The Unauthorized Guide to iPhone, iPad, and iPod Repair (2013)
Chapter 14. Addressing Water Damage
Whenever I run, I take either my iPhone or one of my iPods with me so that I can enjoy listening to an audiobook while I exercise. Because I live in the sunny southeastern United States, the weather is typically dry, so I have no worries.
However, what about a wet, rainy day? If a few stray raindrops fall upon my iDevice, could this cause damage? What if you drop your iDevice in a puddle of rainwater? Or the kitchen sink? What if you spill a can of soda directly on top of your iPad?
The ways in which water or other liquids can enter your iDevice case are innumerable. The goal of this chapter is to describe exactly what damage water can cause an iDevice and then present invasive and non-invasive methods for addressing a waterlogged Apple mobile device.
I want to make sure you are armed with the facts concerning water damage to electronics, effective methods for addressing the problem when it occurs, and (perhaps most importantly) steps you can take to limit the possibility of water damage occurring in the first place.
The Problem of Water Damage
Water poses a very real threat to all electronic devices, not only iDevices. The danger lies in the fact that water conducts electricity. Thus, when water contacts the integrated circuits inside your iDevice, water helpfully attempts to continue any current that may be flowing.
If the iDevice is powered on at the time it gets wet (which is usually the case, sadly), the extra current flow produced by the water can cause a variety of immediate problems:
Electrical shorts and overloads, which burn out components
Erratic re-routing of electrical current, causing unpredictable iDevice behavior
Damage to the battery, which can present a chemical and/or fire hazard
The fourth bullet point in the previous list bears further explanation. If you don’t address a liquid incursion immediately then you create fertile ground for corrosion (rust) to take place within your iDevice. This corrosion impedes the flow of electricity and renders some or all of your iDevice inoperable.
This chapter focuses specifically on water, but the introduction of other liquids, such as soda, causes additional problems. The issue here is that these beverages contain chemicals and properties beyond simple water— think of sugar, salt, and carbonation.
When non-water liquids dry on the surface of your iDevice’s integrated circuits, they leave behind their sugary/salty residue. Impeded current flow means a “bricked” iDevice.
Okay. I think I’ve made my point that you want to do everything possible to limit the introduction of water into any of your iDevices. Next, it’s time to address the following question: Does AppleCare cover water damage?
Warranty Ramifications of Water Damage
Do either the Apple Hardware Warranty or AppleCare cover water damage? Yes, but only if you bought AppleCare+.
There is no provision for water damage coverage in either the Apple Hardware Warranty or the traditional AppleCare Protection Plan. However, if you are fortunate enough to have AppleCare+ coverage for your iDevice then, yes, you can receive a replacement device (subject to the service fee, naturally). Here is the relevant line from the AppleCare+ Terms and Conditions document for the iPhone (http://is.gd/0CppGy). I added the bold for emphasis:
Accidental Damage and Handling (ADH) coverage only applies to an operational or mechanical failure caused by an accident from handling that is the result of an unexpected and unintentional external event (e.g., drops and liquid contact) that arises from your normal daily usage of the Covered iPhone as intended for such Covered iPhone.
Liquid Contact Indicators (LCIs) and You
All iPhones, iPads, and iPod touches built after 2006 contain several Liquid Contact Indicators (LCIs) that alert Apple Store personnel if the iDevice has experienced liquid contact.
The LCIs are white paper dots that turn red in the presence of liquid. See Figure 14.1 for an example.
FIGURE 14.1 LCIs in an iPhone 3GS.
Generally speaking, you can look for LCIs in the following locations on an iDevice:
Inside the headphone jack (shine a flashlight directly down the jack)
Within the Dock connector
Above the logic board on an electromagnetic interference (EMI) shield
An Apple Store Genius can quickly assess an iDevice for water damage by checking two exterior LCIs and then popping off the rear case and examining the interior LCIs.
Much has been written online about how to “game” Apple Store personnel by attempting to replace or reset the LCIs. I suggest you avoid these parlor tricks.
The following non-invasive methods for addressing water damage are great for non-technicians (which is to say, the majority of Apple’s customer base). However, you and I are iDevice techs, so we can leverage more invasive and effective methods for drying these devices. I cover those later in this chapter.
How to Address a Waterlogged iDevice: Non-Invasive Approach
Regardless of which of the following two methods I provide you with for addressing a waterlogged iDevice, the first rule is the same for both:
Power off your iDevice completely. Do not put it to sleep—power it off.
