“Can rice actually save your wet phone?” asks the Verge. The answer, which will be obvious to anyone who gives it a moment of thought, is “no.” After all, if rice could suck the water vapor out of your wet phone, then it would also suck it out of the air while it sat in your kitchen, and that bag of rice would be a sodden lump.
This might sound like bad news. Reviving dead gadgets is better than buying new ones, but all is not lost. Your phone can still be rescued from a dunk–it’s just that rice won’t help.
The author of the Verge piece, Michael Zelenko, traces the folksy old-wives tale back to a 1946 issue of Popular Photography. Readers planning a photographic expedition to the tropics are advised to keep their equipment “in a sealed container with some drying agent such as silica gel.”
“As a temporary expedient, particularly for storing exposed films before processing,” the article continues, “tea, rice and brown paper have been recommended. Their moisture capacity is so low, however, that very large quantities are required to produce a substantial effect.” (emphasis added).
Note that this advice is aimed at preventing the ingress of humidity, not drawing out liquid water from a sodden gadget. So how does rice perform as a rescuer of gadgets? Gazelle, the gadget reuse and recycling company, did an experiment to find out, performing two tests:
Test 1: We deliberately drowned nine smartphones and then attempted to revive each. (We then appropriately recycled the phones.)
Test 2: We compared 7 common materials to see which is really the king of all cures for water damage.
The drying agents used were as follows: Cat litter, couscous, rolled oatmeal, instant oatmeal, instant rice, silica gel (in the form of crystal cat litter), and uncooked rice. Each material was tested to see which could absorb most water from a household sponge.
Rice came dead last. “Dry, uncooked conventional rice was the worst of the seven options we tested. It absorbed the least water in 24 hours,” say the testers. Even the control sponge, left on a shelf for the duration of the experiment, dried faster than the one in rice. “But it seems that leaving your phone on a shelf may be the best option,” conclude the testers.
So there, more or less conclusively, we have it. Rice doesn’t dry out phones. Just leave them in a warm, dry place. There is good news though. Gazelle’s other test found that most phones can be revived. The trick is to pull out the battery as soon as possible, then be patient. The phone will dry eventually. Interestingly, the iPhones in the test appeared better sealed than the Samsung handsets, buying them extra time before they drowned. But the extra seals and tightly-packed interior meant that drying was much slower, trapping water inside the iPhones and preventing revival. By contrast, all the Samsung phones died almost immediately, but all were later resuscitated.
So while rice does absolutely nothing to help, that doesn’t mean you have to buy a new phone if yours takes a dip. And who knows, maybe a few days without Twitter and email will do you some good?