Through a chain of unlikely events, my wife’s iPhone 3G wound up in the toilet ten days ago. Fortunately, this was prior to using said toilet. Even more fortunately, my wife developed cat-like reflexes and managed to grab the phone almost before it hit the bottom, so, it was only immersed for a couple of seconds.

Ten days later, here is what we learned:

  • At the time of the accident, a search for “iphone toilet” discovered over 2.5 million hits. Apparently, this happens all the time.
  • The iphone contains at least two “liquid damage indicators”. These are litmus paper-like strips that turn red when they get wet. Once they get red, they don’t turn back, and this voids your warranty (though this may be changing slightly). One of these is at the bottom, under the device connector. The other is at the bottom of the headphone jack (shine a light in there). In our case, the bottom one is pretty obviously triggered, but the one in the jack seems fine (air bubble saved it, maybe?).
  • People will sell you various ways to keep these openings closed.
  • Water doesn’t damage electronics. Water plus electricity does. So, the usual move is to take the battery out of the device to save it. That doesn’t work so well with the iPhone. In addition, to really turn the iPhone off completely, you must first turn it on. In this case, everything actually seemed fine with the screen on. All icons showed up, time was correct, etc. In a lot of the posts on the net, the screen is borked at first.
  • Next step is to wick the moisture out of the device. People offer a bunch of choices on the net here. Someone suggested using a vacuum cleaner to suck it out. We didn’t try that, but it made me wonder: if I put the phone in one of those jars you see in science class, where the bell stops making noise when the air is sucked out of it, wouldn’t the resulting vacuum make the water evaporate? We didn’t try that either, though. Instead, we threw the phone into a airtight container filled with dry rice. Since the sensor on the bottom was more damaged, we pointed that end downward.

After a day in the rice, we took it out turned it on. It still had a decent amount of battery life left. This is a good sign, as the battery would likely be drained if there was a short in the machine someplace. I backed it up, charged it, even updated it to the most recent patch.

After ten days, the phone has been completely normal and working fine. Looks like we were fairly lucky, but you can find stories of iPhones that seemed more water-damaged that pulled through. And, also some that didn’t.