My story of a wet iPhone

TLDR: my iPhone 5S was submerged in water for two minutes. I turned it off, put it in a bowl of rice for 7 days, and it worked again (except the fingerprint reader was broken, it thought headphones were always plugged in, and the battery lasted shorter). The battery life was terrible, but it was still good enough to be my main smartphone for the rest of the year (2017). It completely stopped working 9 months later.


I'm stupid.

I love my Apple iPhone 5S for reasons I explained in a video on YouTube. To sum up: I can use it with one hand, it looks pretty, it does everything I want a smartphone to do (except for recording audio in stereo), and it's fast.

I got it in March 2014. While it has seen very little use sometimes because I had other smartphones in between (my HTC One M7 and my OnePlus One), it has been my main phone since August 2016. I took good care of it. I put a glass screen protector on it, and I always keep it in a case when I'm outside (nothing too fancy or expensive, just something to prevent scratches). I did drop it sometimes but it still held up well, and it has very few dents on the case. (If this was sold as a refurbished phone in some third-party store, it would be a "grade B").

Before you tell me newer iPhones are so much better than my "old" 5S, I should point out mine is running iOS 9, because newer versions try to convince you your phone is inferior and you should get a new one (AKA "planned obsolescence"). No, I decide when to replace the item I fully paid for with a newer one. In 2017, iOS 9 is new enough to run the latest version of most apps, but old enough to run well on this older iPhone model.

How it got wet and what I did

On August 1, 2017, I went swimming at a lake, forgetting that my phone was in my pocket. Other times I remembered to take it out; not this time. I noticed about two minutes into swimming.

I knew what to do when an electronic device gets wet. The first thing you must do is power it off, because if there's electric current going through it, it will always break. It was in sleep mode, so the screen was off, but the phone was still turned on.

I pressed the home button to try waking it up so I could turn it off. It showed the boot screen. So I did the button combination to force it to power off: hold down the power and home buttons and immediately let them go when the screen turns off (otherwise it will reboot). As I held down those buttons, it showed random garbage on the screen (black and white squares, similar to a checkerboard pattern) before turning off.
It wasn't salty sea water, but it was submerged for too long. If it had been in water for like 5 seconds, I knew it would have easily survived, but unfortunately it was much longer.

Anyway, I ran home. I took the wet SIM card out, shook as much water out of the phone as possible, and dried the outside of it. Now it looked dry, but obviously it was still very wet inside. I could see there was a lot of moisture in the camera.

I had rice at home, so I put the phone in a bowl of uncooked rice (with the SIM card and SIM card tray removed, those don't need to be in rice). If you think using rice to dry electronics is dumb, read on.
At first I didn't seal the bowl with plastic wrap, but a few hours later I realized I had to, or else the rice absorbs moisture from all the air around it instead of just the phone.

I googled a lot of guides and articles about what to do with a wet phone and whether rice is a good method. Many articles said it was the worst method, but I don't have any silica gel packs, not even in shoe boxes!
Taking it apart (or just opening up the screen) would have helped getting the water out more quickly. I have a little experience with it (I opened up my sister's iPhone 5S more than once to replace the screen and battery), but because I was panicking and I didn't want to risk damaging it further, I left it alone.

Also, I went to this page to remove my phone number from iMessage. I wasn't getting iMessages from anybody, but I took the time to do it anyway (it was quick).

Time to check if it works

The guides I found with Google that said rice was the worst method for drying a phone were likely exaggerated. While it's far from the best desiccant, it does no harm.

The guides that didn't condemn this method said to keep it in the rice from 2 to 3 days. I kept it in there for a whole week (well, my phone went in water at 1:57 pm on August 1, and I took it out of the rice bowl at 10 am on August 8, so it was almost a whole week). There was no more moisture in the camera. I held down the power button. Nothing. I plugged it in. Nothing. I held down the power and home showed the "low battery" screen. So I plugged it in again, it began charging, and it turned on! I put my SIM card back in and it recognized it.

36 applications needed to be updated.
App Store had 36 updates to do! That's quite a lot for just a week (I have about 200 apps). Usually I don't see any app update notifications because they update automatically.

But I immediately started to notice there were some issues.
The fingerprint sensor no longer works, but that's the least important part.
Something more serious is that it thinks headphones are plugged in even when they're not. The headphone jack does work when headphones are actually plugged in, it's the part that detects if headphones are plugged in that's broken. (I did not turn my iPhone 5S into a mini iPhone 7).

Phone says 'headphones connected' even though no headphones are connected.
"Headphones connected" my butt.

If you didn't know, when a display gets wet, it usually leaves small bright spots that never go away. Fortunately enough, while it was submerged for a relatively long time, there are hardly any of those stains on my screen.

Phone showing a mostly white screen (intentionally)
The only noticeable bright spot is on the top left corner.

I think the inside is completely dry, but it could be dry the Flex Tape way, and even if it really is dry, corrosion stays.
Another thing I noticed is that it heats up more than usual, especially while charging. It's not dangerously hot, but it used to heat up much less than this. If there was still moisture inside, it must have evaporated by now.
My stuff was backed up even before the accident, so that's not an issue. (Regular backups are important!)

