earbud water damage, troubleshooting and solution
hi. posting this one for posterity just in case someone has the same issue.
the problem: my right earbud fell inside a pool. i took it out less than 1 minute later but it caused an extensive struggle that i should document in case someone has the same issue.
- yes, you're not supposed to turn on something that has been dipped in water but these things do not have a power switch, so you're pretty much screwed until you manage to be somewhere where you can open it up and clean it.
- keep it away from the case until you are sure that it's dry. you do not want to also open up the case and sort out potential water damage that you could have avoided.
- anyway, at first it worked, so i wasn't too bothered, but then 1h later when i managed to get home it stopped working.
- stopped working means that the right earbud would show up with a dead battery logo in the bluetooth settings (no %, just the contour of a battery)
- i followed the guide to open it up. turns out that the ifixit dudes are a bit more skilled at this than me so even though "they are easy to open" they do require a lot of patience anyway. do not just use a pick if you have a vise like they show in the teardown video. using a pick only will cause you immense pain, using a vise or a clamp and then using a pick will take you a few seconds.
- watch the teardown video: i tore everything apart battery included. there is no point going further because there isn't a lot more electronics to get rid of. cleaned everything with alcohol and a toothbrush. it has to be at least 90% like the guides say. i've also used some wd40 circuit cleaner that didn't seem to harm.
- to test everything, reassemble the earbuds WITHOUT putting the cover back on, you can still use them, see if they charge, pair, etc., if it charges you're done and you don't need to touch anything anymore. if it doesn't charge then either something in the electronics is dead (you're screwed) or, if you're lucky, it's only the battery.
- the battery measured 3V instead of 3.7V. i figured that would probably mean that "it's dead". i decided to buy some replacements, but since they wouldn't be here for 3 weeks, i wasn't satisfied yet.
- one day later, miraculously, the earbud turns on. it was at 1% and not charging but i can hear music and i can hear it perfectly, this meant that the electronics was fine, so the problem must be either in the battery or in the contacts. again, if the problem is in the contacts maybe further cleaning helps, maybe not, but if the problem is the battery, then it's fixable.
- turns out that if you have a programmable DC power supply, you can attempt reviving your battery. WARNING: this procedure CAN be risky. this video shows you the basics, and it explains to you what could go wrong. the gist: each battery has a charging voltage i.e. a voltage you should not go above while the battery is charging, and charging it is a two-step "constant current, then constant voltage" process. cap your charger at 4.2V and start charging your battery at a few mA. i started at five. the datasheet says that 30mA is the regular charging current but with a damaged battery the less current the better, at least to test, to figure out if it even worked (to be honest it was the first time i did it and was afraid it might actually explode). regardless, the battery was charging, i saw that the power supply was running on constant current, like it had to and its display (plus the multimeter i used for safety) showed the voltage going from 3-3.1V to 3.5V in a matter of minutes. i slowly ramped the current up all the way to 30mA, also because it's likely that with lower currents it will stop charging past a certain voltage but i'm not sure about that. either way, 30mA is what the datasheet says and it was fine.
- the video shows you how to fully charge a battery, but you don't have to do that. what i did was just charging it "enough" – say, until the multimeter shows 4V – and then putting it back in the earbud.
- no matter the level of charge, at this point the earbud should be revived, however it might be that the battery status still says 1%, and it might still be that it doesn't charge.
- at this point it's a matter of trial and error: you need to reset the earbuds, put the earbud out and inside the charger to see if it charges, and probably do it a few times. it's recommended to do a calibration procedure (charge the battery until 100% and leave it at 100% for 2 hours, then discharge it completely until it's dead, and repeat one more time), but it could be that in the process you see the case blinking orange, i.e. "the earbud is there and on the contacts but it's not charging" or it could be that it blinks green but it's not fully charged, etc.
- a way to "reboot" the earbud that also triggers some sort of reset and i have seen potentially switching from not charging to charging is to disconnect the ribbon cable from the motherboard and connecting it back, without any further tear down necessary.
- if you still have charging issues it might be that the battery is damaged still and either way you should get a replacement, but at least you don't have to buy new earbuds.
hope this helps people.
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