Hardware Laptops

I’ve got liquid in my laptop. What should I do?

Liquid on laptop - corrosion
Don't be wet: act fast to save a liquid-soaked laptop

Liquid spills into a laptop are unbelievably common, but that’s little consolation to someone draining lemonade from a USB-C port. If you’ve just dumped a glass of something into the keyboard, you’ll be pretty frazzled and not in the mood for flowery intros. It’s time to act. Now!

Grab anything absorbent – tissues, paper towels or a cloth and lift your machine away from the spill. 

Do this right now!

Kill the power, if the machine is on. Press and hold the power-button for 5-10 seconds. If the laptop has an external battery, then flick the switches and remove it. If the battery is internal, don’t worry about it for the moment.

remove external laptop battery

For liquid spilled into the keyboard, turn the laptop over, grab towels and dab the keyboard for all you’re worth. If you’ve suffered an underside spill, sit the laptop onto whatever absorbers are at hand, whilst we explain in a little more detail how to mop things up when liquid is spilled into your laptop.

Soak up the liquid

Try to spot where the liquid could have entered the machine as you’ll need to chase it down to see how far it has flowed. Up-end the machine to allow the liquid to flow out (dabbing with cloths/towels/tissues). Then have a think where that handy screwdriver set is located.

Water damaged circuitboard

Get in there

If you can, remove the underside of the laptop to expose the insides. Depending on the machine, this may be a simple job, but seek a local computer repair shop if you’re unsure.

Once inside, mop up more liquid as well as determining which components have been in contact with it. Occasionally, liquid can be hidden by the internal battery but these are surprisingly easy to remove. Batteries are usually connected to the motherboard by a short cable although some use a socket hidden inside the housing. Remove the screws, spot your connector and remove. Check the battery for bulges, damp patches, discolouration or other unusual signs.

Mopping up

Any liquid on a circuit-board needs removing, but depending on precisely what someone has spilled, extra cleaning may be required. To do this, disconnect the ribbon cables, remove the screws and remove the board from the laptop chassis. If you don’t have a spare toothbrush and some isopropyl alcohol handy, hotfoot to a local pharmacy who should be able to supply you with both. Gently brush the isopropyl alcohol into the areas where the spills resided. Don’t forget to clean the end of ribbon cables or other PCB connectors too.

Close up of cleaning laptop with isopropyl alcohol

Liquids with high acidic or alkali content will evaporate over time but corrosive particles will remain. These corrode electronic circuitry, dramatically reducing the lifespan of a machine which reminds me of something I need to mention.

What’s the best type of rice to remove liquid from my laptop?

close up photo of white rice grains
Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on Pexels.com

Let me make this really clear. DON’T TRY TO DRY ANYTHING WITH RICE!  Anyone who tells you that their phone was saved by a bag of long-grain has mixed causation with correlation by unknowingly placing a functional handset into a bag of rice and now believes a miracle has occurred.

Isopropyl alcohol will help to remove the corrosive elements from the electrical connectors. If the whole board has been drenched, then we advise seeking the services of a professional with an ultrasonic cleaner. These devices will thoroughly clean and rejuvenate the board.

Keyboards

Liquid spills on laptop keyboards are tricky because their construction means that, once liquid penetrates the insides, the chances are getting if out are virtually nil. Dab away whatever liquid you can and leave to dry for 24 hours. If the keyboard is goosed, there’s a good chance it can be replaced, but you may require professional assistance.

When you’re happy that all the liquid residue has been purged, dried or scrubbed, leave the machine to dry thoroughly (24 hours if you can) and then re-assemble. We recommend leaving the hard drive out of the machine on the first ‘fire up’, just in case.

Over the years, I’ve cleared up countless liquid spills where quick reactions and thorough cleaning have saved the day. This information is like first aid, it needs to be known before the incident happens, so feel free to share it far and wide with your friends. If they mention rice, report them to the authorities.

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About the author

Lee Grant

I can normally be found attacking things with screwdrivers in my small computer repair business or writing a column for PC Pro magazine.

I am also trying to solve a mystery involving David Bowie.

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