An eye for an eye. An iPhone for a cup of tea.

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Our car, like most cars, has a cup holder. It's just next to the gear stick. I don't use it all that often, but when I do bring something with me to drink in the car, it's a life saver. When I don't have a beverage with me, I usually place my iPhone in the cup holder instead.

The other night, like most nights, I drove to my wife's office to pick her up from work. I had a few minutes to spare, so I bought a cup of 'Chinese café' tea 茶餐廳奶茶. When my wife came out of the office, I placed the tea into the cup holder and we began our drive home.

Clouds in my iPhone

After 'repairing' my iPhone, the LCD unfortunately looked like this. The anomalies do however appear to be fading away. With any luck, the screen will be nearly as good as new in a few days time.

Almost home, I handed my iPhone to my wife to show her something. When she handed it back to me, I absentmindedly placed the iPhone back into the cup holder. It was almost a full minute later before I realised that I had in fact placed the iPhone into half a cup of tea. I quickly pulled it out and my wife wiped it off, but...

Back home, I wiped the phone again and sprayed it with vinegar (what was I thinking!!!) hoping to drain the tea out of the iPhone. It didn't work, and later that night, the iPhone began showing the first signs of infection. It repeatedly thought that an unrecognised accessory was connected to the dock connector, and it was no longer possible to synchronise the iPhone with my Mac. The Home button also failed to respond to my repeated presses.

The next day, I took the iPhone in to the local Three repair centre. They noted that the connector had changed colour indicating that water was involved, and took the iPhone to their technician to quote the repair. The quote? HK$5,400!!! Why? Because Three are not authorised to repair the iPhones, only to replace them under warranty. If you damage your iPhone (here in Hong Kong at least), you have little choice but to buy a new one.

In my case, I found it extremely unreasonable that I would have to buy a new iPhone because the old one had sustained a little water (tea) damage, and I cannot afford to buy another one at $5,400. So I went online and searched for other similar stories. What I found were a couple of instruction videos on YouTube showing how to disassemble the iPhone. Since Three were not going to fix my iPhone, my only choice was to attempt the repair myself, hoping that it was a case of shorting wet contacts within the iPhone.

A few hours later, after 3 or 4 attempts, I had finally cleaned and wiped the inside of the iPhone, and found the source of the connector problem; tea had gathered around the the ribbon connection for the connector assembly. Using an electric toothbrush, I carefully cleaned both sides of the connection (twice because the first try wasn't successful) and put everything back together. My iPhone is now working.

Unfortunately, because I'm not a professional, I made mistakes while 'repairing' the iPhone. My biggest mistake was introducing alcohol (95%) to the LCD screen while cleaning the Home button. The LCD now has a permanent background resembling a cumulus nimbus cloud formation. Nothing I can do about it at this point. At least the iPhone works, and is almost perfect again. The next time I visit the States, I might send the iPhone in to one of the online third-party repair centres to have the LCD replaced; a cost of approx USD$50 to $80, much much less than the cost of a new iPhone!

The lesson to be learned from this story? Be very very careful with your iPhone. If you damage it in any way, no matter how minor, you might find yourself paying full price to 'fix' it.


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14 Responses to “An eye for an eye. An iPhone for a cup of tea.”
  1. Betty says:

    This happened to me oh so recently, with my ipod touch. I put a cup of cold milk tea in my tote because I was shopping and didn't want to hold it. Unfortunately, some spilled & ipod touch died. Took it to Apple & they saw the white stripe turned pink, signaling that it was wet (those smart Apple people!!). Anyway, it was completely dead. But then I buried the ipod in a bowl of raw rice & inside a ziploc bag (the raw rice acts as a dessicant? to draw water out). 24 hours later, ipod was able to turn on but screen was completely dark. Buried it again and 48 hours later, screen was able to get back to normal brightness, but would not play muisc :( Buried it again and 72 hours later, it plays it plays! Everything is working again except that the music won't play on speaker anymore.

    Expensive lesson learned. I'm happy I was able to save my ipod, especially since it was only a month old. I never ever had an accident with my regular ipod before, now going on 4 years old *knock on wood*

  2. 河國榮 says:

    very cool! rice and a ziplock bag. very clever!

    you're lucky it was western milk tea and not the Chinese cafe tea. the Chinese cafe tea is much much thicker, leaving lots of invasive muck behind after it dries.

  3. pigazine says:

    My boss had a same experience with his cell phone. His wife put a cup of coffee in the cup holder, and he put the cell phone into cup of coffee without even thinking. The only difference is that he was using a flip phone, so the whole cell phone was swimming inside that cup of extra large double double.