Now what?

I can't believe it works. For now, I can live with this phone. The fingerprint reader was convenient, but not essential (the home button itself still works). The speaker works because it rings when I receive a call, and the microphone works, but every other sound is going through the headphone jack.
My iPhone is jailbroken, so I bought the "AudioOut" tweak on Cydia that forces all audio to go through the speakers. The only place where that tweak doesn't work is when making calls (or maybe the earpiece is broken, who knows?), so for calls I'm still forced to use headphones (or speakerphone).

Screen shot of AudioOut on the Cydia store.
Notice how on the top right corner it shows a loading icon where it's supposed to have an "install" button. Turns out wanting my $1.99 wasn't enough. It wouldn't let me install it until I turned off my ad blocker and let the ad on this screen load.

It gets worse, though. Sometimes this phone reboots by itself at random times (even when I'm not using it), and when it comes back up, it gets stuck at "searching..." (for a carrier) and never picks up a signal. In addition, the "modem firmware" section in the Settings app is blank.

Once, I left it for an hour and it never stopped searching. To fix it, I have to reboot it manually again. This doesn't happen more than once a day, but it's not normal.

Since late August, the auto-rebooting and no signal issue went away.

The biggest problem is the battery. This phone never had a great battery life, even when it was new, but even right before the accident, if I didn't use it much, it would last all day or all night. Now it doesn't. If I left it unplugged at night with a full battery, when I woke up in the morning it would have around 70% battery (with power saver off). Now it completely empties itself, even if I leave power saver on.

Battery settings with incorrect statistics (first picture) Battery settings with incorrect statistics (second picture)
These are two examples from when I barely used the phone. The first picture shows a test with battery saver off and it's at 15% battery after 5 hours and 37 minutes of usage. The second picture shows a test with battery saver always on and the battery is at 8% after 5 hours and 52 minutes of usage. That battery life would actually be very good, but the usage time is wrong, I did not use the phone for more than a couple of minutes. It was always in standby mode, receiving some notifications sometimes. (Note: "standby" is total time since unplugging from the charger at 100% battery, it's not separate from "utilizzo", which means usage).
Before the accident, battery usage was measured correctly, and again, it would last much longer on standby. This almost seems to indicate a software problem instead of a hardware one (even though it's not), and reminds me of the "wake lock" issue from Android phones. I'd restore iOS, but if the damaged hardware makes one stage of the restore fail, this phone will be completely useless forever.

I have a Mophie battery case (I got an original one for around €25 on Amazon), but it only charges it from 10% to 60%. Previously it would make my phone last for a whole day and a half. Now it only gets me through from 8 am to 3 pm of the same day (without the case, the battery was dead by 12 pm). I need to keep it plugged in to a portable charger (AKA "power bank") if I want it to last all day.

Oh, and before the accident, the silent switch was acting up (when toggling it, it would always keep toggling silent mode by itself for a few minutes without me touching the switch). Sadly it still acts exactly the same now, the water neither fixed it nor made it worse. I use AssistiveTouch (on-screen button) to toggle silent mode instead.

An extra issue

On August 16, 2017, eight days after removing the phone from the rice, I was in a situation where I quickly needed to take a photo, so I got out my phone and opened the camera app, but it only showed a black screen. Switching from the back camera to the front camera and vice-versa didn't help. Tapping the shutter button to take a photo didn't do anything, even if the app was still responding. Thankfully I could borrow my mom's phone (which has a better camera anyway).
Restarting my phone made the camera work again, but I was in a rush so I couldn't do it at that moment. Since then, I haven't had this issue again.

Over a month later

On September 16, 2017, more than a month after removing my phone from the rice, I noticed that this phone seems to heats up less (probably also because summer is over). The only issues it still has (and will never go away at this point) are the broken fingerprint reader, short battery life and permanently connected headphones.

And now, the answers to some potential reactions.

"You deserved it for staying on an old iOS version! Update your phone, motherfucker!"

Usually I update software on all my computers and devices (my HP computer has Windows 10 and my MacBook Pro from 2009 has MacOS High Sierra that runs great because I installed an SSD), but with iOS devices, I had to make an exception.
Besides, it's not like I never update my iOS devices. (Updates are still important!). My iPhone came with iOS 7.0.5. I've been through 7.1.2, 8.1, 8.4, 9.0.2, and finally 9.3.3. (I skipped some versions because there wasn't a jailbreak for them. I don't really need jailbroken iOS, but I appreciate having it).

My iPad mini 2 (same specifications as the iPhone 5S) is running the latest iOS version (as of when I'm writing this, it's 11.3.1).

I get that they add new features to new iOS versions that slow old devices down, but, for example, look up how iOS 9 runs on the iPhone 4S. What extra stuff does it have compared to iOS 7 (which runs well on it) that makes it slow down to a crawl? Some of that slow-down is definitely because of planned obsolescence, especially since you cannot go back to a previous iOS version (Apple doesn't want fragmentation).

