I spilled on my laptop! What do I do?

When you spill something on your laptop, your first instinct is to grab a towel and wipe it off, but what do you do after that? Spilled beverages can do a lot of damage if they get in the wrong parts, and spills are often not covered by your warranty, but there are some things you can do to clean up and minimize the harm done to your computer.

spilled computer

Turn Off the Power

As long as you catch the spill early (and you aren’t worried about voiding your warranty) there are ways to fix the problem yourself. The first step to this, often overlooked, is by far the most important. As soon as possible after the spill occurs, turn your laptop off and unplug it. This is critically important because the damage from a spill does not come from the liquid itself. Most liquids conduct electricity very well, and when they come in contact with the components of the laptop this can cause short-circuiting.

External Cleaning

After you have unplugged your laptop, immediately turn it upside-down to prevent the liquid from penetrating any further. Now you can grab that towel and wipe up as much of the spill as you can. Pay particularly close attention to the keyboard. If you are lucky it may be designed to prevent liquid penetration. Many keyboards have removable keys, so if you are able make sure to wipe under the keys as well.

Disassemble the Laptop

This is typically as far as you can go without voiding your warranty, because the next step involves opening the laptop case. Before you attempt this, make sure to ground yourself and discharge any static electricity. Even if you can’t feel it, the static charge you carry can be enough to damage the delicate circuitry of your computer. Your laptop will have many small screws, both on the outside and internally, so be sure not to lose any of them during this process. Once you have removed the external screws your laptop should come apart easily. If it does not, double check your work and make sure there are no hidden screws such as those behind warning stickers.

Internal Cleaning

After you have opened the casing of the laptop, you should take our any removable components. These include your hard drive, and most video and sound cards. If there is any dried residue, such as cola or coffee stains, these should be removed with a lint free cloth or a toothbrush. Any powdery residue can be blown off with compressed air. Rinsing the components of your laptop may seem counter-intuitive at first, but it is crucial to remove any remaining residue. Be sure to use only deionized water, as regular tap water can leave deposits that are just as damaging to your computer as the original spill. If the liquid spilled on the laptop is oily in nature, then you should rinse with denatured alcohol first followed by deionized water. Use only as much water as is necessary.

Let it Dry

The final step is to let everything dry. Prop up your laptop so that air can circulate freely through and around the various components. To be sure everything is completely dry, let it air dry for 24 to 48 hours. Never ever use a blow dryer to attempt to speed up this process. Not only can the high heat melt some of the electronics, the dry air can also cause static build-up. It is possible that putting your laptop’s battery into a bowl of rice can help pull out any remaining moisture.

If you follow these steps, there is only one thing left to do. Once everything is dry, re-assemble your laptop and try to turn it on. If these steps did not work, then you may have little choice but to open your wallet to a repair center.