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What to do if you have spilled water or coffee on your laptop

  Coffee on a laptop keyboard.
mdbildes / Shutterstock.com

Laptops and liquids are a bad combination, but accidents do happen. If you are reading this after a leak, turn off your machine and remove the power cord and battery as soon as possible.

Warning: Electricity and water don't mix! You could seriously injure yourself or damage your computer further. Before you touch the laptop, make sure that your hands and the area (or button) you touch are completely dry.

Turn off now!

For those of you who have skipped the intro, turn off your laptop and remove the power cable immediately . The quickest way to do this is on most models by holding down the power button until the screen goes dark. The longer you wait to shut down your computer, the more likely it is to be seriously damaged.

  A finger that presses the power button of a PC laptop to turn it off.
Suwan Waenlor / Shutterstock.com

If your laptop has a removable battery, take it out, dry it if necessary, and store it in a safe place. If you've spilled a lot of liquid on your keyboard, try putting your laptop face down on a towel with the lid open (like an inverted V). This allows droplets to drain before reaching the sensitive components underneath.

Most computer hardware can survive water immersion, provided the power is turned off. By turning off the system and removing the battery if possible, you have (hopefully) broken the circuit that can lead to a nasty shock and damage your laptop.

Remember, in addition to the keys themselves, there are many components that are built into the keyboard and that may already be damaged, including the speakers and trackpad. Many laptops, such as MacBooks, have a cooling hole between the chassis and the lid in which liquid could seep.

What to do next

What you do next depends on the laptop you have, how old it is and how comfortable it is you are opening the chassis to access the components inside.

If your laptop is under warranty, opening the chassis will probably void it. It could be argued that spilling something on a laptop will also void the warranty, so you should use your discretion here. The first port of call for a laptop under warranty must be the manufacturer. Contact the company and see what they can do for you.

You may be able to have the laptop inspected for free, but the cost of any repairs likely comes out of your pocket.

If your computer is not under warranty (or you don't care), you may want to take matters into your own hands. Unfortunately, not all laptops can be opened easily. In particular, Apple and Microsoft laptops have very low iFixit repair scores, indicating that a lot of glue and solder is used in their construction.

  iFixit repair scores for Dell, Apple and Microsoft laptops.

Some devices are very difficult to get in, while others are mounted in such a way that opening the chassis is a largely pointless undertaking.

Search the Internet for your specific model, followed by "ifixit" or "repair manual". The results should give you an indication of how easy (or not) to repair your laptop. If you like that, you can open the chassis and try to dry out moisture.

Option 1: Open the chassis

If you have decided to open the chassis, you can judge the damage yourself. If you only spill water on your laptop, the components should be easy to dry out and test. However, if you've spilled something sticky or sugary, like a soda or beer, the components probably need to be cleaned well by a specialist.

If you're comfortable with that, remove some components to dry things out. It should be quite easy to disconnect and remove the SSD or hard drive, as well as any RAM sticks you see. Take a photo before starting if you want a reference for reassembly.

  In a MacBook Pro chassis.
Craig Lloyd

Dry clear moisture in the laptop and components with a clean, lint-free cloth or towel (paper towels also work fine). Make sure you dab and don't wipe to avoid leaving anything behind.

Place your laptop and any parts you remove in a dry, airy place for at least 48 hours. Do not use a hair dryer, heater or other heat sources to dry your laptop, as this may cause further damage.

When everything is dry, you can reassemble your laptop and try to turn it on.

Option 2: Take It With You For Repairs

Any local laptop repair shop can take a look at your soggy computer and let you know if any parts need to be replaced. They must also be able to strip the machine and dry it out for you. Of course they won't do this for free – you will be charged for labor and all parts to be replaced.

If you have an Apple laptop, Apple is likely to charge much more for repairs than a third party store. This is partly because Apple and its authorized service centers use original official parts. You can save money by going elsewhere, but the parts may not be of the same quality.

Option 3: Leave it turned off and wait

Giving the laptop some time to dry out is worth trying if you just spill some water on it, or you don't think a lot of liquid got into the chassis. Just open the lid of the laptop and place it face down on a towel (like an inverted V) so that all the moisture can drain.

Place the laptop in a dry, airy place and wait at least 48 hours before trying to turn it on. If you can get to your machine quickly enough, there may be no damage at all. However, if you've spilled something sticky, your keyboard is at least likely to be affected.

Repair Sticky Keys

The best solution for sticky keys is to clean the individual key switches. On some laptops, you can easily remove the keycaps to get to the underlying mechanism. You can use some isopropyl alcohol spray and a cotton ball to remove even the most stuck gunk. The alcohol will evaporate quickly.

Before trying this, make sure your laptop is turned off, unplugged and all batteries are removed, if possible.

Squirt or drop some isopropyl alcohol on the appropriate keys, then press each key repeatedly to make the alcohol work into the mechanism. The more you press it, the looser the key should become. However, don't use too much alcohol, otherwise you will further rinse the gunk in your laptop.

Repeat this process until the keys are not as sticky. You can use the same technique to fix sticky buttons on a game controller. It should improve the feel of the keys in question, but keep in mind that it is not a complete solution as it does not completely remove the adhesive residue.

If the keyboard is a write-off, consult LaptopKeyboard to see if a replacement is available and how much it will cost. You can also take the machine to a repair shop and have it treated there.

Don't use rice

Contrary to popular belief, rice is not best for drying out damp electronics. It does not speed up the drying process. And if you get rice grains in the cooling system or USB ports, it will cause more problems than the first leak. We recommend that you eat the rice instead.

Avoiding Spills in the Future

The best way to avoid a soggy laptop is never to keep it near food and drink. Another option is to use a keyboard cover, which acts as a waterproof membrane to prevent liquids from passing through. However, they are not infallible, as vents still have to breathe. They will also have a negative effect on your typing experience.

However, if you've messed up multiple laptops with spills, you might want to give a keyboard cover a shot.

  Twelve South Curve Stand for MacBook.
Twelve South / Apple

Another option is to place your laptop on an elevation and use an external keyboard and mouse. This has the added benefit of improving your posture as you don't have to bend your head down to see the screen. Unfortunately, this advice only applies to home and office use.

Some laptops, including some of Lenovo's ThinkPad line, have "spill-resistant" keyboards to prevent moisture from entering in the event of an accident.

If you've broken several laptops by spilling or dropping drinks on them, consider purchasing one designed to withstand more abuse.

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