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How to Revive a Cell Phone Dropped in Water | Fixing Wet Electronics | Fixing a Wet Cell Phone

Audiovox 8900 Everyone has probably thought about it. Some may have actually done it. For many cellular phone users one of the worst things to happen would be a catastrophic loss of the mobile because of water. I'm one of those lucky few who have actually ventured into the unknown of wet electronics , and I have, thankfully, come back with a fully functional and fixed phone... twice.

The Story: Dropping My Cell in Water... Twice

A little back-story to begin with: I'm the proud owner of an Audiovox 8900 flip phone, or a Flasher V7 for Virgin Mobile Users. It's a middle-aged camera phone, not new but not old, and I've been quite happy with it. While on vacation, the phone's small size led me to accidently leave my phone in my pants pocket. The unfortunate thing is that I didn't catch it when it went into the washer, and I didn't notice when it got put in the dryer either.

The second incident, occurred closer to home. The same players were involved: pocket, washer, and phone. However, this time I thought I had lost my phone, only to find it washed. I had obviously made some progress, as this time I didn't send it through the dryer.

The Hope: Your Phone Can be Fixed

Most modern electronics protect themselves, hard drives shut off when there is a fall, CPUs throttle down when overheated, and most phones shut off when wet. Mind you, they are not designed to fall in water.

The Bad: Water Damage May Have Killed Your Mobile

Electronics and water still don't mix. If after completing this guide, and/or sending your phone to a professional data recovery specialist, remember to get it recycled. Most towns have free electronics recycling days. Remember, fish (and humans) don't like lithium. On an off note, if you need to replace your phone's lithium ion battery, use new name-brand replacements because of recent battery recalls by Dell and Apple. Incidents such as exploding Brazilian cell phones and flaming Dell laptops have occurred. Although, in most cases they are extremely isolated and (after the fact) more comical than dangerous.

The Solution: Fixing a Wet Cell Phone

Fortunately, there is a good chance your phone will still work, especially if the phone was off when it got wet. The first thing to do is to take out the battery as soon as possible. If the phone was in any sort of strongly corrosive liquid rinse it ASAP. Next, let the phone dry out, preferably over a central air vent or lamp, preferably in a low humidity area. Remember to place the battery on the vent also (avoiding the battery contacts). For flip phones or the like, open it and place it keys down. Some people recommend putting your phone in an oven at the lowest setting(~125 F), however, I think the chance for catastrophic failure is pretty high in that case.

After two to seven days, depending on the urgency, you have two options. The first is to reattach the battery, plug the phone into its charger, and turn on the phone. In both of the cases when I washed my phone, the phone turned on, but after the welcome screen it turned off again. The last resort is to buy a replacement battery to make sure that's not the problem, but the steps below are free, except for your time.

After this point you can either give up, and buy a new phone, or proceed further if you're brave. You need good eyesight and some dexterity along with a small + and - screwdriver (a small glasses screwdriver works), an open space, 90%-100% Isopropyl Rubbing Alcohol, q-tips and a computer case or some other thing to ground yourself on. The goal is to disassemble the phone, either to let it dry out more, or if you are comfortable around electronics, carefully swab everything with rubbing alcohol to clean off any debris that might have gotten into the phone. An alternative option at this point is to simply rinse your phone in a cup of 100% isopropyl alcohol, the alchohol is hydrophobic and nonconductive which may help remove any contaminants and water left in the phone. However, opening up and swabbing the phone may give you a better chance of recovery. Needless to say you're voiding the warranty by proceeding any farther, however, your warranty was most likely voided anyway when the phone got wet. Almost all phones have color-change indicators (usually red dots) under the battery to tell if they have gotten wet, so it isn't worth trying to fool the manufacturer or provider.

To get to the electronic innards, you need to take apart the case of your phone. First, remove all of the screws, some may not have them, but some do. The screwdriver you have should work, but some phones may have torx (hexagonal) screws. This is the point that you've got to give up some cosmetic appeal over functionality. Most likely the plastic may be accidentally scratched, but a pretty phone is worthless without working. Look in the space beneath the battery and underneath cosmetic stickers for the screws. Sometimes screws are located in the socket that plastic flaps, that cover various ports, are stuck in. This is probably the most challenging part, because often manufacturer's hide screws in very odd places. The arrows below point to locations where screws are on the example phones. Hover over the image to see the caption.

Torx screws on a Kyocera made phone All of these screws (except one) have had a cosmetic sticker/plastic nub removed to expose them Screws underneath a battery and plastic flap

After you've carefully stashed the screws in a safe place you've got some prying to do. The cases of most phones are held together by small plastic clips that require some force to get them released. You'll need to pry using the standard flat screwdriver, though be careful and don't get frustrated. After you get one tab free the rest should come easily.

Now the PCB and the LCD screen of your phone is exposed, and you need to touch the case of a computer case (or other ground) to discharge static electricity that could damage your phone. Be very careful around the exposed electronics, as they can easily be physically damaged, but as long as you take care it should't be an issue. Now pour the rubbing alcohol over the entire phone while over a sink and let it sit until most of the loose liquid drains. Now with the q-tips swab all of the electronics completely and fully, if you're more accomplished take out the PCBs and clean off both sides, and un-attach any internal cables and swab them and their connections with a dab of rubbing alcohol. Now let it sit for another day , and put it back together in reverse order. Try it with and without the charger attached if it doesn't start up on the first try.

Hopefully, your phone works, and even so you've rescued it this time, it's a good idea to back up your contacts and other information. Some phones come with backup software, but in some instances and pad and a pen work best. Thanks for reading and good luck.

Kevin C. Apr. 28th 2006 kcas88@gmail.com

- Updated May 2nd 2006, May 10th 2006, July 3rd 2006, July 9th 2006, August 27th 2006

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