As wonderfully versatile as iOS devices can be, there are a few things you really shouldn’t use them for. We wouldn’t recommend creosoting the fence with your iPhone, for instance, or using your iPad as a ping-pong bat. Still, accidents happen, and the time will come when your beloved device gets dropped, submerged, cracked, lost or pinched. In an attempt to save the day, we’ve made a list of emergency protocols for the most common disaster scenarios: read on for our first-aid advice and tips. We’ve also got some techniques and accessories to help you avoid a repeat in the future, and a list of real but foolhardy iDevice uses that we’d avoid at all costs. 

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and we’re afraid you adopt these strategies at your own risk; and some disasters will be beyond rescue. At least it will give you an excuse to upgrade to the latest model.

Liquid damage (fresh water department)

An iPhone has ended up in the shower, swimming pool or… toilet. Somehow or other. 

The Waterproof iPad Case by Lifedge is ideal for sailors, swimmers and bathtime readers

Rescue: First things first. Get the device out of the water right away, if you haven’t already, and don’t even think about plugging it in. If it’s plugged in already, unplug it (very carefully), and switch it off – don’t be tempted to turn it on and check for damage, which can cause short circuits. If the device is in a case, remove it; take the SIM card out too. (Removing the battery won’t hurt either, but this is obviously only for confident DIY-type users who are willing to void the warranty.) 

Wipe the excess and exterior liquid off everything you can reach. Turn the device upside down and give it a gentle shake to clear the ports and sockets.

Now we need to draw as much interior liquid out as possible. Resist the temptation to use a hair dryer or other heat treatment, which can damage internal components. Believe it or not, many people swear by uncooked rice, advising owners to put their damp iPad or iPhone in a big bowl of the stuff (cover it completely) and leave it there for 24 hours or more. The rice will absorb the moisture effectively, but may get dust or even entire grains into the ports. Be warned.

A better option is silica gel – those packets that come with some electronic components. If you can muster enough of those to cover the iPad (you may be able to buy them en masse from a craft shop), they’ll dry it out more efficiently and less messily than the rice.

Once you’ve dried out your device, you can try switching it on. If it still doesn’t work, or if you want to get the internals checked out, you can ask Apple to take a look, but bear in mind that iOS devices have internal liquid detectors (see, so there’s no point pretending the device went wrong of its own accord. They will know.

One final warning: a bad submersion may cause long-term damage, particularly to the battery, that only becomes apparent months later. In one famous case, an iPhone 3GS spontaneously overheated more than a year after being dropped in a pool (see The owner had used the rice technique and the iPhone had worked fine afterwards. 

Avoid: Apologies if this sounds patronising, but step one is to keep your devices dry. Water’s not, you know, good for them.

We’re all human and things get dropped, so it’s best to anticipate this. If you really want to use your iPad to read ebooks by the pool or in the bath, consider buying a waterproof case: Lifedge has a £99 model that can handle water and shocks; it also includes an anti-glare screen for sunlight viewing and doesn’t restrict the functionality of the touchscreen or cameras. Also consider the LifeProof case reviewed here.

Liquid damage (salt water department)

Ever hear the one about the Tenerife holidaymaker who forgot they had their work mobile phone on them when getting into a pedalo? The initially knee-deep water eventually reached waist level and, disastrously, swamped both trouser pockets.Salt water can be a big problem. 

Rescue: As well as the short circuits you get with fresh water, salt water is corrosive to the internal components of your Apple device. Speed is of the essence here: for anything other than minor surface splashes, you need to flush the phone thoroughly with fresh water to clear the salt out. It’s vital you prevent the salt water from drying inside. Once you’ve replaced the salt water with fresh, you can follow the same steps as in the previous entry, but the chances of damage are higher.

Avoid: See above. Get a waterproof case! 

Loss (General)

Now where did we put that iPhone? 

Rescue: If you haven’t downloaded Find My iPhone, we’d suggest doing so now. It’s a great free app that lets you track the location of your various iOS devices (or Mac, for that matter) from another device or Is the iPhone still in the house, or is it speeding off down the road? 

Loss (theft)

Here we’re tracking an iPad using an iPhone. Turns out it’s on the desk, but if we want to activate Lost Mode, we can lock the device and display a contact number

Okay, we’ve deduced that a shameless thief is making off with several hundred pounds worth of electronica, not to mention some potentially far more precious photos, messages and personal data. What next?

Rescue: Find My iPhone has more tricks up its sleeve. If you didn’t set up a password lock, never fear: you can lock the device down remotely by hitting ‘Lost Mode’. If the device contains business-critical or otherwise sensitive data, you can take things a step further by erasing it remotely.

We enjoyed the tale of the former England rugby star who turned detective (read about it here), but we wouldn’t recommend getting into a confrontation; let the police handle it, offering assistance via Find My iPhone if they are interested.

Avoid: A lock – and not a passcode lock, but a physical, heavy-duty bit of hardware. Kensington makes a range of such products, including a Folio SecureBack case and lock for £79.99.

Loss (mugging)

Without a doubt the most serious and traumatic of the disasters on this list: you’ve been confronted by the thief in person. 

Rescue: We hope it goes without saying that your personal safety comes first. Your iPhone can be replaced. Get to a safe place, then get the police involved. Obtaining a police incident number will be necessary if you plan to claim for the losses on your insurance, too.

Avoid: You’ve had a horrible experience and the last thing we want to do is suggest you were in any way to blame. Nonetheless, here are some thoughts you may wish to consider. 

