I spilled (tea | water | coffee | chili) on my laptop – what can I do?

Eating and drinking around your laptop is a way of life, so it’s to be expected that eventually a spill will happen. When it does, what to do

One: Quick, save!

You might have a few seconds. Hit cmd-s on a Mac (ctrl-s on Windows) to save the file you’re in.

Two: Power down down down.

Press the power button until it shuts off. Unplug the power cord and if possible remove the battery.

Liquid conducts electricity so even a few drops can cause a “short.” A laptop’s main circuit board is a vastly complex series of designed electrical paths. When liquid allows electricity to take shortcuts between un-designed paths, that’s bad.

Three: Dry it off, upside down.

Let gravity help. If you turn your laptop over and liquid comes dripping out of any port – that means you have a serious case. Even still you can be hopefully that it hasn’t gone past the keyboard. Turn it upside down and give it some gentle shakes and taps.

Four: Take apart as much as you can.

Unplug anything plug into it, remove battery, and other removable components. Carefully unscrew any screws. If the screws are different lengths remember where they came from. Hint: use a piece of tape to keep them organized. The more you can take apart the better, but be careful not to break anything or do anything you can’t undo. If you see any obvious liquid, dry it up with a soft cloth or Q-tips. If there’s any residue, you might be out of luck.

Five: Assess for damage.

As you take it apart, assess it for damage. Is there a good amount of liquid inside the unit? If so, you have a serious case. Is it dry? cross your fingers.

Six: Let it dry out.

If you see any obvious liquid, dry it up with a soft cloth or Q-tips. Then position the laptop so any drips run down and out, and get a fan on it. Be careful not to blow moisture into the crevices of the thing, but get enough air moving over it to help anything evaporate. Let it sit over night or longer.

Seven: Know where your data is.

While it’s drying you’re really going to be wishing that you had backup. If you’re a Mac user and you have a functional/recent Time Machine backup you have little to worry about — there’s nothing better. If you use Windows and have a good backup solution then you probably don’t need to worry either. If you have no method of backup, then that’s a problem. Make a list of the things on the laptop, where they were stored, and how you might possibly recreate them. If there’s any precious cargo or mission-critical data, you should consider calling someone for advice. Particularly you might want to remove the hard disk to make sure it’s not wet or getting wetter.

Eight: Cross your fingers and try it out.

When you’re quite convinced it’s as dry as it can be, put it back together carefully, cross your fingers, and power it back on. If it works, consider yourself lucky. If it works and you don’t have backups, consider yourself extremely lucky and waste no time in getting a backup method in place.

Nine: If it doesn’t work.

If it didn’t work you’re going to need to take it to a shop or get a technician to come look after it. If you have precious cargo or mission-critical data you may need to look into a premium data recovery service like DriveSavers.

And you’ll also be thinking that next time, you’ll have backups. But also consider a combination of cloud-based solutions like Dropbox or Google Drive for files and documents, and SmugMug or PicasaWeb or iCloud for photos and video.

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