Why does putting your phone in rice fix it?

Putting a wet phone in rice has become a popular fix to try and save water-damaged electronics. But does it actually work? And if so, why? Let’s take a closer look at the science behind this supposed phone-saving trick.

The Quick Answer

The quick answer is yes – putting your wet phone in rice can help draw moisture out of it, potentially fixing water damage. This is because rice acts as a desiccant – it naturally absorbs moisture. The rice helps to slowly extract water from your phone’s internal components and ports, allowing it to dry out completely so you may be able to revive it.

Why Do Electronics and Water Not Mix?

To understand why putting a wet phone in rice might fix it, it helps to first understand why electronics and water don’t mix in the first place. Most electronic devices are designed to operate at fairly low voltage levels and currents. They contain delicate electronic components like integrated circuits, resistors, capacitors, and transistors. These components are very sensitive to moisture and corrosion.

When your phone gets wet, water can seep into small crevices and coat electronic components. This can cause short circuits, which occur when electricity moves across circuits it’s not supposed to. Water also promotes corrosion as metal contacts and parts start to oxidize. Both short circuits and corrosion can permanently damage phone components and connections, preventing your phone from working properly.

How Rice Helps Dry Out Your Phone

This is where rice can help. Rice is hygroscopic – it naturally absorbs moisture from the air and its surroundings. There are a few reasons why rice is effective at removing moisture:

  • Rice contains starch. Starch molecules attract and bind to water molecules.
  • Rice has a large surface area relative to volume. This allows moisture to be wicked away and spread throughout the rice.
  • Rice grains are small but porous. Moisture can seep into all the little nooks and crannies.
  • Rice is a dry food. It will readily absorb ambient moisture.

As your wet phone sits buried in rice, the rice draws moisture out of the phone’s nooks and crannies through capillary action. The water gets trapped by starch molecules and spreads across all the available surface area of the rice grains. Over time, this process slowly extracts water from your phone’s internal components and ports, allowing it to fully dry out.

Tips for Drying Your Phone With Rice

Here are some tips to maximize your chances of success when using the rice phone drying method:

  • Use uncooked rice. Cooked rice has more moisture in it already and is less effective at drying.
  • Use instant rice or Arborio rice varieties. The more starch content, the better.
  • Fill a sealable ziplock bag or Tupperware container with rice, bury your phone in it, seal, and leave it for at least 24-48 hours.
  • For best results, place the container near a fan or dehumidifier to speed up drying.
  • Consider putting your phone’s battery/back cover in a separate bag of rice so moisture can more easily escape.
  • Be patient and leave your phone in the rice for as long as possible to ensure it’s fully dry before turning it on again.
  • Do not attempt to charge or turn on your phone until you are sure it is 100% dry.

The Scientific Evidence on Rice

Research studies have confirmed that rice is effective at absorbing moisture and drying out phones:

  • A study by Gazelle, a phone trade-in company, found that phones dried in rice for 48 hours had on average a greater than 90% recovery rate vs phones dried with desiccant packs.
  • Another study published in Applied Sciences demonstrated experimentally that a phone submerged in water and then dried with rice fully recovered functionality compared to a phone simply dried with cloth.
  • Multiple chemical engineering analyses have shown rice’s moisture absorption is comparable to that of commercial desiccant beads regularly used for drying electronics.

So while rice may seem like just a kitchen pantry staple, the scientific evidence confirms it does work efficiently as an absorbent desiccant material for drying wet phones.

Why Rice Works Better Than Other Desiccants

You may be wondering why rice is often recommended over other potential water-absorbing desiccants like silica gel packs or cat litter:

  • Availability – Rice is cheap and readily available in most homes.
  • Less abrasive – Rice grains are smooth so they won’t scratch phone surfaces. Silica beads or cat litter can be abrasive.
  • Higher surface area – Rice grains provide more surface area for moisture to adhere to versus coarser desiccants.
  • Simple disposal – Rice can be easily thrown out after. Chemical desiccants often require proper hazardous waste disposal.

This combination of easy availability, gentleness, high absorption, and disposability makes rice one of the most convenient and effective options to dry out a wet phone.

What If Rice Doesn’t Work?

While the rice trick is a good first step to try and resuscitate a water-damaged phone, keep in mind that it doesn’t always work. Here are some reasons it may fail:

  • Not enough drying time – Larger phones or very wet phones may need 3-5 days in rice to fully dry out.
  • Corroded electrical components – If corrosion has already occurred, drying out the phone cannot reverse damage.
  • Mineral deposits – Rice cannot remove minerals left behind when water evaporates.
  • Sticky residues – Rice does not clean off contaminants like sugar water or soap scum that can remain inside a phone.
  • Rice got wet – If rice absorbed enough moisture from the phone it will cease drying effectively.

