iPhones and water do not mix

07 May 2013 by Michał Cieślik

Recently I have received an iPhone 4S which sustained water damage. The unfortunate customer managed to drop the phone in the swimming pool while recording a video. It sank to the bottom of the pool recording the whole way to the bottom. The phone didn't stop working instantly. Customer dried it out and was using it for another 30 minutes after which the phone turned itself off. It was not possible to switch it back on. It wasn't showing any sign of life and a recharging attempt was made which only caused the charger to heat up excessively.

The best course of action in this case would be disconnecting phone from its power source which is the battery and external charger, then drying it out. Unfortunately removing the battery in iPhones requires tools and a bit of practice. There are at least 3 special screws which are needed to be removed in order to remove the battery. The situation is also much more complicated when you have older iPhone model as the iPhone 3GS and older have to have the screen and mainboard, a.k.a. the Printed Circuit Board (PCB), removed along with 9 screws in order just to get to the battery. Whereas the majority of Android phones have a removable back panel which clips on to the phone and a removable battery underneath.

In the case of this iPhone recovery, water and moisture inside the phone was causing rapid battery drain due to multiple short circuits created by the presence of liquid. In situations like this, if the phone is not dried out as soon as possible it can causes additional and permanent damage to the mainboard of the phone. In this case, corrosion and damage to the PCB wasn't severe which could have been due to a number of factors:

  • The battery charge was low and it discharged quickly
  • Water in the swimming pool had a pretty neutral pH and high acidity or high alkalinity increases destructiveness in contact with electronics
  • The water didn't spread far enough to cause more damage

Although the customer was unlucky that they dropped their phone in the pool, by attaching a new battery and a simple PCB repair I managed to recover all of the data. However, damage to the phone itself was too severe to continue using it as we find that once the damage has been done, It could stop working any time for any other reason.

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