes out of the oven puffed, soufflĂ©-like, and still nonfunctional.