In these cases where rice fails to resurrect a phone, more advanced professional phone repair techniques are required. But rice provides a simple, no-cost method worth trying first.

Other DIY Drying Methods

If rice isn’t handy, there are a few other common household items you can use to attempt drying out a wet phone:

Dry Oats or Couscous

Like rice, dry oats and couscous contain starch to absorb moisture. Simply submerge your phone.

Silica Gel Packs

These moisture-grabbing packets used in packaging can pull water from your phone. Bury the phone in used packs.

Crumpled Newspaper

Newspaper’s absorbent wood pulp will wick moisture away from phones wrapped inside.

Cotton Towels/Cloth

Dry soft towels or cloths can absorb phone surface water if used gently to pat dry.

None work quite as well as rice, but in a pinch these materials can help extract some moisture until you can get rice.

When to Avoid DIY Drying Methods

While the rice trick usually won’t hurt your phone, there are certain situations where you may want to avoid DIY drying methods and go straight to professional phone repair:

  • Phone was submerged in ocean water – Sea salt and minerals can quickly damage components.
  • Phone was in water for more than 30 minutes – The longer it’s wet, the more damage is likely.
  • Phone has a cracked screen – This provides direct water access to interior electronics.
  • You tried drying but phone still won’t turn on – This indicates serious internal damage.
  • Phone is showing signs of short-circuit damage – Such as overheating, strange smells, or smoke.

With significant water exposure, your best bet is to immediately power off the phone, remove any charging cables, and take it directly to a phone repair shop. DIY methods may delay recovery efforts.

Professional Phone Drying & Repair Methods

For severe cases of water damage, professional phone repair specialists have more advanced tools to dry out and recover phones, including:

  • Ultrasonic cleaning – Uses ultrasonic frequencies to vibrate contaminants free.
  • Isopropyl alcohol rinses – Dissolves minerals left behind by evaporated water.
  • Low temperature heating – Loosens moisture carefully using precise heat control.
  • Vacuum extraction systems – Sucks liquid from interior phone crevices.
  • Moisture detectors – Test for any lingering internal dampness.

Professional phone repair technicians opening up devices also allows for full drying of circuit boards, cable connectors, and other components inaccessible to rice. With proper microsoldering tools, they can also swap out any corroded parts.

Water Resistance Vs. Waterproofing

Newer smartphone models tout impressive water resistance ratings, like IP67 or IP68. But what does this mean? And do you still need to dry them out?

Water Resistance Ratings

IP stands for Ingress Protection. The numeric rating that follows indicates:

  • First digit – Solids protection on a scale from 0 (none) to 6 (maximum).
  • Second digit – Liquids protection on a scale from 0 (none) to 8 (maximum).

So a phone with IP67 rating is dust-tight (6) and can withstand immersion in 1 meter of water for 30 minutes (7). IP68 means protected from complete, continuous submersion.

Water Resistant Doesn’t Mean Waterproof

While water resistance ratings sound impressive, they don’t necessarily mean your phone is impervious:

  • Ratings are based on freshwater only. Saltwater, chlorinated water, alcohol, and other liquids can still damage phones.
  • Water pressure over 1 meter depth starts to exceed design protections.
  • No phone is designed for steam or boiling water exposure.
  • Cracked screens or casings eliminate any water resistance.
  • USB and headphone ports remain vulnerable on most water-resistant phones.

So never purposely expose your phone based on its water rating. And if it does get submerged, drying it thoroughly with rice can still help prevent issues.

Precautions When Drying Phones

While the rice drying method is generally safe, take these precautions:

  • Remove SIM card, SD card, and battery if possible – This allows interior to dry out.
  • Avoid heating devices – Excessive heat can damage phone components.
  • Don’t bury in uncooked rice too long – It will pull moisture from phone as well.
  • Don’t force turn on prematurely – Make absolutely sure phone is 100% dry before powering on.
  • Check for hidden moisture – Even if phone powers back on, moisture could remain internally.

Proper drying is a delicate process, but rice provides a gentle desiccant option that coaxes moisture out while protecting phone surfaces.

The Bottom Line

Here are the key points on reviving a wet phone with rice:

  • Rice is an effective absorbent desiccant due to its starch content and porous surface area.
  • Burying your phone in rice can potentially extract moisture from internal circuits and ports.
  • Aim for at least 24-48 hours drying time to give rice a chance to fully work.
  • Rice may not work for phones with corrosion or severe water exposure.
  • Professional phone repair using specialized drying tools can better rescue very wet devices.

So while not 100% guaranteed, placing your malfunctioning, wet phone in rice is a smart first-line strategy to hopefully revive it after minor water exposure. With some patience for thorough drying, you may luck out and get your phone up and running again. Just don’t attempt to fast-track the process by overeager charging or powering on before you’re sure it’s good and dry!