In the Event of a Water Landing...

I've owned an iPhone for over 5 years, since a few months after the original iPhone was released. In all that time I've never had an "accidental event" with my phone. Never cracked the screen, dunked it in liquid, or any of the other disasters that seem to befall these devices. I even stopped buying AppleCare and insurance figuring the cost of the these programs over the years was more than the replacement cost of the iPhone. 

Last night my luck ran out. My iPhone was sitting on the table when I knocked over a large glass of water that splashed on top of and pooled around the phone. After a millisecond freak out - I collected myself and sprung into action. Fortunately, I was prepared and knew what steps to take to minimize damage to electronics exposed to water and knowing this information in advance meant I was able to react quickly and calmly.

So, what do you do if you accidentally spill liquid on your iPhone, iPad or Mac?

  1. Turn of the power. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. Just pull the power. Pure water itself may not create a problem. It's water plus electricity that will surely fry your device.
  2. Get as much liquid out as possible. If it's a laptop flip it over and let the water drain out of the keyboard. In the case of my iPhone I dried off the exterior and tried to get out any water that may have creeped in the headphone jack or the dock connector. (Not easy considering they're on opposites sides of the phone. 
  3. Get it on rice. I keep a bag of plain uncooked white rice in my pantry for just such an occasion. In fact now that it's been used I've just put rice on my shopping list. After you've gotten as much liquid out as possible, put the device in a sealed container with the rice to let the rice absorb any additional moisture. You can use other specialized products but you're more likely to have a bag of rice on hand.
  4. Wait. Depending on how bad the spill was, you'll want to wait a minimum of 24 hours and possibly 72 hours or more before you even attempt to power the device back on. The longer the better.

Apple's devices have liquid sensors that may trip when exposed to moisture. On portable devices like the iPhone two of these sensors may be visible. On computers, they're typically hidden in the body and under the keyboard and thus water damage may not be exposed until after the machine is cracked open. If you have a visible liquid sensor, checking to see whether it is tripped may give you an idea of how bad the damage is.

Apple's standard warranty and AppleCare do not cover liquid or other accidental damage. However, Apple's new AppleCare Plus program available currently for iPhones and iPads will cover up to two incidents of accidental damage with an additional deductible. You can always throw yourself upon the mercy of the Genius Bar, but no guarantees. There are third party repair centers that claim to repair iPhones with water damage, but I've heard varying reports of success.

Apple may have the option through the Genius Bar to replace the iPhone for a flat fee, I've seen them do it for $199 which is about the cost of a new subsidized phone, but less than an off-contract phone. If it's a computer, you may want to ask them for an "AppleCare flat rate repair option." Generally if you pay Apple to fix the damage or replace your device, you can then use any remaining balance of your AppleCare on that device for a covered incident in the future but you may want to double check with them about the specifics. If your device is ineligible for future AppleCare coverage, you should consider requesting a prorated refund of the balance of your AppleCare policy.

As for my iPhone, I'm pleased to report it's functioning perfectly after spending the night on rice. No water sensors were tripped and I believe the phone was just splashed and no liquid actually got inside the device. Crisis averted. But it's good to be prepared.