- Shut it off! Immediately remove the battery, the A/C adapter, and unplug the device after the spill. The biggest danger at first is the device shorting out. The electrolytic activity of combining electricity and liquids will begin as soon as the liquid contacts the powered circuits so removing the power and battery immediately is essential.
- Turn it upside down immediately to stop the liquid from traveling deeper into the machine.
- Clean up any part of the spill you can get to. Use paper towels or any absorbent material that is lint-free.
- Inspect the keyboard. Some keyboards are designed to protect the internals from liquids:
- Pour out any liquid contained in a keyboard enclosure.
- Remove and clean an easily removable keyboard.
- Wipe up anything sticky. This may include the screen, the keys on the keyboard, and any buttons. Use a clean, slightly dampened, lint-free cloth.
- Disconnect and remove any and all external devices.
- Insulate yourself from static discharge. Static electricity can be very high voltage. Static discharge from your hands and body can destroy even a dry computer. Learn how to Avoid Destroying a Computer With Electrostatic Discharge.
- Disassemble the case. If you cannot get to the whole spill, then it may be necessary to remove the laptop's case. Most spills will contain chemicals that can corrode internal circuit boards:
- If you aren't comfortable taking your device apart, then get it to someone who is, as soon as possible.
- Pull the hard drive to protect your data.
- Remove as many cards or drives as you can.
- Remove dry residue. Use a toothbrush or lint-free cloth to gently remove any dried residue from non-water stains such as cola or coffee. Blow the residue away with compressed air, or use a vacuum cleaner with an adjustable power setting or bypass valve to ensure a gentle attempt is made at removing the residue when it has dried to a powder.
- Rinse off the residue. If you spilled anything besides water on the laptop, rinsing it clean will be the most dramatic part. There are several ways to rinse your machine, depending on the kind of spill, and how much risk you are willing to endure:
- Think about what has been spilled on/in your computer, and determine whether it is water soluble or petro-chemical based. In the case of the former, deionized water will work fine. If it is oily, etc., then rinse with denatured alcohol, and then rinse with deionized water.
- Rinse with water. Take any components that have residue (a fresh spill or an old spill of cola) and rinse them under the tap. Most circuit boards and similar non-moving components handle water well, as long as they are not powered. Some internal components with moving parts may not handle water well, for example, fans and CD/DVD drives.
- Rinse with deionized or distilled water. Many people prefer to rinse with deionized water over tap water. Regular water will leave deposits that can cause electrical shorts, but deionized water will rinse clean, dry, and leave nothing behind.
- Don't get too carried away rinsing your machine. Water and laptops do not mix, either. Rinse as much as you need to, and not more. Carefully blot up excess water, if any.
- Let it dry. Be completely sure that the parts are dry before you proceed. As with rinsing, there are different theories on drying:
- Dry naturally. Prop the machine up, away from surfaces, so that air can circulate in and around the entire unit. Leave the machine to dry for 24 to 48 hours.
- Dry with light heat. Place your deck on a warm radiator or on top of a warm sill or shelf - out of direct sunlight - or near other source of warmth. Do not use high levels of heat, just moderately warm sources of heat. Let it dry for 12 hours, or so. A nearby dehumidifier may improve drying time. High heat will drive moisture and humidity further into the device and will ensure ongoing problems as that moisture causes oxidation and corrosion.
- Never use a hair dryer, as this will cause static problems and fill your machine with more contaminants and dust. A hair dryer at a high setting could also melt some of the plastic components. In extreme cases the hair dryer will drive moisture deeper into the circuits and components and that moisture will oxidize and create capacitive load connections under and inside of integrated circuits and connectors, eventually causing failure of the device. The best way to remove all residual moisture is to patiently draw it away with a vacuum cleaner held over the affected areas for up to 20 minutes in each accessible area, having already removed the majority of liquids and moisture manually and dried all visible moisture by hand, so that none enters the vacuum cleaner. This method is preferable to leaving it to dry naturally as it halts any oxidation from occurring deep inside small surface mount components and connections, such as can result in issues later on.
- Clean with a solvent. A second rinse with a solvent-based cleaner is recommended by some, and abhorred by others. It is recommended if the unit has been sitting long enough to be subject to corrosion and oxidation before repair and cleaning is attempted. Always use gloves and ensure good room ventilation when handling any solvent or alcohol based cleaners as some are known carcinogens.
- If you suspect that your first rinse did not remove all of the residue, a chemical rinse of this kind may be worth the risk. The advantages of such a rinse are: there is only one substance to apply and remove; that substance, typically, evaporates; long drying times are not required. The disadvantage is that, if you use the wrong solvents, you can literally dissolve your computer.
- Buy and use 99% (not 90%) isopropyl alcohol. Never, ever use gasoline or acetone to clean computer parts.
- Using a cotton swab and/or soft toothbrush, carefully rub or wipe each component of the board, until it is clean.