Given our previous discussion on the hows and whys of water damage, I trust you understand why you need to remove power from your device without any delay.
You also should rotate and shake the powered-off iDevice to let any pent-up water drain from the chassis.
The Rice Method
After your device is powered off, what then? If you don’t have any dedicated tools for resolving water-damaged electronics (more on that in just a minute) then perform the following procedure:
1. Fill a bowl with uncooked rice. No, I’m not kidding. Be sure that the container has an airtight lid.
2. Dry off the exterior of your iDevice as much as you can with a towel.
3. If applicable, remove the SIM tray and SIM card.
4. Submerge your iDevice into the rice and seal the container.
5. Leave the iDevice covered up in the rice for two or three days. Periodically change the orientation of the iDevice within the rice in order to let gravity and the rice work together to draw all moisture out of the iDevice.
6. Retrieve the iDevice from the rice, remove all rice remnants from the device, power it on, and test functionality.
Dedicated Drying Tools
If you want to proactively address the possibility of iDevice water damage then you should consider purchasing a quantity of silica gel packets. You can purchase these from Amazon.com or several other online sources. As you probably know, silica gel is great at quickly removing moisture from whatever moisture containing objects it contacts.
In case you were wondering, silica gel is a far more effective desiccant (drying agent) than uncooked rice.
Another possibility is the Thirsty Bag, sold by (guess who?) iFixit. You can see one in Figure 14.2.
FIGURE 14.2 iFixit Thirsty Bag. (Photo courtesy of ifixit.com.)
Essentially, the Thirsty Bag is a paper bag that is filled with silica gel packets. Here’s how you use it:
1. Put the powered off, toweled-off iDevice into the Thirsty Bag. Seal the bag.
2. Wait 24 hours.
3. Remove and test the iDevice.
How to Address a Waterlogged iDevice: Invasive Approach
After powering off, toweling off, and shaking your waterlogged iDevice, follow these steps:
1. Open the case and disconnect the battery. This is crucial because the battery is the DC power source for the iDevice when it isn’t plugged into an AC socket or a USB port. Consult the proper disassembly chapter in this book to help you safely open your iDevice.
2. Disassemble the iDevice and carefully dry exposed components with a microfiber or other lint-free cloth.
3. To be sure that you’ve cleaned the internal components, you should obtain isopropyl alcohol in at least 90 percent concentration (check online or in your local pharmacy) and submerge the logic board and other affected parts.
Caution: Isopropyl Alcohol Only!
Be absolutely sure to use isopropyl alcohol. Using any other form of alcohol risks causes irreparable damage to your iDevice components.
4. Use a toothbrush or small paintbrush to scrub the logic board; this assists in the loosening and removal of built-up debris (especially helpful for coffee and soft drink liquid incursion). Also, pay special attention to connectors and contacts. Be gentle when you brush these delicate components.
5. After removing the logic board and any other components from their isopropyl alcohol bath, use a hair dryer on its coolest setting to dry the components. The good news is that isopropyl alcohol evaporates extremely quickly at room temperature.
6. If you have a spare battery in your workspace stockpile, it’s advisable to replace the battery.
7. Reassemble your device and run tests to verify that the device works properly. You still run the high risk of having to replace the LCD and/or the logic board, but you have certainly mitigated against further, longer-term damage to the device.
How to Limit the Possibility of Water Damage
In the name of proactivity, I want to conclude this chapter by suggesting how you can limit the possibility of water damage to your iDevices.
Purchase a Specialty Case
The best defense against water damage for your iDevice is to invest in a specialty case. Read the box and marketing copy for these products carefully—many iDevice covers offer water resistance, but not waterproofing. Also, pay attention to the reviews of customers to help you make the best choice.
Here are a few products that are highly rated and offer water protection for your iDevice:
Dry Case (http://www.drycase.com/)
Limit Exposure to Steam
Some people use iDevices in the bathroom when we shower. For instance, I like to listen to audiobooks by connecting my iPhone or iPod to an external power amp and speaker set. The hazard here is condensation. A steamy bathroom can result in water condensation inside your iDevice. Not only can the condensed water louse up the device’s mechanics, but it can also trip the LCIs.
Use a Low-Tech Plastic Baggie
Runners like me need to come up with inventive ways to protect our iDevices against potential water damage. Try wrapping your iDevice in a zipper-top plastic baggie. Squeeze out as much extra air as you can, and close the zipper against the headphone cord.
If you have some silica gel packets, you could add one or two packets to the iDevice/baggie combination for an extra measure of protection.