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Can rice actually save your water-damaged phone?

It’s the oldest trick in the book – your phone goes for an accidental swim and the immediate advice from all and sundry is to stick it in rice. Thing is, I spent that nervous 24-hour wait with my phone sitting in a box of basmati (last time I ever offer to mop the floors).

It was in fact a little longer than 24 hours in rice – I flew from England to Australia, so it was all told probably closer to 48 hours. This is important, as any attempts to charge up and turn on a phone with anything less than 24 hours in rice isn’t going to work. The water will still be present, and will end your phone.

Not that it mattered for me – a few days later I made a trip to the Apple store, forking out the requisite funds to get my phone replaced with a refurbished model.

However I’m hardly the only person who has ever had their phone suffer water damage, and the sheer number of people who recite “put it in rice” whenever a phone gets damp suggests there must be a grain of truth in the tale.

Phone in rice

In fact, fellow Techly writer Dan Wighton was one of the first to tell me that rice was the answer to my problems, having salvaged his computer using the method.

Now it could simply have been that it was my phone’s time – it was December 2014, making my iPhone 4 an impressive four or so years old.

But slowly others came out of the woodwork and told me they had also tried the rice method, only for it to fail.

The method itself seems fairly logical. Think about the last time you had rice for dinner – that tiny little cup of cereal grain didn’t look like it was going to fill you, but by the time it had spent a bit of time in a boiling pot there was enough to feed the whole family.

The stuff is crazy absorbent.

However, there are other, more absorbent materials likely to be sitting in your house.

Better options than uncooked rice

Gazelle wrote a lengthy piece on water-damaged phones, and compared seven household items’ absorbency: cat litter, couscous, classic rolled oatmeal, instant oatmeal, instant rice, silica gel and uncooked rice.

Their conclusion? “Dry, uncooked conventional rice was the worst of the seven options we tested. It absorbed the least water in 24 hours, losing out to silica gel, cat litter, couscous, instant oatmeal, classic oatmeal and instant rice.”

In fact, they went on to say that basic air-drying of the phone was even more effective than surrounding it with standard white rice.

So what to do when your phone gets a soaking? Turn it off. And don’t turn it back on.

Even if the phone is still working – it’s not uncommon for one to keep ticking for minutes or even hours before the water does its damage – turn it off. Non-negotiable.

Next, do the basics that common sense dictates. If you can open it up and remove the battery or other internal parts, do so.

If it’s an iPhone, at least get the sim card out of there. Then give it a bit of a shake – you might be able to flick some water out, and any less moisture inside can only be a good thing.

Finally, take a towel to it and dry it off as best you can.

Having reached the end of your helpfulness, it’s time to get the silica gel out.

Silica gel is the stuff inside the little packets you find in shoeboxes and purses that you’ve probably been throwing them away for years. The little beads inside these packets are capable of absorbing up to 40 per cent of its own weight.

This is what you want to put your wet phone in – and don’t be stingy with your portions, use at least four cups of the stuff, really immerse your phone in it.

Then give it at least three days to work its magic. Less is not more when you’re talking about drying out electronics.

So why do we perpetuate the rice myth?

Writing for The Verge, Michael Zelenko traced the rice ‘myth’ back to photography – “for many decades, rice was used to keep camera equipment and film dry in tropical locations”.

And never underestimate the power of ‘established knowledge’.

But I suspect the reason so many people will tell you to try the rice method is that if it did work you want to share your good news tale; if it didn’t work, you don’t want to tell people you dropped your phone in the toilet, so you don’t say anything at all.

About the author

Joe was Junior Vice-President at Compu-Global-Hyper-Mega-Net until it was bought out by Bill Gates. He now subedits for Conversant Media and considers it a step up.

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