Is water damage a death sentence for smartphones?

Cell phones damaged by liquid are becoming more and more common these days since we bring such devices pretty much everywhere with us. The beach, pool, and even the bar can wreak havoc on an unsuspecting iPhone, Droid, or iPad when exposed to liquid.

What happens when water covers a circuit board? Why does liquid cause such problems for your device?

Electronics and water don’t mix. Components begin to fail, things stop functioning properly, and eventually, your device will die if not properly taken care of. 

Water on circuit boards causes corrosion, which is oxidation, or the degradation of metals. Nothing good ever really comes of this. A circuit board corrode just like a car rusts and eventually dies.

Circuit boards suffer from a variety of different problems when liquid is introduced in their environment. 

Resistance between circuits drop, metals break down, and solder joints deteriorate as corrosion spreads.

Corrosion causes pits and cracks in areas that electricity once freely flowed. The formation of metal fibers/clusters tends to occur, which bridges oppositely charged leads and causes arcing, or them to short out and fail.

The type of liquid plays a significant role in how quickly corrosion will spread. Fresh water and alcohol are your friends when it comes to liquid damage. They contain the least amount of corrosion accelerators when compared to other types of liquids.

Salt water and chlorine are two of the worst types of liquid you can drop your device in.

They contain elements that are heavy corrosion accelerators, which rapidly increase the spread of corrosion, and kill your circuits very fast.

When salt water/chlorine dry up, they will leave minerals and deposits on the circuit board. 

These minerals will eat up circuits in a matter of hours.

Seen below is an image an iPhone 4 that suffered the unfortunate wrath of salt water vs. an iPhone 4 that suffered fresh water damage. The difference is evident.

With all of my experience, the devices that have had the greatest success rate of surviving liquid exposure are those whose last contact was with fresh water. 

A few tips that you should take into consideration should you be the unfortunate victim of a cell phone drowning accident.

If you drop your device in salt or chlorinated water, remove your battery and flush it with fresh water. It may sound crazy to soak it again, but this action may just save the life of your device.
  • Do not try to turn it on.
  • Remove the battery. The device being on and soaked at the same time can and will short out circuits on the board.
  • If you’re tech-savvy, we recommend opening up the phone a bit more to reveal the guts and rinsing each component with fresh water.
  • Stick your device in a tub of desiccant. Rice or silica packs work great. Keep it in the container for 24-48 hours.
  • If you’re one of the lucky ones, you may have successfully revived you once dead device. If you’re not, we suggest contacting a professional water damage repair service as soon as possible. The sooner you get your device under repair, the better chance you have of repairing your device.

Chris Johncke is a contributor for the iPhone water damage repair specialists at iFixYouri.