  4. 杜格拉斯 says:

    I'm sorry for your home button, I had a similar experience on my O2 few years ago, I accidentally broke the LCD, it cost me 1100 HKD to have it repair. And my friend droped my Toshiba G900 in a small pond a year ago, I immediately took out the battery, and put it under hair dryer for an hour, it worked for me, at least up to this moment. :)

  5. Richard Lai says:

    Some members in my forum had more extreme stories: one guy's iPhone suddenly stopped working for no reason, and when he took it into the repair centre they said the moisture indicator inside showed sign of water damage and, like your case, repair would cost the same price as a new iPhone!

    But then Hong Kong being such a humid place, I doubt the reliability of the indicator, plus it could have been one's sweat which means it should be Apple's fault for the design flaw.

    By the way, any thoughts for the new MacBooks? I've just got the MB (my first ever Mac) and am loving it!

  6. 河國榮 says:

    yep. taking out the battery is standard practice for a device that has been exposed to liquid. unfortunately, that's not possible with the iPhone. in fact, the tea shorting the connection actually kept turning the iPhone on randomly while I was trying to fix it. NOT GOOD! I was lucky. the iPhone's working very well now.

  7. Glen says:

    What is with the iPod anyway, it greatness is being exagerated too much. And the price is way over the top, but the Apple ppeople know how to rig things so they can get more money. Hooroo then.

  8. Michael Mak (your HKMUG friend) says:

    Long time ago, in the pager era, I had a pager dropped into the.... where it was placed on a shelf behind me in toilet.
    (it was in "vibration mode". A call made it shake, and thus the drop)
    These was what I done. FYI:
    Step 1. Power off. Take out the battery.
    Step 2. Flush the whole thing with water. Clean it out as far as you can.
    Step 3. Rub it dry.
    Step 4. Back home. Ready a good amount of drying agent. (silica gel) and bury the gadget there for a few days.
    The silica gel may changed color due to the big amount of water. Bake them to re-activate the drying function. (or you can replenish the drying agent if you are too lazy to heat then re-use the gels. )

    Generally a electronic gadget won't get "burn" being wet through.
    It's the "erosion" afterwards that cause problem. ( especially salty water)

    The days of drying action should sip the water out completely.
    In my case, the water shades inside the LCD was cleared.
    The whole process I hadn't open the pager.


  9. Stephen says:

    Glen, do you have an iPod? I suggest you acquire one if you don't and see for yourself what the greatness is. It's impossible to express the experience with just words. It's like water. How could one tell you how good it tastes unless you try it for yourself. Hope you understand.

  10. Alex says:

    Use distilled water to flush. Why? Because it's not electroconductive and you don't have to worry about short circuit caused by the battery.

  11. Jaime says:

    I also got rejected by 3 and Apple when my iPhone stopped working (became really hot and then went dead) because of the damn liquid immersion indicator. I have no idea what could have triggered that other than humidity (I did go sailing with it but the phone was inside a waterproof pouch the whole time). Apple's policy in this respect is awful, since they won't repair despite the fact that the other immersion indicators were not triggered.

    They also offered to "repair" it by charging me the exact same price as a new one (actually $600 HKD less, $5400 for a 16G). Terrible.

    So now I have no choice but to try to fix it myself or pay somebody else to do it. Does anybody know of a good reliable shop or repairman?

  12. Michael says:

    >>Use distilled water to flush. Why? Because it's not electroconductive ....

    It doesn't harm to use distilled water.
    But I am afraid that the circuit and everything around is not "pure", when distilled water meet the world, it is no longer distilled.

    Let's do it like this. Flush with fast tap water and finished up with a rinse in distilled water.


  13. HK says:

    After my second trip abroad where i couldn't charge my phone i took it back to 3 who advised that the hardward was broken and couldn't be fixed. I asked how that could happen in a 13 month old phone and they said 'not 3 problem'. Needless to say i was aghast at the apparent lack of service.
    So now have a 13 month old 3GS that was in excellent condition but is now broken becuase 'hardward broken'. Does anyone know if this is just flim flam by them or can i get it checked out properly and maybe repaired?

  14. Barun says:

    Hi guys,
    DO NOT take your iPhone or other apple products for repair to "APPLE OWNER". I read some good things about them on (which they probably planted!), and took my iPhone with water damage to their Sham Shui Po shop for repair. And they changed the phone on me, and gave me a junk phone in return. Now they are refusing to make amends.