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Spilled water on your laptop? Here’s how to fix it

If you’ve just spilled a liquid on your laptop, time is of the essence. You absolutely must turn your laptop off immediately, unplug it if it’s plugged in, and if you have a removable battery, remove it immediately. Go ahead and press that power button until your machine shuts down. Do that now! Every second counts.

Okay, are you back with us? Here’s a more in-depth guide of just how to handle this emergency.

In case of a wet laptop emergency

Spilled liquid on laptop

Step 1: Remove all components that are easily detachable. Unplug your mouse and any cables, and remove any flash drives and DVDs. Leave your laptop bare.

Step 2: Dry the outside of your machine. Open your laptop as far as it goes, hold it upside down to let any accumulated liquid drain out, and wipe dry any wet surfaces that you see with a towel or another lint-free absorbent fabric. Do not try and dry the computer with forced hot air from a heat gun or hair dryer. The type of liquid matters: Water is the least corrosive, while sugary and alcoholic liquids are both more conductive and more corrosive, and they can quickly cause permanent damage. Either way, the goal is to mitigate their effects as much as possible by drying the computer immediately.

Step 3: At this point, we recommend you take advantage of the warranty if it’s still applicable, or take your machine to a repair shop. If your brand has a designated repair store (like Apple), give them a call or bring it in. Otherwise, look for local repair stores that specialize in your laptop brand.

If you don’t want to have a professional take a look at it for you, though, there are some more steps you can take to try and dry your machine out. Note, though, that neither Digital Trends nor the author accepts any responsibility for damage caused to your machine from taking it apart.

Break it down

While laptops of years gone by made the process of opening them up and removing components easy, that’s not really the case with modern-day laptops. We wouldn’t recommend trying to take anything apart unless you have an older laptop model that isn’t largely glued together. That said, here are some steps you can take if your laptop allows it.

Step 1: If you haven’t already and your laptop allows it, remove the battery. This can usually be achieved by pressing a switch or button on the underside of your laptop.

Step 2: If you’re concerned about liquid leaking through to the whole system — to components like your memory and storage drive — you can remove those, too. In some laptops, you’ll find panels that allow for their removal on the underside. In most cases, however, you’ll need to use a Phillips or Torx screwdriver to remove them. With the memory, press the side clips to eject each stick. With the solid-state drive or hard drive, you’ll likely need to undo more screws to free it from the frame. Be sure to carefully detach it from the power and data connection ports or cables.

Step 3: Examine each component you’ve removed to check for any sign of wetness or corrosion. Any wet parts should be dried, but if the liquid is anything other than water, wipe it off using a clean toothbrush dipped in 99% isopropyl alcohol — this will dissolve gunk without causing damage and evaporate without leaving a residue.

Step 4: Once you’re done and you’re sure you’ve brushed away any signs of corrosion, leave everything alone to air-dry for two to three days in a warm, dry area. A fan will hasten the drying process. Do not use a hairdryer, as this could cause static problems. Once you’ve picked your machine apart and given the components time to dry, you can follow the instructions in reverse to put your laptop back together and see if it works.

Hopefully, all will be well, but if not, take it to a repair center.

If your laptop cannot be taken apart

MacBook Air 2020 ports
Luke Larsen / Digital Trends

What if you have a Surface Book 3, MacBook, or any other laptop that you cannot take apart or even remove the battery from? This situation drastically reduces your options, so you’ll have to take it to a repair center ASAP.

Between the time that liquid is spilled on your keyboard and the time that you take it to the store, here’s what you can do: Hold your machine upside down, wiping dry any visible wetness with a towel.

Then, lay it down on a dry surface, and give your laptop as much ventilation as possible — it may not help much, but it’s better than nothing while you wait for a repair store appointment.

Some people recommend putting your laptop in a big bag of rice, a common piece of advice with several very large problems. First, a hygroscopic material like rice isn’t nearly as effective when dealing with liquids that have sugars, alcohols, or other substances besides water. Second, rice doesn’t efficiently absorb moisture trapped deep in your laptop, where it’s already caused problems (remember, most damage from spills happens in the first several seconds after the spill). Third, almost all rice has lots of microscopic flakes of dust that can get inside your laptop and create even more issues.

If you absolutely cannot go to a repair store, then its important that you let your laptop ventilate and dry out for at least a day or two before you try turning it back on yourself. Trying to turn a laptop back on too soon after a spill is a recipe for disaster, as this can cause a massive short and ruin your computer.

Waterproofing options

To safeguard your laptop in the future, we recommend investing in a KeyCover silicone keyboard cover. Or, you can get a full shell for the top and bottom of your laptop, if you prefer. You can also carry your laptop around in a great laptop bag. Be careful not to cover any ventilation holes, however, and use scissors to cut the skin if necessary to ensure that your ventilation holes are left free.

Or, maybe you work in an environment where spills and moisture problems are just more common and harder to avoid. In this case, you may want to look for a ruggedized laptop that includes a sealed keyboard and additional features for greater protection, like one of Dell’s Latitude Rugged Laptops.

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