A colleague recently suffered an accident involving a submerged iPhone. This person had accidental damage coverage from the carrier and was wondering what steps to take upon initial submersion, and what the best options are for replacement.
Put it in Rice?
Rice is commonly recommended as the remedy for liquid-exposed electronics. The idea is that you can minimize or resolve liquid exposure damage by putting the wet device in a bag of rice. Following this strategy, the rice actually does help by drawing moisture out of the surrounding air, which helps the surrounding air absorb more moisture from the device.
The rice immersion technique has some drawbacks, however. It inhibits the circulation of surrounding air, which significantly diminishes the helpfulness of this strategy. In addition, rice dust and tiny rice bits can get in the device and cause potential new problems, especially when this debris interacts with moisture in the device.
On the other hand…it’s been suggested that as a cooking hack you might add phones to rice if you accidentally put too in much water. 😉
COOKING HACK: if you put too much water in your rice, toss a few phones in there pic.twitter.com/hKNFpmfwAp
— Ben Cohen (@UniqueDude2) September 4, 2015
Use a Fan
Although Apple has no official recommendation for responding to liquid exposure, many of us who handled a lot of wet iPhones developed the opinion that a fan is a better strategy.
A fan blowing on the device will allow surrounding air to absorb more moisture from the device by constantly replacing the surrounding, moisture-absorbing air. I suppose this may not be as effective when it’s really humid out. In which case, maybe rice would be better. On second thought, maybe still still skip the rice and just wait until it’s not so humid out, then use a fan. (It might seem obvious, but never use an oven.)
Apart from a few very small openings, most devices are sealed up relatively well, however, and neither the fan nor the rice will accelerate the drying time very dramatically over just letting the device sit and dry unassisted.
Effects of Liquid Exposure
Ultimately, neither method will likely have much effect on the outcome. The device either shorted when it got wet—in which case, it’s never going to work when it dries out. Or the device didn’t get shorted when it got wet. If it didn’t get shorted, there’s a decent chance it will work when the phone eventually dries out, whether you used a fan, rice or neither.
A short is when the liquid allows electrical current to flow to places where it shouldn’t, which causes damage to one or more of the components. This is the initial concern when an electronic device gets wet. The only way to prevent a short after liquid exposure is to power down the device immediately—not just put it in sleep or standby, but actually powering down. Then you want to make sure the device has dried out completely before trying to power it on again. This may take days. There’s no good way, short of opening the phone, to tell when it’s completely dry. The longer you wait the better. I usually advise several days in front of a fan.
Liquid-exposed components are likely to develop corrosion over time. Even if the phone powers back on after drying, there’s still the danger of corrosion developing in the areas that were exposed to liquid. It’s not uncommon for liquid-exposed devices to work after drying out, then start developing issues weeks or even months later. Speaker issues, charging issues, and other dock-related issues are common outcomes of corrosion that develops down the road after liquid exposure.
Here’s a couple additional iPhone-specific points around this topic. Repair technicians can tell if an iPhone has been submerged. iPhones have liquid contact indicators (LCIs) that turn red when exposed to liquid. If you bring an iPhone in for warranty repair and the LCIs are “tripped,” the phone will be considered out of warranty, even if you argue that the phone got wet months ago and has been doing fine ever since it dried out.
If you bring a toilet-submerged iPhone in for help, let the technician know that it’s a “toilet phone” right off the bat. They’ll appreciate it and will know to don the rubber gloves before checking out your phone. They’ll also be more inclined to offer you all the leeway they can muster, in appreciation of your consideration. Technicians can tell if a device got wet. If you offer no explanation, they’ll have to guess what happened, and probably assume it’s a toilet phone you’re not telling them about.
Finally, make sure you know your Apple ID and password if you need to bring an iPhone in. Most phones are locked down with iCloud’s Find My iPhone feature. If you don’t know the Apple ID and password to turn this off, the technician won’t be able to help you recover and/or transfer your phone’s contents to a replacement.
If you get your iPhone wet and you need to get it replaced or repaired, your options can be confusing.
All Apple products come with an automatic one-year warranty, covering issues that aren’t caused by accidental damage. Apple also offers AppleCare extended warranty coverage to extend the warranty to two years on phones and three years on computers. It also entitles you to free tech support for the same period.
It’s important to understand that AppleCare does not cover accidental damage. It’s a warranty extension, not insurance. With iPhones and iPads, it’s a bit different than computers. The extended coverage is called AppleCare+ (pronounced AppleCare plus), and allows for discounted replacements and repair. Neither AppleCare not AppleCare+ offers any kind of coverage for lost or stolen phones or computer.
Most iPhone carriers (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, etc.) also offer their own version of coverage. With these, customers commonly pay a monthly fee of around $10 – $20 per month, and covers iPhones and iPads with discounted replacements or repairs.
Apple’s AppleCare+ will get you up to two replacements for accidental damage for $99 (at last check, this could change), but does not help at all if the phone is lost or stolen. In fact, AppleCare+, and the built-in warranty, are tied to the serial number of the device and not the owner. So people who found or stole an iPhone could still take advantage of the original owner’s AppleCare+.
Most carrier-provided coverage plans allow for a discounted replacement even if the phone is lost or stolen. Average replacement cost is about $199 though. Replacing a lost or stolen phone would otherwise starts at $650 for the current-model iPhone.
Another caveat with carrier-provided coverage is what can happen to your Apple warranty if you get your iPhone replaced under this coverage. Many carrier coverage plans replace phones with rebuilt phones. These rebuilt phones commonly have a replacement display or replacement battery. Replacement of parts like this will void the Apple warranty (unless done by Apple or an Authorized Apple Service Provider).
The typical scenario seen at the Apple Store is, within the first year after buying a phone, a person loses his or her phone, or get it wet, and then has it replaced by their carrier’s coverage plan. At some point after replacement, still within the first year of purchase, some non-accidental issue would come up with the replacement phone. The person brings it into the carrier who tells the customer that, since they purchased their phone less than a year previously, they’re still covered by Apple’s warranty, and advises the customer to take it to Apple to have it replaced. The customer brings it to the Apple Store, where they open it and see third-party components and tell the customer that their phone’s warranty is void and that they need to have their carrier address the problem or pay Apple to address the issue out-of-warranty.
Bottom line is, if you get a replacement phone from your carrier, from that point out, you’ll likely have to deal with your carrier for any issues that come up with the phone.
Carrier coverage is nice, although pricey, peace of mind, and really pays off is you lose your phone. For most people, however, the best option might be to get AppleCare+ and also pay $11 per month to a savings account you set up to help pay for a lost or stolen phone should you ever need to.