Liquid Laptop Accident? 9 Steps To Save Your Laptop

damaged-laptop.jpgIf you’re like me, you’ve probably spilled something on your laptop at some point during your computing experience. For me, it happened just last week with a tall latte all over the keyboard and display, dripping down in the cracks and crevasses of my laptop. As soon as it happened, I figured it would be a big financial loss for me as the laptop was toast, but I called a few friends and used a series of simple procedures and my laptop works like new. Standard disclaimer: These procedures may violate your warranty or possibly cause other laptop issues – follow at your own peril. If this happens to you, here’s what to do:

1. Unplug your laptop and remove the battery immediately. You need to eliminate all power sources to the laptop as quickly as possible or you’re begging for fried components. Don’t even mess with a proper shutdown; save any documents you absolutely must save, then power it down immediately and remove the power cord and battery from your laptop. As liquid goes through your laptop, every second that power continues to flow through it is another second of increased risk for your laptop.

2. Don’t put the battery back on! I’m including this step here because it is important. No matter what, don’t even consider reattaching power to your laptop for a bare minimum of twenty four hours. If you do, you’re risking any chance of repair to your laptop.

3. Remove any detachable components. One by one, remove everything that you can remove from your laptop. Remove all cards from the card slots, all drives from the drive slots, the keyboard, the memory, and so forth. This is a great time to dig out that dusty manual, as it’ll provide diagrams for removal of most of the components. As you remove each component, you’ll want to make sure they are clean; if there’s any sign of wetness at all, perform steps four and five (below) on those components.

4. Rinse your laptop (except the screen) with distilled water. Regular tap water often has minerals in it that can create deposits and bad connections on the electronic components on your laptop. Get a gallon or two of distilled water at your local grocery store and carefully rinse your laptop and any components that may need it. Do this as soon as possible, before any liquids begin to dry inside your machine. Don’t worry about it getting wet again; the goal here is to minimize the amount of non-water materials inside of your laptop. I recommend repeating this on every component two or three times.

5. Clean your keyboard with extreme care. This step is often very difficult and time-consuming, but it needs to be done. If your manual does not contain an exact diagram of your keyboard’s key placements, take a picture of your keyboard before you begin. You’ll probably want to use an isopropyl alcohol mix for this step to ensure the parts are as clean as possible; the isopropyl alcohol that you get at the pharmacy is often too potent for this, so I recommend a 50-50 solution of isopropyl alcohol and distilled water. What you’ll need to do is remove each key individually from its fitting, clean it and its fitting carefully with the alcohol mix, and then let each piece dry before reinserting it. Without a picture to go by, this can be a very difficult task. If your laptop has a membrane, clean it similarly.

6. Hand-dry your laptop of any sitting liquid. At this point, if any sitting liquid remains on your laptop or any component, hand-dry it gently with a paper towel to eliminate this liquid. You want to eliminate all surface liquid at this point (it should mostly be water) so that you can get into the narrower places during the next step.

7. Clean your entire laptop carefully with rubbing alcohol and a Q-Tip. At this point, the only “bad” liquid remaining in your computer should be in the small places: in your motherboard and so forth. The best way to get rid of a lot of this liquid is to clean everything with an isopropyl alcohol solution and a Q-Tip. Go carefully over the pieces of your computer that came in contact with the liquid with the alcohol solution, using a Q-Tip to make sure parts are as clean as possible. I am frighteningly meticulous about steps like this, but I would at least recommend going over everything twice with this method.

8. Carefully clean your screen. Remember that bottle of isopropyl alcohol from step five? You’re going to make another 50-50 mixture of that with water. Use a very, very soft cloth (I like to use flannel) and clean the screen gently with this mixture; I would recommend doing this twice. When you’re done, dry it off as best you can with the cloth. You can also use this procedure for any external part of the laptop that you want clean, but you need to be very gentle with the screen when doing this.

9. Let your laptop sit and dry for a minimum of 24 hours. I left my laptop out on a table on top of a layer of paper towels, directed a fan on it, and let everything sit for 48 hours before I even thought about reattaching everything and turning on the power. I would recommend a bare minimum of 24 hours. Don’t be tempted to “hurry” this along by using heat; you’ll possibly cause additional damage to your components.

If these steps do not work, it is likely that your accident caused some direct component damage to your laptop and it will have to be replaced. However, I have had great success with this procedure (and have heard many success stories from others), which has saved me thousands of dollars. Good luck!

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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