Why Water and Electronics Device Don't Mix
by Robert McNicholas on March, 31 2015
Is there any worse feeling than seeing your smartphone slither into a puddle? It’s sort of like watching all your memories, all your valuable information, and all your personal and professional contacts vanish into thin air.
But why is this so terrifying? Two reasons. The first is that water damage is usually not covered by manufacturers’ warranties. And the second reason is that even a drop of wrongly placed H2O can send a normally well-behaved device into an epic tantrum, possibly culminating in a complete cessation of usefulness.
But what makes water so evil for electronics? And what—if anything—can you do about it?
Why Water and Electronics Don’t Mix
Electronic devices are sensitive souls. Come high humidity or even solar flares, and our devices start to misbehave. But nothing is quite so terrible to a device’s inner peace (and inner pieces) as water.
That’s right, water. An essential to human life, it’s pretty much the opposite for electronics. And here’s why.
Suppose you inadvertently send your smartphone for a brief swim in the sink. You may be able to wipe off the screen and the casing so that they’re dry to the touch, but you haven’t really eliminated all the water in the phone. It can creep slowly into the phone’s sensitive inner workings.
Once inside, the water usually does one of two things: it can cause corrosion (think along the lines of rust or those pesky mineral deposits that hard water leaves behind), or it can cause a short.
In the case of corrosion, either the water disrupts the delicate contact points, or it leaves behind deposits that do the disrupting later. This is one of the reasons why a phone that’s gotten wet initially may seem okay, and then develop issues a day or two down the road.
When water causes a short, it interferes with the flow of electricity in your device. This electricity can do one of two things: it either grounds out—which means it is diverted harmlessly to a spot that can handle it—or it burns out. Burning out, as you might guess, is bad; it can lead to melted components.
What Can I Do if My Device Gets Wet?
If you act quickly, you may be able to wipe off watery spills before they reach the seams of your phone’s case. But let’s be realistic; this usually doesn’t happen. What can you do to maximize your chances of recovery?
First, get the phone out of its case (if you’re using one), remove the screen protector (again, if using), and take off the back cover and the battery. Dry the phone and all its pieces thoroughly. Some people recommend sticking the lot in an airtight container with rice, but we’d recommend using something more water-absorbent, like those little packages of desiccants that come with new shoes. There are even specially designed water-absorbent bags on the market for just such an emergency, such as iFixit’s Thirsty Bag. Of course, you’d need to have it constantly on hand for this to be an option.
Once the phone has dried, put it back together and hope for the best.
There is one more possibility, albeit a proactive one: buy a water-resistant or waterproof phone. While relatively few phones are marketed this way, there are some out there. If you’re a major water hazard for your mobile devices, this route is definitely worth looking into.
Not every phone will instantly die when exposed to liquid. One of my old phones survived a stint in a puddle (as well as being carried around in my dog’s mouth—yuck—and my subsequent sanitizations with wet wipes) without missing a beat. But until water-resistant coatings and seals are a part of standard device manufacturing, water and technology aren’t going to mix.
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