It's been almost a month since my last entry. In the last month, I've made a trip to California, worked on at least 20 wet phones and repaired the screens or some other problem of at least 20 more along with some iPads and android tablets and a handful of iPods. In addition, I spent some time at the dentist getting some cracked fillings repaired, and this week, I go back to get my 1 wisdom tooth pulled. I'm also getting over a spring cold/cough I've had seemingly off/on for 2 weeks now. But, my blog has been sitting idle and has constantly been on my mind, so tonight, while watching some good Memorial Day movies (American Sniper and Lone Survivor), I committed to updating it with at least one post - though I've got 2-3 more lined up, I just haven't committed them to paper (ie, typed them out) yet. Without further delay or excuses, here is some information on why you'll find colorful gardens of corrosion, specifically galvanic corrosion inside a wet phone. See image below for examples.
Water itself (pure water) is a poor conductor of electricity. In fact, if you were to drop your phone into pure water, it’s not likely to suffer any damage. However, pure water also doesn’t exist in nature – debatable, but for the most part, it does not. The odds of you dropping your phone into a pool of pure water are virtually zero. Water conducts electricity because of dissolved electrolytes, such as salt, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and others.
Inside your phone are many metals. Earlier, I mentioned dissimilarity needs to exist among metals in electrical contact. Some metals are known as noble metals – metals that resist corrosion in moist air. Inside your phone are small amounts of gold and silver, both noble metals. And, some metals are referred to as base metals. In your phone, some of these base metals include: tin, lead, and nickel. Also found in your phone is copper. Depending on who you talk to and in what context, sometimes copper is considered a noble metal and sometimes a base. There are several other metals and minerals inside your phone capable of conducting electricity – or producing it.
Electricity after all, is little more than the flow of electrons in a conductor from a region of high concentration (an anode metal or the negative side of a battery) through a pathway (generally a circuit board), to an area of low electron concentration (a cathode metal or the positive side of a battery). An anode, having more electrons than a cathode is thus dissimilar from the cathode. This dissimilarity is what causes galvanic corrosion as the electrons try to balance. This is also the principle that batteries exploit and the reason you can open your garage door by remote, change TV channels without getting up, and do anything else that requires a battery - like play a game on your phone. Batteries are little more than 2 dissimilar metals (an anode and a cathode) separated by an electrolyte. Close the circuit by connecting the anode to the cathode and electrons begin to flow in an attempt to equalize. The total potential energy available is the battery voltage and the volume of electrons flowing is referred to as the amperage.
When an electrical current (your phone’s battery or plugging your phone into the charger) passes through water with dissolved electrolytes (basically any water your phone has come in contact with) and metals with different electro-potentials (dissimilar metals), galvanic corrosion begins immediately.
And that my friends, is why the ONLY bonafide solution to treating and recovering water damaged phones is to strip it down to bare components and actually clean them with an ultrasonic cleaner.
There are many “gimmicky” methods of treating water damaged electronics and some that just don’t work at all. Rice is probably the most famous “fix” for wet phones, but as has been mentioned in previous posts, rice does nothing to actually “fix” anything. Rice needs to be in contact with moisture to absorb any measurable amount. When water is inside your phone and rice is outside, the only thing that’s occurring is a waste of time. Once water enters your phone, an invisible clock starts ticking and the longer that timer ticks, the less likely a full recovery can be made. Rice is nothing more than a useless waste of time and in the case of water damaged phones, time is not your friend and you want to stop that timer as soon as possible by getting your wet phone to a reputable repair shop that can open your phone up, strip it down to individual components and actually “clean” it.
Other gimmicky methods of treating wet phones include silica gel as a desiccant – another waste of valuable time, specialized machines invented just for drying electronics using a vacuum and low heat – does nothing to remove corrosion that already exists and is causing short circuits in the phone, heating the phone with a blow dryer or in the oven, and soaking the phone or parts of it in rubbing alcohol.
Nothing short of professional water damage repair can offer the best odds of saving your vacation photos and videos, your baby photos, your kid’s soccer game photos, your wedding photos, and every other photo you’ve ever taken and didn’t back up prior to your phone’s unplanned swimming lessons. Rarely does water damage mean all of your data, unsynced contacts, photos, videos, apps, and music is lost forever. However, allowing time to pass without real, professional water damage repair means you’re rolling the dice, so to speak. If you feel like rice “saved” your phone, or your blow dryer, or any other method aside from ultrasonic cleaning, then you’re free to have that opinion. I’m here to tell you that it was good, old fashioned, dumb luck.
I have never not been able to restore a phone that showed up on my desk still dripping water. I have however, spent hours and hours trying to restore phones that are bone dry because somehow the water was evacuated, whether by intentional means or just evaporation over time, but the corrosion remained behind. It is much easier to remove corrosion from a phone that's still wet than one that's been sitting in a drawer for months. That's not to say that recovery of phones that got wet months ago shouldn't be attempted because all water damaged devices are unique. Indeed, I have restored some phones that sat on the shelf for 6 months and longer after getting wet. But, I've also not been able to restore other phones of a similar fate. Yet, as I mentioned a short time ago, I've restored 100% of the phones that arrived still dripping water from the initial exposure. Before you think about pulling your phone that got wet a year ago out of your closet, dunking it back in water, then mailing it to me wet - don't. It won't be funny, I'll know because the corrosion won't match the alleged short amount of time that's elapsed, and you'll still be disappointed if restoration can't be done. Just send me the phone ASAP with a brief description of what happened to it, and let me do my thing. :)