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Is Water Damage Repairable?

As we come in to summer, a lot people will be heading off to enjoy their vacations.  For most of these people, their vacation will include time by the pool, or even possibly the ocean. We all have phones, right?  How many of us will forget that our phone is in our pocket when we take that plunge in to the pool? Lots of us. If this is the case for you, I have some tips that may save your phone, and some advice on what to do when water damage happens to your phone. I have been repairing phones since about 2008, and in that time, I have seen lots of liquid damages devices walk through my door. Lets take for example the phone I will be taking a look at today.  
The iPhone in this picture has suffered serious water damage. They can get it repaired at Hotshot Repair in Columbia MO
This iPhone suffered serious water damage. You can see the corrosion present on the logic board.
So, what happens when liquid gets inside your iPhone or other cell phone? Well, it all starts with liquid pooling around any higher voltage circuits.  Your backlight circuit is especially problematic.  This circuit is around 16 volts.  Compared to other circuits on the logic board that are only 1.8 volts to 5 volts.  That is why one of the top problems with liquid damage is a phone that will hot backlight.  It will look like the screen is black.  Even though you can hear the phone, and it may be vibrating, the screen looks dead. Putting your iPhone in a tub of rice may help with this initial problem, but it will cause others. Letting the moisture sit in your phone until it evaporates will leave trace metals that were in the water behind.  Sort of like your shower door, or the head of a faucet.  These trace metals can be conductive to electricity, and they can cause a path for electricity to flow where it shouldn’t. The photos below are from a phone that had been water damaged, and left to sit in rice for about 3 days.  It came to me when they pulled it out of the rice and noticed that their SIM card wasn’t detected.  Everything else seemed to work they said. Look at all of that corrosion. Being that the customer said everything else was working properly, I was really only concerned with the area around the baseband power management chip. I started by cleaning the area in an ultrasonic cleaner, and then drying it out.  This is a pretty basic step, and one that every shop will likely do. I do it a bit better. I remove the metal plates from the logic board so the waves from the ultrasonic cleaner can penetrate further.  No other shop in Columbia does this, as far as I am aware.  Probably because it is time consuming.  It is necessary though if you want to clean a logic board properly. We can see the result after cleaning the logic board.
After cleaning the logic board, we can see the effect of the corrosion on the logic board.
The corrosion has eaten into the solder and turned it black.  While none of these capacitors failed, they are still in very fragile shape.  A logic board after liquid damage will always be more prone to failure.  The solder will be left in a weakened condition, and the flexing of the frame could break things further. I went a step further and removed the baseband chip from the logic board. More dark corrosion spots. I even tried to clean this chip up, to hopefully re-use it.  The solder pads on the chip were in no condition to re-use it though.  This chip had to be replaced. The corrosion on this logic board was so bad that even after all of that work, I would not feel comfortable having this customer keep using this phone. I would always tell anyone with severe liquid damage to replace the phone. A lot of the shops in Columbia MO are happy to take a fee and tell people that they can repair liquid damage.  This is disingenuous.  Not all liquid damage is repairable, and with severe liquid damage, it is probably not a gamble that I would take.

So how can we prevent our liquid damaged phones from getting as bad as the phone above?

First of all, stop putting your phone in rice.  Just letting water sit there for days at a time is not a good idea. If your phone has been liquid damaged turn it off as soon as possible.  This will remove power from the phone until you can get it to someone who can open it up and dry it out. After the phone is dry, then you can turn it on and test it out to see if it works again. I have seen too many people put their phone in rice for a few days, and then the first thing they do is plug it in, and try to turn it on.  If your phone isn’t dry yet, you are just forcing electricity in to the phone.  Electricity and water are never a good mix, we learned this in grade school.

Let me sum it up

  • Turn off the phone, as soon as possible.
  • Get it to someone who can take it apart and dry it out.
That is all you need to do, if you want to get your phone back in working condition. Now there may be other things wrong with the phone, like screen issues, or backlight issues.  But doing the steps above will save maybe 80% of phones.  Especially from the corrosion that the customer above experienced.
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