For nearly as long as smartphones have existed, people have been putting them in rice after dropping them in water. This often-repeated “trick” to save a water-logged phone has gone too far. Allow us to explain.
Where Did It Come From?
The rice trick has been around forever and there’s probably a good chance you’ve done it before—I know I have. Where did this common advice originate from? That’s an interesting question.
One of the first high-profile examples of the rice “trick” being recommended dates back to a Lifehacker post from June 2007. The claim was that dry rice “sucks up the surrounding moisture.” That same line of reasoning has been repeated ever since.
The trick certainly predated smartphones, but it really caught on as more people began carrying around expensive, fragile devices that don’t play nice with water. People want to know what to do when they drop their phone in water and the rice trick filled that need.
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Why It Doesn’t Work
Here’s the harsh truth about putting a wet phone in rice—it does absolutely nothing. Rice does not have magical moisture-wicking powers. You might as well just put the phone in a completely empty bowl.
Rice does have some ability to absorb water from wet things, but it’s very weak. Plus, that doesn’t address the main problem. Even a strong desiccant such as silica gel can’t get at the most damaging liquid, which is on the inside of the phone.
Sometimes, if the water didn’t penetrate the phone too much, leaving it powered off and giving it time to dry out will save it. People end up thinking it was the rice that did something when in reality it was simply leaving the phone alone for a while that did the trick.
To make matters worse, rice can actually accentuate the water damage in some cases. The fine rice “dust” can get into the ports and mix with the water to create a paste-like substance that’s harder to remove.
How to Save a Wet Phone
The key to saving a wet phone is not necessarily to just wait for it to dry. That may work if you’re lucky, but it’s much more effective to actually remove as much water as possible as quickly as possible. Simply allowing it to dry will leave behind all the conductive stuff in the water.
If your phone has been submerged in water, the immediate first step is to power it off. Don’t try to power it on if the water turned it off. Then you should remove anything that can be removed. This includes cases, the SIM card tray, microSD card tray, and the battery (if it’s even removable).
Next, you can go the low-tech route and use a fan or compressed air to blow the water out of the ports. However, that won’t do anything for water that’s gotten inside the phone. To remove that water yourself, you’ll need to open it up. From there, you can scrub it with 90%+ isopropyl alcohol or set it in front of a fan.
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We’ll probably never know who the first person to think of putting their wet phone in a bowl of rice was, but the “trick” has stuck around far too long. Thankfully, the majority of smartphones today have some level of water resistance. You’re better off getting one of those and taking other precautions. Save the rice for dinner.