I’ve dealt with liquid spills on laptops for many years now. I’m writing this because I just spilled a whole glass of milk on mine, in fact! Most people dry it off as fast as they can, but that’s just a good way to allow your laptop to get ruined by the liquid. This is my guide on what to do when you spill something on your laptop.
- TURN OFF THE COMPUTER IMMEDIATELY. Hold the power button for 5 seconds if necessary.
- If the spill was not directly on the laptop, pick up the computer and dry it off quickly. Inspect the bottom and sides for evidence of liquid seeping into any holes or ports. You may be lucky enough to have simply gotten some liquid on the feet or the edges. If in doubt, the machine should be taken apart by a computer shop and inspected.
- If the spill was on the keyboard/touchpad area, your first priority is to turn the laptop upside down in the air, without closing the unit. The most common damage from liquid spills is from when liquid is allowed to seep into the keyboard; while many laptop keyboards are a simple $30-$40 part and a fairly quick disassembly from being fixed, you don’t want to have to do this. The liquid will cause your keyboard mechanisms to stick and the pads under the key’s rubber “nipple” to corrode. The laptop should remain open so that the liquid leaking back out of your keyboard doesn’t destroy the (far more expensive to replace) LCD panel.
- Dry up all visible liquid as fast as you can without putting physical stress on the computer. Visible liquid can end up in bad places very quickly. Dry the laptop off as quickly as you possibly can. The last thing you need is to have more places to clean out the liquid.
- Remove the laptop’s battery (if possible) and the AC power supply. If the unit comes on with the liquid in a bad place, it may be damaged. You are not at risk of getting electrocuted, thought, so don’t worry about that!
- Use a can of compressed air or (better yet) an air compressor with a blower attachment at 90-110 PSI to blow ACROSS THE FLAT SURFACE of the laptop with a side-to-side movement of your arm across the length of the keyboard. Your goal is to indirectly blast the liquid that has become trapped under the keyboard keys out of the mechanisms and off of the keyboard without blasting the liquid into even worse places. By blowing across the surface of the computer, you’ll get a lot of liquid out. Dry all liquid as fast as possible.
- Anywhere that you see evidence of liquid having touched needs to be blown across as well. Your USB, VGA, HDMI, Ethernet, and other ports, as well as buttons and switches ALL need to be cleaned out. Inspect everything to make sure there is nothing you’ve missed.
- Get a clean adjustable spray bottle that can do a mist spray and put in water with the lowest mineral content you can get. Distilled water is ideal; drinking water is usually better than tap water since tap water often contains many chemicals and minerals. If tap water is all you have, use it; it’s better than what you’ll be cleaning out, after all.
- Using the spray bottle set to where it mists the water, lightly spray your keyboard with two firm sprays of mist. This does two things: one, it prevents the liquid you want to remove from completely drying up before you can get it out; and two, it dilutes the offending fluid and acts as a medium to get it out of there.
- Blow the keyboard area off again as you did before, drying the fluid off as it flies out. This should get most of the offending junk out of the keyboard. This time you will want to start blowing at an increasing angle until you’re blowing off every key directly from the top. This should spray out any liquid that is still inside the keyboard. Repeat the misting and blowing if the water is visibly colored, as this indicates there is still significant liquid residue in the system.
- Use your mist spray to lightly damp a paper towel and clean everything off: keyboard, touchpad, palmrests, LCD panel, lid, base, ports, whatever. BE THOROUGH. Remember to gently dry up any excess liquid (it should be thin enough that it dries up immediately, but you may have sprayed too much.) Any fluid on the LCD that air dries may leave an ugly thin mineral film on the screen where the droplets used to be. NEVER USE ABRASIVES, SOLVENTS, OR HOUSEHOLD CLEANING CHEMICALS ON LAPTOPS. Special LCD cleaner sprays exist for a reason. Using window cleaner, alcohol, dish detergent, or any other cleaning chemical will permanently damage your screen.
- If you are capable of disassembling your laptop without damaging it, take it apart and inspect it. The liquid is likely to have leaked somewhere you can’t see and this can result in a destroyed motherboard or other internal damage as the unseen liquid corrodes away at the electrical stuff inside.
- If you cannot disassemble your laptop, IMMEDIATELY call a computer service shop to have them disassemble it and inspect it inside. The longer you wait, the greater the damage will be. Most decent service shops will understand the urgency and take a look at it fairly quickly. Even if it costs you some money to have it inspected, it will still be far cheaper than replacing your laptop or having it repaired in the future because of the liquid damaging something important.
Remember that most drinkable liquids contain chemicals that will cause serious damage to your computer if not quickly cleaned out: soda, milk, wine, beer, coffee, juice, and even plain drinking water can mean trouble. Corn syrup, sugar, phosphoric acid, carbonation, sugars, minerals, tannins, and alcohol are just some of the things that can chew up circuit boards, corrode solder joints, and generally wreak havoc inside a laptop. Any spill is a race against time. Use your time wisely.
If you are unable to perform these steps for some reason, dry the unit as fast as you can, put a light towel or rag between the keyboard and screen to catch anything that leaks out, gently close the laptop and flip it upside down, and get it to a computer shop ASAP. Make sure to transport it upside down at all times.
If the spill was over an hour ago, the laptop will have to be completely disassembled and it may already be too late. Again, take it to a computer repair shop as fast as possible.