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

If you've just spilled a liquid on your best laptop, time is of the essence. You absolutely must turn your computer off immediately and unplug it. If you have a removable battery, remove it immediately. Press that Power button until your machine shuts down. Do that now! Every second is vital in this situation.

OK, are you back with us? Here's a more in-depth guide on how to handle this emergency.




15 minutes

What You Need

  • Absorbent towels

  • Appropriate screwdriver for case screws

  • Fan (not blow-dryer)

Spilled liquid on laptop keyboard.

In case of a wet laptop emergency

When you spill liquid on your laptop, time is of the essence. Here are some immediate steps you can take to help avoid catastrophe.

Step 1: Remove all easily detachable components. 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 use an absorbent towel or a lint-free absorbent fabric to wipe wet surfaces until they're dry. Do not try to dry the computer with forced hot air from a heat gun or hair-dryer.

Step 3: At this point, we recommend that 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 take it in. Otherwise, look for local repair stores that specialize in your laptop brand.

Step 4: The type of liquid that was spilled matters. Water is the least acidic, while sugary and alcoholic fluids are more conductive and more corrosive. They can quickly cause permanent damage to your internal components. Either way, the goal is to mitigate their effects as much as possible by drying the computer immediately. If you don't want to have a professional take a look at it for you, though, there are more steps you can take to try and dry your machine out. However, please take note that neither Digital Trends nor the author is responsible for any damage caused to your PC by taking it apart.

Disassembled laptop showing internal parts.

Break it down

While opening up and removing components from earlier laptops was easy, that’s not the case with modern-day laptops. We don’t recommend trying to take anything apart unless you have an older laptop model that’s not mainly glued together. That said, here are some steps you can attempt if your laptop allows it.

Step 1: If you haven’t already, and your laptop allows it, remove the battery. Battery removal is typically accomplished by pressing a switch or button on the underside of your computer.

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

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 liquid damage and evaporate without leaving a sticky residue.

Step 4: Once everything is clean and examined, 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 hair-dryer, 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.

MacBook Air 2020 ports
Luke Larsen / Digital Trends

If your laptop cannot be taken apart

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

Between the time that liquid spilled on your laptop keyboard and the time that you take it to the store, here’s what you can do: Hold your machine upside down and use a towel to wipe dry any visible wetness. 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 water damage repair appointment.

Some people recommend putting your laptop in a big bag of rice, but that famous piece of advice has many substantial problems. First, a hygroscopic material like rice isn’t nearly as useful 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 problems happen. Third, rice can come with debris that can get inside your laptop and create even more issues.

Sometimes, it’s impossible to get to a repair store; emergencies never seem to happen during convenient moments. If that’s the case, then it’s crucial that you let your water-damaged laptop ventilate and air dry for at least 24 to 48 hours before trying to turn it back on again. If you try to power on your PC before it’s ready, you’re asking for trouble. That can cause a massive short in your system and absolutely wreck your laptop.

KeyCover keyboard protective cover.

Waterproofing options

To protect your laptop from a possible liquid spill in the future, we suggest buying a keyboard cover (like this one from KeyCover) for your device. Or take things a step further and get a full shell for the top and bottom exteriors of your laptop. One more layer of protection is to carry your device around in a great laptop bag. Always be sure that your cover doesn’t block any ventilation holes on your laptop. If it does, use scissors to cut the cover’s skin to leave the ventilation space open.

For the folks who work in a workspace where laptop spills and moisture are commonplace, consider a ruggedized laptop. It can be tough to avoid spills completely, and this device comes with a sealed keyboard and added features to protect against that. Check out Dell’s Latitude Rugged Extreme Laptop for an example.

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