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What is a Water Damage Indicator?

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  • Written By: Robert Grimmick
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 23 September 2016
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A water damage indicator, known by a variety of other names, is a small device found inside many electronic devices that permanently changes color when it comes in contact with water or other liquids. Manufacturers and repair services use the indicators to quickly check a device for water damage, which is not covered by most warranties. They are commonly found in cell phones, portable music players, laptop computers, and other types of electronics. These indicators can be controversial; some consumers claim they are unreliable and used to deny warranty coverage for devices that have not suffered water damage.

Manufacturers, the press, and consumers have a number of different names for water damage indicators, including water damage tape, water damage sticker, water contact indicator tape, liquid submersion indicator, and liquid contact indicator. Regardless of what they are called, these indicators all work in the same way: when exposed to water or liquids containing water, they change color. Most look like small stickers or pieces of tape and include a special water-sensitive dye that turns from white to red or pink when exposed to liquid.

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It’s common to find this sticker in a cell phone, but many other electronic devices, such as laptops, portable music players, and digital cameras, have them as well. The indicators can be located in many different positions such as headphone ports, data ports, under batteries, or inside a device where water can do the most damage. Many devices include more than one indicator; they are often placed in two or more different locations.

Since most warranties only cover defects in a product and not damage caused by accidents, a water damage indicator is frequently used as a quick way of determining if a customer’s device is eligible for repair under warranty. The indicators can be advantageous for companies because they provide very quick evidence of water damage in a particular product. A technician can, for example, inspect the indicator of a damaged cell phone and quickly determine that it would not be eligible for repair without having to disassemble the phone.

Some consumers have complained that these types of indicators can be activated even without being immersed in water. Anecdotal evidence of indicators changing color when exposed to small amounts of sweat, rain, or even humidity can be found on countless websites and from a few media outlets. One major electronics company was hit with a class action lawsuit in April 2010 over the use of allegedly unreliable indicators in the headphone and data ports of its mobile devices. Manufacturers claim the sensors should not change color when used according to a product’s environmental guidelines.

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Terrificli
Post 2

@Soulfox -- true and, in the case of cell phones at least, finding videos online that will walk a user through a repair are all over the place.

Here's a word of caution, however -- if you are uncomfortable working on your own electronics equipment, take it to a professional to get it fixed. You could save some money by fixing the device yourself, but there is the chance you could do more damage to it and that could cost you money when you have to bring it in for repairs.

By the way, the claims that water damage indicators get tripped accidentally are rarely true. Yes, there may be times whe that happens but they are few and far

between. To keep such as "false alarm" from happening to you, it might be wise to get a waterproof case and keep your device in it (there are plenty of waterproof cases available for most high dollar cell phones). That could stand as evidence that water wasn't an issue if you get a device repaired and the indicator is tripped. It can also help you make sure that dropping your device in a puddle won't destroy it.
Soulfox
Post 1

One thing a lot of consumers don't seem to know is that these indicators can typically be seen easily by them. In a cell phone, for example, shining a light in a charging port may reveal an activated water damage indicator. That can be useful when it comes to trying to diagnose what is wrong with a piece of electronics equipment.

That can be very handy, especially with cell phones, as a lot of "do it yourselfers" perfer to order parts and fix damaged items. Since water damaged items usually have fallen out of warranty, then some argue there is very little risk -- and a lot of money to be saved -- by repairing those items themselves.

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