Fixing a wet iPod touch (behold: the power of rice)

iPod touch in a bag of rice

Rice works as a dessicant, which means that if you place a moist object in a bag of rice long enough, the rice should absorb most of the water. Over the past few years I’ve heard repeatedly that you can use this trick to dry out a water-damaged cellphone or other gadget, but I’ve never had an excuse to try this science experiment for myself.

Saturday

Then on Saturday night my adorable cat decided to give me a good reason by pushing my iPod touch into a glass of water. When I fished it out and wiped it with a cloth, the screen had stopped working. So after spending a few moments debating whether it was worth using up a few dollars worth of the sushi rice in the cupboard to save an iPod touch that would cost $200 to replace, I decided that rice was a more renewable resource.

I filled a small plastic bag with rice, dropped in the iPod touch and left it overnight.

Sunday

I’ve heard that you should wait 24 to 48 hours before turning a device on after sticking it in rice to dry out, but I’m impatient. I opened the bag, took out the iPod and was very excited to note that the screen lit up when I pressed the power button.

Unfortunately that’s about all that happened. The touchscreen wasn’t responding.

Ideally you should turn off any electronics when trying to dry them out, but at this point it was kind of impossible to do that. As long as there’s a charge in the battery you can reboot an iPod touch without using the touchscreen — but you can’t shut it down. If you press and hold the power and home buttons for a few seconds a “slide to power off” message appears at the top of the screen, but I couldn’t slide.

If you continue to press and hold the power and home buttons, the iPod will reboot, but then it just starts up again. The only way to power it down all the way is to wait until the battery runs out of juice.

At this point I also start to worry that the iPod touch might already be dried out. In other words, while the device still seems to power up and still displays graphics, the digitizer might have been damaged.

It is theoretically possible to repair a broken iPod touch by replacing the front panel, which includes the screen and digitizer. But it’s difficult to do and requires a $90 part (which isn’t currently in stock). So if the touchscreen is really broken, I might need to spend $200 to buy a new iPod touch.

The iPod goes back in the bag of rice. Actually, just to be on the safe side, I changed out the rice.

Monday morning

Hey, I wonder what would happen if I connected the iPod to my computer, performed a system wipe and restored from the lastest backup.

Not much, apparently. It all works — but the touchscreen still doesn’t work.

Let’s drop it back in the bag of rice for now.

Monday evening

Yay! The touchscreen is working again! I can swipe to unlock… wait. It stopped working again.

Oh, is that a little moisture spot I see looking at me from the camera lens? That can’t be good.

Back in the bag it goes.

Tuesday

Whoo hoo! The touchscreen is working again! Check it out? I unlocked the iPod. I can launch the web browser and other apps!

Hmm… I wonder if the speaker still works. I should try firing up Pandora to see if I can listen to music. Why won’t Pandora launch? Wait… why won’t anything launch.

Oh, the touchscreen’s not working.

Where’s that bag of rice again?

Wednesday morning

OK, well the iPod touch was almost back to normal. Let’s see how it works after another 12 hours hanging out with its tiny rice buddies…

And… we’re good to go! After spending about half a week in a bag of rice, the touchscreen is fully functional again. I’ve been using the iPod touch for a few hours now and it’s just as responsive to touch as it was the day I first turned it on.

The speakers work as well.

Unfortunately the camera doesn’t want to work at all. I can’t get the camera app to show a picture from the front or or rear camera. It’s possible that another extended stay at the Rice Spa may solve this problem, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the camera circuitry was fried. Further research is needed.

Still, since I don’t actually use the camera on the iPod touch very often (I have a Nexus One smartphone that has a camera with flash and auto-focus… plus a real camera), a few bucks worth of rice and a plastic bag probably just saved me $200.

Notes

I’ve heard that you should seal the bag of rice to prevent it from absorbing moisture from the air in the room. I’ve also heard that you should leave the bag open so that the moisture doesn’t get trapped in the bag.

In my little experiment, I kept the bag sealed. I’m not sure if it made a difference.

Some folks have also had success vacuuming their gadgets to suck out air — apparently using a hair dryer can be dangerous since it could overheat electronics, or blow water further into the crevices. I tried a little vacuuming action on day two or three, but it didn’t seem to make much of an immediate difference.

I’ve also heard that setting an iPod touch on a warm surface can help — some people even turn an oven up to 150 degrees and open the door while resting the iPod on the door. This apparently bathes it in warm air without allowing it to get too hot in a confined area. This sounded risky to me and I didn’t try it at all. If it weren’t fall, I might have tried leaving the iPod and rice out in the sun for a while.

Clearly your results may vary, but if you’ve dropped a phone or other electronic device in a pool of water, it’s at least worth trying to dry it out with rice before shopping for a replacement — especially if your device is no longer under warranty.