- Try flux remover, a spray-on can available in electronics stores, rather than isopropyl alcohol.
- Put the laptop back together, and test it to see if it is working.
- Most spills can easily be avoided. Keep your computer away from food and liquids.
- Set the Power Options of your laptop to Do nothing when you close the lid. While the coffee gets served, you can close the lid to guard against damaging spills. This way, when you re-open, you don’t have to re-enter a password. Also, while you are downloading you might want to close the lid without the system shutting down. Closing the lid will always turn off the screen, independent from software settings, to avoid overheating and to save energy.
- Some companies have a spill provision in their warranties; it won't hurt to check before removing the case.
- You can buy total replacement 'notebook insurance' for the machine on an annual basis fairly cheaply (at least until it's depreciated enough not to bother with). Don't buy an extended warranty or 'replacement' contract at the store unless you've shopped the price on-line.
- Removing the case on most laptops is not easy. Critically, you must remove all screws. The screws are tiny and will be all over the place. Check for screws on the outside, of course, but also in any internal compartments, such as, behind the battery or under labels.
- Never force the case off, or you will break plastic or bend metal. If the case does not come off easily, look for more screws.
- Case screws may be star screws, in which case you will need the correct-sized, star screwdriver set.
- If there are many different screws in the casing, then you can make a drawing of the layout on paper, and tape each screw to the drawing. This way you won't be in doubt about which goes where when you're putting the whole thing back together.
- Look for a service manual or hardware maintenance manual for your particular laptop on the manufacturer's website. These guides can tell you, step by step, how to disassemble your laptop.
- When drying the computer, allow air to circulate all around the machine, by propping it up away from surfaces, so that air can get under it.
- Check a tropical fish store for tablets to deionize water.
- Deionized water is used often in the semiconductor industry, as tap water contains many ions or chemical impurities that may leave a residue on very sensitive electronic components.
- Consider purchasing an "accidental spill" warranty, if you know you are going to be around liquids frequently. This may add a few hundred dollars to the purchase price of your laptop, but it will be much cheaper than having to buy a new one.
- Several companies sell keyboard covers/membranes for laptops. It does take a little getting used to, and you have to turn up the keypad sensitivity, but it doesn't allow spills to get between the keys.
- Several companies also sell laptop vests and laptop jackets. The vests are a light cover that merely protect the top and bottom of a laptop from scratches (one model comes with a handle) while the jacket zips completely shut around the laptop like a binder (also has a zipper for back access ports). There are some more expensive models of laptop jackets meant for use in extreme conditions, and they have enough padding to protect against moderate falls.
- Some tablet machines have no keyboard to spill into (or break), and come with rubber protectors to protect ports. You can still spill liquids into them, you'll just have a tougher time doing it.
- You could consider a 'ruggedized notebook' that is liquid and shock proof if you are prone to accidents. These won't be 'cutting edge', but they can be used as a club.
- Whatever you do, do not power your laptop on to check if everything is okay. Give the laptop at least 24 hours to dry completely on its own before attempting any sort of power on at all.
- Water and electricity do not mix! Make sure all power is off.
- Even "clean" tap water can destroy electronics as it contains minerals and many added chemicals including chlorine, a strong oxidizer and bleach. If you drop a laptop into tap water, still be prepared for the DI water rinse.
- Many, if not most, laptops contain a CMOS battery that is constantly providing a small amount of power to the laptop. Even this small amount of power may be more than enough to cause an electrical short. It would probably be best to remove this battery (it looks like a watch battery), as soon as possible, after a spill. Note, though, that this will erase any modified BIOS settings.
- If you choose to let the spill dry without cleaning, be aware that any acid present will slowly "eat" the circuit boards, until the device fails.
- Opening the case will void the warranty. However, spilling acidic liquid into the device probably already did that anyway, as few warranties cover this kind of damage.
- A heavily soaked AC adapter will need to be replaced.
- Organic solvents can be dangerous and even explosive. Use only in a well ventilated environment with the correct personal protective equipment, such as gloves and an organic solvent respirator.
Things You'll Need
- Deionized or 'reverse osmosis filtered' water or isopropyl alcohol
- Various small screwdrivers
- Plastic bags to hold small parts and screws
- Paper towels, a clean soft toothbrush and cotton swabs
- How to Save a Wet Cell Phone
- How to Clean the Inside of a Computer
- How to Avoid Destroying a Computer With Electrostatic Discharge
- How to Diagnose and Replace a Failed PC Power Supply
- How to Take Good Care of Your Laptop Computer
- How to Recover Data from the Hard Drive of a Dead Laptop
- How to Fix a Stuck Pixel on an LCD Monitor
- How to Remove a Laptop Keyboard
- How to Pop a Key Back Onto a Dell Laptop Keyboard
- How to Recover Data from the Hard Drive of a Dead Laptop
- How to Optimize Your Netbook
Sources and Citations
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