If you drop your smartphone in water, take it apart as much as you can and place it in rice. It’s been the most recommended method of cell phone rescue since the days of clamshells. In fact, it’s usually the only thing recommended when searching for “how to save your wet phone.” Turns out, we’ve been wrong all along.
The Sponge Test
Pre-weighed sponges soaked with water (and then weighed again) were used in this experiment. Gazelle placed them into sealed plastic containers with 100 grams each of six different drying agents. There was also a wet sponge left out in open air, and one sealed in a container by itself.
Each sponge was placed on top of wax paper, to prevent direct contact with the drying agents, since in a smartphone, there is normally no direct contact with the drying agent.
Uncooked White Rice Ain’t Cutting It
After 24 hours, the sponges were weighed again to see how much weight had been lost. And would you believe it—according to the results, uncooked white rice placed dead last in effectiveness as a drying agent. Here’s the list, from best to worst.
- Open-air sponge – 7.6 mL lost
- Silica gel – 6.1 mL lost
- Cat litter – 5.5 mL lost
- Instant couscous – 5.0 mL lost
- Instant rice – 5.0 mL lost
- Instant oatmeal – 5.0 mL lost
- Uncooked white rice – 4.0 mL lost
- Sealed-container sponge – 0.7 mL lost
Cat litter, instant couscous, instant rice, and instant oatmeal all performed better than uncooked white rice—everyone’s favorite damn drying agent.
The Cell Phone Test
The second experiment they performed was similar, using a few iPhones and Samsung Galaxy S3 devices. Using the same drying agents as above, it was also shown that uncooked white rice was the biggest loser.
Instant Couscous/Rice Is More Pourous
So why did drying agents such as instant couscous and instant rice perform better than uncooked white rice?
On Twitter, Gazelle explained that both of these instant products are steamed, which cracked starch. Starch, already known for its absorbent nature, becomes more porous thus taking in more water than usual.
Rice on the other hand is a grain, which has not been ground up, so it still has its layers from being a seed. As a seed, it can only absorb a limited amount of water for it to grow into a plant. If it absorbed as much as something like pasta (which contains lots of starch), it would dissolve and become useless as a seed.
Silica Gel vs. Open Air
While instant couscous and instant rice work better than uncooked white rice, silica gel works the best out of all drying agents that Gazelle tested.
But while silica gel performed well, the sponge left out in the open (71°F; relative humidity of 40%) lost the most amount of water in the tests. With this information, should you leave your phone out in the open or place it in silica gel?
Since there is a wide range in performance for each drying agent, choosing one or the other could have a direct impact on the recovery of your smartphone, whether it be positive or negative. If a drying agent cannot absorb moisture quickly enough, the air that’s trapped in the container or ziplock bag will become humid and slow down evaporation.
Since there is not enough information (as of yet), a fortified statement of whether or not air or silica gel works better cannot be made. Factors such as amount of drying agent, brand of drying agent, type of smartphone, time of day, and more all play a role in how each performs.
Although the open-air method lost the most water, according to Gazelle, this does not mean that a drying agent cannot outperform open air under certain circumstances. Increasing the amount of drying agent could help dry out the smartphone better.
So, What You Should You Do Then?
Well, let’s take it step by step for you.
Step 1: Dry Your Phone with Paper Towels, Vacuum
Before even trying to dump your phone into a drying agent, the first step you should perform is to turn off your smartphone or take out the battery. Dry the outside and use something like a vacuum (waterproof) in order to extract any water stuck on the inside. You might not get all of it, but you should try and get the most you can out of there.
Step 2: Open Your Phone Up
In order for air circulation to do its job, take off the back cover and battery out of your smartphone. Furthermore, you can use a Phillips screwdriver in order to take apart most Android smartphones. If you have an iPhone, you can purchase a pentalobe screwdriver for under $5 online. Once it’s open, leave it out for a bit and let it dry in the open air.
Note: Taking apart your phones may void your warranty, but then again, so will dropping it in water.
Step 3: Use a Drying Agent
Finally, after getting rid of as much water possible from the inside of your device, using a drying agent may help. If you decide to use a drying agent, don’t use uncooked white rice. Instead, go with silica gel—the best performing agent of the ones used in the Gazelle experiment.
If you don’t have any silica gel laying around, use instant couscous or instant rice as an alternative. While cat litter works better than the two previous mentioned drying agents, some of the particles from the litter could possibly enter your device, so use it carefully.