Using an expensive gadget in public in a dodgy area is risky. You should never follow Maps when walking down the street during the night, for instance.

There are two ways to look at your iPhone. The first is to see it as a capable device with connectivity to the internet that is able to direct you from point A to B without fuss. The other way, and the way a person about to rob you would view it, is £500 worth of something that’s very easy to sell. If you’re lost it may seem a good idea to get out your phone and use Maps to guide you home, but it’s a bit of a risk if you’re by yourself.

Instead, why not find a café or restaurant that’s still open, sit down and order a drink. Get out your phone, in a public place with a lot of company, and tap in your home address. Before you leave, put it into your pocket and follow the turn-by-turn audio navigation to get you all the way home. 

Loss (left it in a taxi)

A special category for a depressingly common mishap. Of course, it always happens just before a vital meeting, and leaves you without the means to call for help.

Rescue: If it’s your iPhone, bank on the driver’s honesty and call your own number (from a borrowed phone). Failing that, call the taxi company. Then turn to Find My iPhone.

Avoid: There are some clever accessory makers out there. Once again we salute Kensington, which has come up with an iPhone case and key fob which communicate wirelessly; if your phone gets separated from the fob, it will be locked and you’ll get an alert. It’s called the BungeeAir and there are versions for £79.99 and £99.99. Wealthier readers may consider the £399 Citizen Proximity watch, which vibrates when it loses Bluetooth contact with your iPhone.

Bites, dents, scratches & similar

We once got a letter about a baby chewing an iPad and leaving dents in it. Minor nicks, bumps and scratches are par for the course if you own an iOS device, whether children, animals or adult clumsiness are to blame. 

Rescue: Marks made by a teething baby might be irreparable, but a lot of minor scratches to the metal sections of an Apple device can be buffed up or concealed with a little elbow grease. A spot of metal polish may do the trick, but some swear by toothpaste or even banana peel. 

Cracked screen

If your screen is scratched, cracked or otherwise blemished, things are more serious. Firstly, because this will affect your enjoyment of the device; and second, because the screen is a more sensitive component when it comes to repair methods.

Rescue: We’d advise against using any of the above approaches on glass surfaces, mainly since they can damage the oleophobic coating that makes the screen so resistent to marks in the first place. Begin by polishing with a soft cloth – one that comes with a pair of spectacles – and check the screen is actually damaged, not just grimy. At this point we’ve heard some professional repair firms advocating the use of ultra-fine sandpaper to buff out screen scratches, but we’d rather leave that to the professionals.

Avoid: Stick-on screen protectors are a good investment for those who plan to use their device outside or with kids. A heavy-duty case like the £42 Case Mate Tank will stand up to pretty much any punishment, but the unscratched perfection of the iPhone will be entirely hidden from view. 

Shattered screen

If you’ve bust your screen, a third-party repair firm such as Fix My iPhone may be able to help. But consider how this could affect your warranty

If your iPad or iPhone looks like the picture above, sandpaper isn’t going to cut it. You’ve dropped it on something hard, and you need a new screen. 

Rescue: If the screen is severely damaged you have little choice but to get it repaired or replaced. But be cautious about having your iDevice repaired by someone other than Apple – the rules probably need some clarification.

If your iPad or iPhone is covered by an AppleCare warranty, talk to Apple first before you involve anybody else in repairing your device. The reason is quite simple: the second anybody other than Apple takes apart your device, the warranty is gone – there’s no question about that.

But sometimes going to a third party makes sense. If your iPad 2 needed a new screen, say, and Apple’s scheme pricing of around £250 to replace the iPad (note, not repair the screen – replace the iPad) seemed rather steep, you might well look at a company like Fix My iPhone which will charge £125 to replace the glass, test it, then return it. The company can also repair iPhone 4/4S screens for around £99; or iPod touch screens from £70.

Hitting your data limit

Data plans differ, but most of us have got a limit – even a lot of ‘unlimited’ plans actually have a point at which the company will start to lose patience.

Rescue: There’s not much you can do at this point except wait until next month, and make the most of available Wi-Fi. If you’ve got spare data left on the iPhone but your iPad’s SIM plan has run out, however, bear in mind that the iPhone can act as a personal hotspot and carry the burden.

Avoid: Check your contract, for one thing, and make sure you know what you’re entitled to: your provider’s definition of ‘unlimited’ may be stipulated in the small print. In any case, if you’re consistently breaking your data cap, it may be time to upgrade to another plan or provider.

On the other hand, you may be able to trim your mobile data use significantly. Think about app updates, for one thing: doing a big batch at once can be a huge undertaking. A colleague of ours updated 35 apps via 3G in an airport and was promptly cut off. Of course, if an app starts updating via 3G, and you stop it, you can’t use that app while waiting for Wi-Fi, which is annoying. 

Killing your wallet

Beware when travelling abroad. Roaming charges can result in stupendous bills for even small amounts of usage.

Rescue: Other than disputing the charges – good luck with that – you’ll probably have to chalk this one up to experience. Here’s how to make sure it doesn’t happen again… 

Avoid: Before you switch off your iPhone on the plane, go to Settings > General > Mobile Data and turn off data roaming. Don’t turn it back on until you get back home. This will stop your phone accessing the internet (and being charged for it) outside the UK. 

If you want to restrict your device to Wi-Fi web access, switch off Mobile Data on the same screen.