Compare it to my HTC One M7. The latest Android version that officially runs on it is Android 5.0.2 (5.1 if it's the "Google Play" edition). But you can install a custom version of Android 7.1 (obviously not optimized by the manufacturer), and it runs perfectly! The only drawback is that it doesn't have closed-source drivers for the infrared blaster, FM radio (they don't work at all), camera, and "Beats Audio" speakers (they work, but not to their fullest potentials).

(It's not the same thing, but also compare Microsoft Windows Vista to Windows 10. Although Windows 10 is much newer and has many more features, it runs faster than Vista on the same computer, and Microsoft didn't even optimize it for specific hardware!)

And I don't care that Apple updates their older phones for many years while Android smartphones, especially cheap ones, receive very few updates if any. On Android 4.1 from 2012 you can run the latest version of pretty much any app. On iOS 6, also from 2012, it really is the opposite!

"Ha, you poor bastard! I have a newer iPhone than yours and I'm only a little kid!"

I also had my parents buy me the latest iPhone when I was a little kid (back then it was the iPhone 3GS). Even if we only talk about this 5S, I bought it when it was the latest model.

"Why don't you just use your HTC One M7 or iPhone 4S?"

I wish I could. Where you saw that I have those smartphones also explains why they are unusable as main ones. (If you came from the 5S video, read about the problem with my 4S at the bottom of this page).

"Just replace the battery!"

If the battery were damaged, it likely wouldn't hold a charge at all. Especially considering the wrong "usage" measurement I mentioned, it's probably something wrong with the phone's motherboard itself that draws more current.

"Didn't you have a OnePlus One? What happened to it?"

I gave it to my mom in August 2016 because I prefer small smartphones (while she doesn't mind).

"How did you know the exact time your phone stopped working? You submerged it on purpose so you could have an excuse to get a newer smartphone!"

Damn. You got me.
Or maybe it's because I knew that afterwards. iPhone 5S and newer have this newfangled feature called motion co-processor that constantly monitors the steps you take when you have the phone with you, and you can see that data in the built-in "Health" app. After reviving the phone, I could open that app and see that on August 1, 2017, the last data it recorded was at 1:57:27 pm (I took 356 steps from 1:51 to 1:56), so it stopped working right around then. (The fact I took this screen shot at 1:59 pm is just a coincidence, I obviously didn't take it on that day).

The last thing my iPhone did before it fell into a coma.

Finally, a new phone

Since this accident, I've been thinking about what smartphone could be a good replacement. This iPhone 5S was working so well and I didn't want to replace it yet, but I couldn't keep this damaged phone as my main mobile device for too long. On October 27, 2017, almost three months after these events, I made my final decision and purchased an Apple iPhone 8.
I didn't want an iPhone X because I learned with my 1st-generation iPad not to buy the first generation of a new re-design. The iPhone 8 is a more solid choice because it's like an iPhone "7S".

Unfortunately, I'm one of those people who swear by their 3.5 mm headphone jack, which this phone does not have. Right now I'm fine with the adapter that comes in the box (which lets you use wired headphones, but not charge the phone at the same time) because the phone is new and lasts for a decent time for now. I'll probably buy that Belkin adapter that lets me use wired headphones while charging eventually.
(I could buy a pair of good Bluetooth earphones, but when their batteries are low, it's the same problem!)

Needless to say, I'll be updating the software on this phone for a while. It came with iOS 11.0.2 but now it's running 11.3.1 (the latest version as of this writing) which runs better.

And while this phone still records audio in mono (which is a shame, but I could buy an external stereo microphone), I can make videos in 1080p at 60 fps again, like I did when I had my OnePlus One.
I could do 4K 60 fps, but I can't edit that kind of video on my computer because none of my computers can handle 4K video (and I don't have any 4K displays).

The points in my YouTube video about why I like my iPhone 5S in late 2017 still stand. I think I could have easily kept it as my main phone for another year, if it weren't for this accident.

iPhone 5S and iPhone 8

"Ha! I have an iPhone X instead! Jelly?"

I prefer it on its own, I don't like mixing it with peanut butter.


On May 2, 2018, nine months after the water accident, I came home to discover my iPhone 5S wouldn't power on at all. I left it plugged in for hours to various chargers with various cables, but it's not drawing any power, or even heating up.
Of course, I tried to reset it dozens of times, but it's not coming back to life, and my computers don't recognize it.
I've even swapped the battery and display assembly with those from another iPhone 5S that's fully working; the other phone works fine with my parts, while mine still isn't showing any signs of life with the other battery and screen, so it's the logic board that's broken.
This means that I've moved on to the iPhone 8 completely, but I still feel sad about this 5S because I was still using it for a few things every day.

Thank you for reading. Always check your pockets before going on a swim.

TheComputerGuy96 (YouTube, Twitter)

Page written on Sept 16, 2017. Last updated on May 5, 2018. Back to topBack to my equipmentBack to home page