Understanding Waterproofing and Water Damage on Smartphones

by Nosherwan Khan
waterproofing water damage understanding smartphones RepairDesk blog

Water damage is an all-too-common occurrence with phones these days. Smartphones often get exposed to water at some point during their life, and when that happens, it’s always a pain. Even though most flagships these days tout waterproofing and water-resistance, a lot of devices still don’t have adequate protection. So how do we understand waterproofing and water damage in smartphones these days?

To do a better job of repairing water damage in smartphones, we first need to know the different kinds of waterproofing solutions available, and how water damage actually works. Once we have knowledge of this process, it becomes easier to break everything else down and find a solution.

The different kinds of waterproofing

Smartphones and other devices nowadays sport different kinds of ways to deal with water damage. The most common protection is using rubber gaskets or adhesives for sealing the phone. This protects the internals from any water pouring in. Additionally, most devices have their components protected by applying a water-resistant nano-coating. The coating keeps moisture and other water particles away from sensitive components so that they don’t short circuit. For buttons, a silicone layer is used to isolate the electrical components and apply water resistance. Covering the button with the silicone allows for it to be pressed without any issues.

Oftentimes, big manufacturers will take extra measures to protect their phones from water damage. One of the most common solutions that’s garnered a lot of criticism is the removal of the headphone jack. The headphone jack is the largest single opening in any phone and usually the major culprit of water damage. Since the opening is large and hard to protect, manufacturers often remove it from their devices so that waterproofing is more manageable. Of course, this isn’t really a very popular solution, and tons of people hate the absence of the headphone jack.

Knowing about all the ways that smartphones protect themselves from water damage is important for your trained technicians. If they know how phones are protected, they can do a better job of repairing them when they need fixing.

Ingress Protection (IP) Rating

If you’ve been keeping up with phones recently, you’ve probably heard of something called the “IP rating”. This stands for Ingress Protection and is used to measure just how safe your phone is from water and dust. The IP rating on devices is an international standard for measuring waterproofing and most companies will proudly show their rating for the devices that they manufacture.

ingress protection ip rating graph RepairDesk blog

Basically, the IP rating comes with two separate numbers – the first one measures the resistance of solid particles, and the second is for water. The solid particle resistance is measures on a scale of 1 to 6 and the water-resistance scale is set from 1 to 8. The higher the number, the better resistance it has. Sometimes, the numbers will be replaced with ‘X’ meaning that the device is not tested for that particular resistance.

Water-resistance on a smartphone is tested for a number of different scenarios. Tests are usually carried out to see if the device is able to withstand droplets of freshwater, jets, and streams of it, and being submerged in it. These tests indicate how well a device holds up against certain conditions and whether it can survive them.

Limitations of IP ratings

It should be noted that tests to determine the IP rating of a device are often carried out in a lab and will only accurately show results in a controlled environment. Furthermore, just because a smartphone has been able to withstand tests for submerging doesn’t necessarily mean it can be used in such conditions without fail.

Even with the IP rating of a device, you’ll still have issues when using it immediately after it’s been exposed. Water tends to stick around in areas that are not covered, such as the speaker and microphone. Using them while water is still around may result in issues. Screens also tend to misread inputs when there’s water on them due to the conductive nature of freshwater.

Water damage that you can’t avoid

While waterproofing is a lot more common with phones these days, in some cases they will always fail. The IP rating and any tests carried otherwise always account for freshwater. This type of water is commonly found in homes, either in plumbing or in bottles. The problem is that not all real-world cases will include freshwater.

Freshwater can be protected against, but the waterproofing of any device will fail for other kinds of water. Take pool water, for example – it’s usually filled with chlorine to make it sanitary for people to swim in. However, the chlorine in the water is harmful to the sealing agents of your phone. Chlorine wears out rubber gaskets and adhesives even faster than freshwater, mostly due to its chemical nature.

Another point of consternation is seawater. This kind of water is very high in salt and can manage to destroy even the toughest of phones. Seawater causes corrosion in electronic devices and the salt can severely interfere with normal operation. If your phone takes a dip in the ocean, it might be the last time you ever get to use it.

Are phones really waterproof?

Alas, no phone is guaranteed to be completely waterproof. Using water with electronics is always a bad idea and the common myth is that IP ratings and other forms of protection make a phone truly waterproof. That’s not really the case; there’s a difference between being ‘water-resistant’ and ‘waterproof’. Most smartphones are only treated for resisting water in some areas. However, one should not consider them to be genuinely ‘waterproof’ under any circumstance.

Conventional water resistance is tested out with freshwater, which as we’ve stated isn’t really a good substitute for real-world application. Dropping something like wine or soda or coffee on your phone will have different results and may not guarantee your phone’s safety. The IP rating of a smartphone should be used as more of a guideline than as a risk-free answer.

How can you protect phones from water damage?

With all this talk of how water resistance isn’t a good substitute for waterproofing, the question arises – how do you protect phones from water damage?

The simple answer is… don’t use them near water.

Of course, it’s not that easy to avoid water a hundred percent of the time. Sooner or later, your phone is bound to be exposed to it. A couple of things you could to do mitigate the risks however is;

  • Use a waterproof bag
  • Get a waterproof case
  • Apply a waterproof skin
  • Store your phone in a dry place
  • Make sure all coverings are closed
  • Avoid saltwater or chlorinated water
  • Do not dry your phone by putting it in rice (no, it doesn’t work!)
  • Do not dry your phone with a hairdryer
  • Use silica gel when storing your phone in a location
  • Avoid taking your phones in moist areas
  • Always use a cloth when drying your phone

The most important thing you can do to avoid water damage is to use it safely. Being simple in your approach is the most effective way of protecting smartphones and can cost you nothing. Remember, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

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