The Myths and Realities of Water Damaged Devices

by Mahnoor Mansur

It fell in the water!

You’ve must’ve heard customers come in and complain of water damaging their smart phones at your repair store.

But, then there are cases where the customers aren’t even aware of the water damage, while other don’t disclose it. That’s when it gets a little tricky. And that is where your pre-repair checklist comes in handy.

Once you take in the device through your repair management software, you can run a full diagnostic on it.

Thanks to smartphone manufacturing companies, diagnosing a device for water damage has become much easier now. Companies now add a Liquid Damage Indicator (LDI) in the devices. A Liquid Damage Indicator activates when it comes in contact with water or any liquid in general. 

LDI is usually silver or white and turns entirely red when it comes in contact with any kind of liquid.

The LDI sticker isn’t visible in all devices, especially when it comes to the newer generation of phones. Most new devices have it under the SIM card tray. Whereas in older devices, it is visible when you take off the device’s back cover.

What Happens to the device when it comes in contact with any Liquid?

The liquid finds its way into the phone via jacks, ports and speakers. And once it reaches the circuit, it can be kryptonite to the device. What happens then?

The liquid carries current, which overloads the device with energy, frying the circuit board. Some practices make the damage worse, such as allowing the device to dry on its own. Moreover, letting water stay in the device leads to corrosion of coils, circuits, and resistors due to the numerous minerals in the liquid.

Water damage often throws off people because the damage isn’t visible immediately in some cases. They find out about the damage the next day or even in weeks. And by then the device stops working. Because sometimes when water enters a phone, it can take a while to corrode circuits and other internal parts. This is why people often come across issues later when their device stops working.

You should also keep in mind the source of the liquid. For example, water damage caused by dropping the device in a puddle or toilet is terrible. But if the customer dropped it in the ocean, the damage is far more significant because salt water is highly corrosive. It damages the components of the device faster than freshwater.

Here’s a chart outlining the different types of liquid and the amount of damage they can do to your device.

The more alkaline or acidic a liquid is, the worse the damage caused.

With that bit explained, let’s look at different methods for water damage repair and their effectiveness.

Methods for Fixing Water Damaged Devices

More often than not, when someone has a minor liquid incident, they quickly wipe their device and try a DIY method to dry it. Even for major spills, they won’t visit a professional until their phone acts up.

We’ve made a list of all the “home remedies” people use and busted a few myths. Check out those that work and those that don’t.

In any case, we recommend taking your phone to a professional.

Rice – Myth or Not?

Many people put cell phones in rice. And by far it is the most common method people use to dry devices. But, unfortunately, the reality is that rice does not help at all. Instead of helping, it makes the situation worse. 

Dry starch or dust can get into the crevices and cracks of the phone. It can get lodged in your cell phone’s charging port or headphone jack. And can be extremely difficult to remove.

People who claim that it has worked for them just got lucky. According to the research done by Jessa Jones of iPad Rehab Repair, putting your cell phone in rice is next to doing nothing. Sometimes corrosion reaches the critical parts, and sometimes it doesn’t. Even if some cell phones start working after being placed in rice, it will have oxidized the solder joints and made them weak.

So it’s safe to say that using rice to remove moisture from a device is a MYTH!

Silica Gel – Myth or Reality?

Using silica gel to fix water damage is yet another standard method used. However, people are still confused about the results of silica gel.

According to The Gazelle, silica gel DOES help absorb water. But this drying agent should be used only at the end when a tiny amount of water is left to be soaked. Using it as the first step to dry out access water won’t work.

Compressed Aerosol Air Duster- Myth or Reality?  

While silica gel can’t get to all the places, people use suction to get the water out of the device. The research done by The Guardian suggests using compressed aerosol air dusters helps suck off bits of water from the cell phone without damaging it that much.

Using other dryers such as hot blow dryers might ruin the device because the heat can destroy the rubber seals and damage the screen.

Paper Towel – Myth or Reality?

Another method that people use is cleaning the device with a paper towel. Usually people take the device apart, i.e., take out everything that is removable. These include the back cover, battery, SIM card, and SD card.

Then, they dry the exterior with a paper towel. According to Gazelle, a paper towel helps as it absorbs all the moisture. The key is to use it gently so that nothing gets misplaced or damaged.

Direct Sunlight – Myth or Reality 

People often put their water damaged devices under the sun to dry them. Techgenix negates the practice.

If the moisture in a water-soaked device evaporates naturally, it will end up corroding the device from the inside. Drying a water-damaged device does not mean that it has to be exposed to direct sunlight for hours. It can damage the screen and other internal components. 

What should Repair Shop Technicians do in case of Water Damaged Devices?

For any repair technician, every time a water damaged device comes in, ask the following questions:

  • What was the device dropped in?
  • How long has it been?
  • What remedies have you used on the device?

You can only ask these questions if the customer informs you about the water damage.

However, as mentioned earlier, there are cases when the customer doesn’t tell or has no idea what happened to their device. In that case, run a soft diagnostic when you take in the device through your repair management software. If you cannot figure out what’s wrong with the device, take it in for a diagnostics run.

It’s always good to have a disclaimer with the customer that the device might stop working at any time. And that it’s common in the case of water-damaged devices. If you are replacing some parts of the device, the proper practice is to not give a warranty on those parts. Because water-damaged devices have no guarantee. Once water damage has been identified, there are three smart ways to deal with the customers.

  1. Try to revive the device to get the data out of it. Because that’s the best you can do if the device has completely died down.
  2. If the device starts working, then that’s a bonus. And tell your customer that too. Because even if it works, once a phone has been exposed to water, its performance will gradually deteriorate. You can recommend repairs for the parts the water damaged. But also never warranty repairs done on water damaged devices.
  3. Lastly, upsell a new device instead of repairing the previous one.

If you give a warranty on the repair of a water-damaged device, the customer might come back to you and complain that the replaced screen or battery stopped working. Then that would be on you. So, don’t try to make the water-damaged device situation an earning point. There are different streams of revenue in the cell phone repair industry that you can leverage. This is not one of them.

Robert Miranda, a growth consultant at Cell Phone Repair (CPR), explained that you should not send the customer away because you can’t repair the device. But also, you can’t commit to something that might affect you in the future.

“So we don’t want to deny the customer for having a working phone, but we also don’t want to set them up for failure at the same time.”

So, don’t get yourself in a situation that will jeopardize your shop’s reputation and play it safe.

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