Help! I dropped my phone in water!


Phone in toilet

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It’s the ultimate “Oh crap!” moment: You pull your pants down to use the toilet and hear a splash as that expensive cell phone drops from your pocket into the water.

According to cell phone repair companies, fixing iPhones and other smartphones with water damage accounts for a significant portion of their business.

A study by marketing agency 11mark found that 75 percent of Americans with mobile phones admitted to using their phone in the bathroom, which adds up to a lot of cell phones precariously close to water.

“We get ‘I dropped [my phone] in the toilet’ once or twice a day,” says Roger Kabir, owner of cell phone repair company Dr. Phonez in San Antonio, where water damage repairs start at $80 and go up depending on whether or which components need replaced. Dr. Phonez uses a proprietary system, “Drybox,” to draw out moisture before cleaning internal parts with an ultrasonic alcohol bath.

While dropping your iPhone or smartphone in water will typically void the warranty — most phones have indicators that will change color when they get wet — cell phone repair companies offer storefront or mail-in services for everything from cracked screens to water damage.


Dropped your phone in the toilet? It happens

If you've dropped your phone in the toilet, you're not alone.

It happened to Angie’s List member Pam Murphy of Waxhaw, North Carolina, when her Motorola Droid smartphone took a plunge in the porcelain pool.

“The first thing I went was, ‘Ewww,’” she recalls. “But I heard the splash and then just didn’t think. I reached in.”

Her quick reaction — swiftly removing the cell phone battery, drying off the water with a towel, wiping it with rubbing alcohol and letting the smartphone air dry — helped resuscitate and fix the water-damaged phone. It worked, but Murphy’s phone-fishing adventure left her setting her sights on a new water-resistent cell phone.

But for the oopsies with a cell phone that isn’t waterproof, there’s still hope.


Beyond rice: How to save a wet cell phone

Cell phone repair experts say to avoid water damage, start by removing your cell phone from the water immediately.

• Remove the phone battery if you can. Some smartphones, such as the iPhone, don’t allow the battery to be removed, so at least turn your cell phone power off.

• Resist turning it back on or plugging it in, which can ruin internal components and destroy the phone.

• Despite its popularity as a wet-device cure, placing your cell phone in a bag of uncooked rice may dry it out but won’t always be enough to fix the phone since minerals in the water can dry and potentially react with materials inside the phone.

• Take the device to a phone repair shop within a day or two, so they can take it apart, dry everything inside, clean off minerals that could cause corrosion and replace any parts that no longer work.


Cell phone repair companies secret: alcohol

Even if the water-damaged cell phone appears dry, minerals that were in the water can corrode delicate metal components over time, according to Ned Hosic, founder of Boston iPhone Repair.

Isopropyl alcohol is a key ingredient in scrubbing away any impurities in the water. A cell phone repair company can take the phone apart, clean off those minerals and sanitize a cell phone that fell in water, whether it was the toilet, the sink or the ocean.

“It may work fine right away, and slowly begin to lose one function, then another, until it’s completely dead,” Hosic says, adding it’s impossible to predict what’s salvageable without opening the phone case.


What's it cost to fix a water-damaged phone?

Cody Spears, co-owner of Cell Phone Repair Atlanta, says when owners bring in water-damaged cell phones quickly after being dropped in water — and the person hasn’t tried to charge or use the cell phone, which can short-circuit the logic board — his company has about an 80 percent success rate on water-damage cell phone repairs.

The cost to repair water-damaged smartphones at Cell Phone Repair starts at $75. The cost goes up until it reaches the “beyond economical repair” stage, when it’s cheaper to buy a new phone than to fix the cell phone, Spears says. 

Other than steer clear of water, Spears advises customers with wet phones to keep electricity out if you hope to revive the dead cell phone. “The best thing you can do is not power it on and get into a repair place as soon as possible,” he says.

None of the companies interviewed offers a warranty for water-damage repairs because of the unpredictable nature of the fixes.


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This article was written by Meranda Adams, Angie’s List.

Unsure what to do with that old broken technology? You might be able to repair it!