  • DanH

    Within a two week period, I managed to leave both an iPod Nano 3G and Nano 6G in my pants pocket while it went through the wash. Afterwards, the 3G was completely dead. The 6G screen flashed, and then the backlight stopped working, though it worked otherwise. I tried rice for weeks with both, and also opened up the 6G to dry it out with a hair dryer.

    Unfortunately neither one recovered further. The backlight circuitry for the 3G may have fried itself because it was
    still wet. So I would say if this happens, just shake the water out, and
    use rice immediately. In retrospect, I believe I should not have tried to power or charge either one up until they spent a number of days in rice.

  • Readme

    Rice didn’t help me either, but then again, I was not as patient as you were. Fortunately I was able to avail myself of a very kind Apple and get a replacement phone.

    • http://www.liliputing.com Brad Linder

      Nice. That’s definitely the best option if you can get it. 

      But Apple often won’t cover water damaged devices, and my iPod is a little over a year old, so I believe the warranty has run out. 

  • Anonymous

    I tried rice after my iPhone headphones stopped working after getting wet. The rice didn’t seem to work, but leaving them in my bag for a month and forgetting about them did the trick! They now work just as did before.

  • Slurpy

    How on earth did the cat push the iPod INTO a glass of water?  Was the glass on the floor, and the iPod on the table?  Was the iPod balanced on the glass?  This is unnervingly frustrating to me!

    Also, my Sanyo Katana (I think) has been knocked by my cat into the bathtub three times (I balance it on the ledge when I sit in it to read), and I’ve never even had to turn it off, let alone dry it out.  I’ll buy an Apple product when they can make phones as durable as my FREE phone.

    • http://www.liliputing.com Brad Linder

      Yeah… the explanation is a little embarrassing, but since you shared yours I’ll show you mine.

      Puck has a habit of drinking out of water glasses that aren’t his if they’re left unguarded. So I’ve developed a habit of placing something on top of any glass of water whenever I get up to leave a room briefly. More often than not, the something I put on top is my cellphone or iPod touch.

      I’m gad he decided not to push my Nexus One in the water!

      Clearly I need to find a better cup topper solution though. Somehow it never occurred to me what a bad idea it was to balance an electronic device on top of a watery pit of doom. 

  • http://therepairstop.com/ iPod Screen Repair Los Angeles

    Yesterday night while returning from the library, I accidentally dropped
    my ipad2 straight onto the concrete from about 4 feet. And the screen
    had cracked the entire length of the ipad. Also, the corner was really
    damaged. Here i got the solution , thanks for sharing the info.

  • SophieRose

    my ipod sound has suddenly just gone really quiet? i think it might be to do that the day before that some idiots egged us and it got on my ipod ?

    • Andy Knol

      Why do people use question marks for everything? Sheesh.

  • gary

    I got a pod touch that got dropped in water it all work except three keys on screen ikm if I change the screen will this fix it

    • Moosh

      No.

  • Mom

    Grandma washed my son’s ipod in his pants pocked, left in bowl of rice overnight next to the heat vent on the floor to help dry it out. Woke up plugged in to laptop & battery came on screen that it was charging! Waited a few minutes, apple showed up on screen. I turned on & seems to work fine so far! Only a few spots on screen probably from water damage.

  • ocean

    I have tried the oven thing a couple times with a couple different old flip phones after drenching them in ocean water on various boat trips. The first time I used an electric based oven and it worked like a charm, lowest heat with the door partially open. The second time I used a gas oven and did the same thing, this time I melted the phone and screen, not just the electronics. Not sure if it was the different ovens that made the difference, but long story short, don’t risk the oven go with the rice, it works much better!

  • Dustin Zilbauer

    The whole rice thing sounds absolutely ridiculous for obvious reasons. Number one, unless its minute rice, there is a hull on the grains that prevent it from absorbing any moisture unless its BOILED in water and even that takes a while. When you remove the device from the rice that is supposedly drying it out, did you notice the grains are still hard? It’s because the rice hasn’t “drawn water out” of anything! It only SEEMS to work at all simply because the device is just drying out with or without being placed in rice. In fact, it might dry out faster in an open and well aerated space.

    • http://reaganff.tumblr.com/ reaganFF

      I’ve had this work successfully on two cell phones and an iPod touch. You can put rice in room-temp (or cold) water, and if left for long enough, it will absorb the water.

  • Charli1019

    I know what will solve the camera problem
    Just go into the App Store and get a
    Camera app it worked for me
    GOOD LUCK

  • Amazing technology

    My friends little brother dropped an perfect iPod touch in the toilet and my friend managed to get it to work by putting it in rice for a day and it worked absolutely fine awesome aye . I’m writing on my ipad now but nothing is wrong with it’s never been dropped in water and it’s about 6 months old cool!!!!!!!!