Next time you drop, dunk, or otherwise damage your precious smartphone, don’t panic. Follow this basic advice to quickly restore enough function for a short-term fix. In a pinch, one of these remedies should buy your phone enough time to reach the professionals who can perform more extensive surgery. We’ve also collected some alleged phone-repair tips to avoid, because they either don’t work or could damage your device even further. Here’s how to perform fast and easy phone first aid.
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Protect your phone preemptively
Before we get into emergency phone fixes, here are some ways to stop damage from happening in the first place.
One easy solution is buy a phone that resists damage well. Next time you go shopping for electronics, look through the descriptions of each device’s features to find its IP rating. This number, called the International Protection Marking or Ingress Protection Marking, describes how well the device can withstand dust (the first digit) and water (the second). A phone with a higher IP rating will reduce your chances of future problems.
The first digit, which covers your phone’s ability to resist solid particles, ranges from 0 (completely vulnerable) to 6 (completely protected). Most modern phones will achieve at least a 5, which means small dust particles might creep into your phone, but they won’t interfere with its normal function.
The second digit, which explains how well your phone can withstand damage from water and other liquids (the technical term is liquid ingress protection) has a larger range: from 0 to 9. Devices that score at least a 4, for example, are protected against splashes. But you can aim even higher—many phones now hit 7, which means they can survive 30 minutes of immersion in liquid up to about 3 feet in depth. Devices that achieve an 8 can stay in deeper water for even longer, although the exact depth and time they can withstand depends on the manufacturer. Remember the Galaxy S9’s IP68 score? According to Samsung, that means you can immerse the S9 in liquid up to nearly 5 feet deep for up to 30 minutes.
Flagship phones carry stellar IP ratings. For example, the iPhone X has an IP67 rating, while the Samsung Galaxy S9 has an IP68 rating. But even if your device doesn’t score a perfect IP69, a phone case can add substantial protection. To protect your handset, and lower its odds of breaking when dropped, you need a case that covers the corners and edges of a device.
If that’s too clunky for you, screen protectors—thin film that stick to the front of your phone’s display—claim to be a cheaper, lighter form of protection. However, they don’t offer the all-around protection that a case does, and will mostly just protect the screen from scratches. That said, they can come in handy if your phone screen has already suffered minor cracks. Read on for more information.
Deal with cracks
Your phone slips out of your hand, tumbles towards the ground, and lands with an unnerving smack. There’s a wide spectrum of possible outcomes—everything from minor scuffs on the case to a device smashed into smithereens. As a first step, check for any signs of damage by eyeing your phone’s exterior and by unlocking the device to make sure it still works.
If your phone still seems functional, with only minor damage, you may not need any repairs. However, keep an eye out for leaking liquid: It could be coming out of the battery or from the adhesive that holds your phone together. Either way, stop using your phone as soon as you see it.
On the other end of the spectrum, if your phone has suffered major cracks—enough to expose the interior electronics—then put down the device. If you try to power up and use a severely impaired phone, you might end up causing even more damage, or giving a faulty battery an opportunity to damage you. Instead, you’ll have to consult a professional. Seal the phone, along with any loose bits that have fallen off it, in a plastic pouch and contact the manufacturer or your phone retailer to get more information about repairing or replacing the device.
Cracks on the screen fall somewhere between those two situations. If the cracked phone still functions, then slap an adhesive screen protector or even a piece of tape over the damage. This will keep the pieces of the display in place so you can continue using the phone. However, if you notice discoloration around the damage, then your phone will require a proper screen replacement.
Although you can keep using your damaged phone in the short term, you should get in touch with a screen-replacing pro—find one by reaching out to the phone’s manufacturer or to the store where you purchased the device—as soon as possible. Or, if you’re patient and have reasonable screwdriver skills, you can tackle the screen replacement yourself. First, however, do your research: Look up a screen-replacement guide specific to your model, one that includes step-by-step instructions. You can find excellent manuals for most major phone models on iFixit.
Tackle water damage
When you accidentally drop your phone in liquid, such as a sink of soapy water or a pint of beer, your first step should be to pick up the sopping device and turn it off. Next, pat it dry with a clean cloth or towel and place it on a flat, solid surface to dry out completely. Until all the moisture has dissipated, you should avoid turning on or charging the phone. Optionally, if your handset allows you to remove the SIM and memory cards, this can help protect them from damage.
It might take your phone 48 hours or so to dry off completely. While you’re waiting, look up your handset’s IP rating on a website like GSMArena, a repository of information about different types of mobile phones. If your device has an IP67 or IP68 rating, then it should be fine. Even if the rating is lower, don’t start worrying yet—many handsets will recover just fine from a dunking, once they’ve dried out.
You should allow the drying to happen as slowly and naturally as possible. Although it’s tempting, don’t try to heat up your phone to hurry this process along. Keep it out of microwaves or traditional ovens, and don’t blast it with a hair dryer or vacuum cleaner, as these can harm the delicate components inside your smartphone.
What about sticking it in a bag of rice? While some people have had success with this method, chances are it was a fluke. According to a local repair shop and several experts, the rice trick doesn’t really work. However, packets of silica gel and silica cat litter are effective drying agents—after all, manufacturers pack them new electronics to keep out moisture. In some cases, putting a silica pack ($10 on Amazon) in a sealed bag with a phone has helped speed along the drying process (check out those Amazon reviews for more details). However, this method isn’t guaranteed to work.
If you’ve given your device two days to dry and it still won’t turn on, then it’s time to get in touch with a professional repair shop. The staff there will be able to completely dismantle and reassemble your phone, drying the parts individually and replacing the ones that sustained damage.