Electronics and liquids do not mix. From the tiniest dribble of coffee to a flood pouring out of an overturned mug, spilling a drink on your laptop can spell disaster. Nothing feels worse than watching your laptop shut down as you helplessly try to mop up your coffee spill.
A broken laptop means your important business files and family photos might be gone forever.
But never fear, because there are ways to minimize the damage from a spilled drink and save your laptop.
It is important to get to work as soon as possible after a spill, but with a few simple tricks, your laptop will be operating as if nothing ever happened.
How Spilled Drinks Harm Your Laptop
Any liquid conducts electricity and can cause short-circuiting in your laptop. The worst victim of this is your motherboard, which if damaged will kill the entire laptop until replaced. Most motherboards are located on the bottom of your laptop, where it sits on the table.
The other concern is the residue left behind once the spill has dried. This can also conduct electricity and cause shorts, or just gum up the laptop’s mechanisms and prevent them from moving properly. Some residue will also become stinky with time.
Black coffee or tea are the least problematic spills—anything without sugar or milk. Lattes, soda, green tea with honey, or hot chocolate are some common spills that will leave a lot of residue because of their sugar and dairy content. These will require extra cleaning and can be much messier.
How To Clean Your Laptop
After the initial panic and once you have dried yourself up, start cleaning your laptop immediately. The faster you work, the easier it will be, and you risk less damage to your laptop. If you have a rugged laptop, it will be more resistant to spills, so cleaning will be less urgent, though still necessary.
1. Unplug Your Laptop
Quickly remove all power sources. Take the charging cable out of your laptop and, if possible, pop out the battery. You want to avoid any electrical damage, so you should not plug in either the cable or the battery until your laptop is completely clean.
If your battery is integrated and cannot be removed, leave your laptop upside down. This will use gravity to drain any liquid away from the electronics at the bottom of the laptop, like the motherboard.
2. Mop Up Puddles
Start cleaning by dabbing at any obvious puddles of liquid. A clean washcloth is best for this since the gentle fibers are safe to use with electronic equipment. However, speed is important to avoid the liquid reaching any electronics, so paper towels or Kleenex will do in a pinch.
Dab the liquid to avoid spreading it around. Ensure you are not leaving any residue from the cloth or towel as you clean.
3. Clean The Laptop Bottom
If there is residue on the laptop bottom, you can use a microfiber or lint-free cloth to wipe it down. Get the cloth barely damp and wipe off the spill.
To be sure the spill is completely cleared up, unscrew the laptop bottom (if it’s removeable). Avoid touching any electronics (wearing an anti-static wrist strap would not be a bad idea) and look for any spots with liquid or residue. Use the same method you used in Step 2 to dab at any spills, then replace the laptop bottom.
You can even shake out extra liquid rather than poking around. Hold up the laptop and angle it so an air vent is facing down, then gently shake it. Some extra liquid may dribble out.
4. Leave To Dry
Lean your laptop against some support (a wall works fine) so that the laptop’s bottom is off the ground. Leave it to air dry for a day or two. The laptop’s insides will still be a bit sticky from the cleaning, so avoid hitting it with any dust as it dries.
If you find there are still damp spots, it is best to simply wait longer before starting to use the laptop again.
If the cleaning process went smoothly and you spilled a plain drink, you should be done. If your drink had milk or sugar in it, or if you could not get into every nook and cranny while cleaning, consider taking your laptop to a computer repair shop. They can do a professional cleaning job without harming your electronics.
After cleaning, plug your laptop battery in and connect the charging cable. Give it a test boot and see if it turns on. If your laptop has problems running, you will need professional servicing at a computer repair shop.
How To Clean Your Keyboard After A Spill
Keyboards are especially vulnerable to spills, as the residue can prevent keys from being pressed easily. Since laptops have a keyboard built-in, most of them cannot be removed for straightforward cleaning.
When cleaning, use distilled water to avoid leaving any mineral residue. In extreme cases, you can clean with isopropyl alcohol or ethanol to break up residue from the spill.
With a damp cloth or a soft toothbrush, scrub around the base of each keyboard key. Work with small amounts of water so that more liquid does not soak into the laptop.
Bluetooth and USB keyboards are widely available at low prices, so picking one up is a simple alternative to a thorough keyboard clean.
Related: Das Keyboard 4C TKL Review
Using an external keyboard can also help you troubleshoot any keyboard issues, as you can tell if you are dealing with a hardware problem or if the electronics of your laptop were damaged in the spill.