The first cell phone I lost to water damage was a Motorola Rizr Z3 in 2006 — though it wasn’t actually water that did it in, but a spilled beer. Since then, I’ve lost a phone in a sink, in a rain jacket that got too humid, and in my pocket before I jumped into a swimming hole in upstate New York.
After the swimming hole, far away from a Genius Bar, I Googled how to dry a phone, and ended the day with a very wet iPhone 4s submerged in rice. The next morning, I had a ruined phone and some rice I was pretty leery about cooking. AppleCare took care of the phone, but I had been lackadaisical in backing up the data on my phone — so hundreds of photos disappeared.
Redux, a phone-drying service currently available at 650 TCC Verizon locations around the U.S. but with plans to expand much farther, wants to prevent all that. The service is simple: Bring your waterlogged phone in and walk out with the same phone, except dry and working. Redux works on either a subscription model — pay $29.99 for two years of worth of drying — or walk in off the street, pay a $10 diagnostic fee, and if the phone works pay either $90 or about half that if your phone is under an insurance plan.
Redux co-founder Reuben Zielinski and TCC president Omar Khan showed me the machine that makes this possible. It works like this: You place your soaked phone inside a chamber. After closing the lid, the machine starts to suck all the air out, creating a partial vacuum. “Right now, you and I are being subjected 14.7 psi [pounds per square inch] of atmospheric pressure,” says Zielinksi. “We lower that down close to zero. I wouldn’t call it a perfect vacuum, but we get close.” In that low pressure, water boils off at 75 degrees Fahrenheit, allowing the water trapped inside your phone to convert to vapor at a temperature that won’t also melt anything.
The machine runs through this cycle several times, breaking the vacuum, sucking out the water vapor, heating up the phone to back up to 75 degrees — the phone will get cold in the vacuum due to the water turning to vapor, the same way your skin gets cooler when sweat dries — and then putting the phone back into a vacuum. A sensor in the chamber detects the humidity, and once the phone isn’t putting out any more water vapor, it shuts down. “At that point, we can absolutely guarantee the phone is dry,” says Zielinksi. The phone is plugged back in a charger, and hopefully boots up. Zielinksi says the company sees a over a 70 percent success rate in bringing phones back to life.
So what can you do to make sure your phone will come back to life after taking a dunk? First, never plug your phone back into a charger if it’s gotten wet. “There’s a perception — when they get it wet, they can’t see the water inside. When the screen doesn’t turn on, the immediate reaction is to plug it in.” says Zielinski. But a wet phone with power flowing through leads to one thing: electrical shorts, which equals a permanently fried phone.
Second, and this may seem contradictory to all your instincts, but if you’ve dropped your phone in the pool or the ocean, run it under a faucet with fresh water to flush it out. “Chlorides are bad for electronics,” says Zielinski. “In a pool you have chlorine. In sea you have sodium chloride, or salt.”
It’s not just waterlogged phones that Redux wants to help you with. Zielinski says they’ve successfully dried out Wii controllers, a $5,000 cochlear implant, and a video camera that was left outside in the rain for a week. The model they showed to me could only hold a 7-inch tablet at most, but they’re planning to roll out a new version that can dry electronics up to the size of a 13-inch laptop.
There are several phone-drying competitors out there. DryBox is a kiosk service available in Oklahoma and Texas. Tekdry uses much of the same technology as Redux, except the phone is placed on metal beads instead of warming pads to keep the phone at the proper temperature.
Still, one has to wonder: With both the iPhone 7 and the Samsung Galaxy S7 being water resistant, will there still be demand for cell-phone drying services? Zielinksi says yes. “We’ve already dried out some water-resistant phones,” he says. “Water-resistant isn’t waterproof.”