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How NOT to cry over spilled milk all over your laptop!

Spilling coffee (or milk) on your laptop will not only ruin your morning, it can ruin your computer. Act quickly if this happens, because it only takes seconds for liquids to destroy the hard drive of a laptop computer.
Written Mar 15, 2011, read 27457 times since then.
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You've just sat down to work, ready to start your day, with a fresh cup of brewed coffee.  Everything is going great... then, oops, there it is, coffee all over your laptop, ruining your day before it begins. The coffee has drained into the machine. The damage could be irreparable.

And worse: you may actually be in danger of being electrocuted. Since data travels between the laptop’s components via an electrical current, if any liquid comes into contact with the components while the power is on, it will short out the traces between the circuits. Everything can be affected — keyboard, motherboard, memory and processor.

Spilling liquid into your laptop could prove to be your worst nightmare. However, it does not always mean that all is lost. Although there is no guarantee that your notebook can survive a spill, there are steps you can take immediately after getting liquid in your laptop that can increase your chances of getting it up and running again.

SO WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF THE WORST HAPPENS?

Don’t panic. By acting promptly, you can usually prevent significant damage. If your laptop is running on battery power and isn’t connected to an AC outlet, quickly press the power button to shut the machine down. Then remove the battery.

If the machine is connected to a power outlet, unplug it. Important: you must do this immediately once the spill has occurred. If the power is removed quickly enough, the electronics inside will be undamaged. Then remove the battery.

Now you aren’t in any immediate danger, so you can start clearing up the mess. Blot up as much liquid as you can with a soft cloth. Next, remove all cables, USB components, cards and any other external devices. Tilt the laptop gently from side to side to drain it (without madly shaking it around) and place it upside down so the liquid can drain out. Removing the outer casing might affect your warranty; if you choose to do so, don’t touch the circuitry inside.

Now all you can do is wait. Leave the laptop open so air can circulate, for at least 24 hours. You might also place the laptop on a water heater. This will help with getting rid of the remaining moisture.

As long as your laptop hasn’t started to smoke or emitted any strange buzzing noises, it should now work normally, but it may look rather smeared and dirty.

Use a soft, damp cloth to clean the casing — nothing abrasive — or a special cleaning agent, one without any ammonia. Spray this onto the cloth, not directly onto the laptop. Cotton swabs are useful for cleaning around and between the keys.

If you want to clean the display, turn the laptop off first so can see the dirt more clearly. Use a soft cloth to wipe it, but never any paper products like tissues, as they can scratch the surface and leave behind lint that can get into the LCD. You can also buy special spray solutions for cleaning monitors.

By following these steps, you should be able to limit the damage. But of course, the best advice is the most boring: don’t drink while you work!

Recommendations in this article should only be applied to devices that you own or manage yourself.

Marketing Specialist 
Everett, Washington 
Julie Rice

Julie brings 15+ years experience in marketing and sales operations focused on executing aggressive business growth plans. She has a strong track-record in developing effective sales development programs and campaigns by leveraging strategic marketing.

Learn more about the author, Julie Rice.

Comment on this article

  • Independent Financial Consultant 
Bellevue, Washington 
Scott Scholz
    Posted by Scott Scholz, Bellevue, Washington | Mar 16, 2011

    Julie, you've helped a lot. My laptop has been acting like it needed a shot of caffeine lately. Now I know what to do with it after I give it a shot! Wish me luck. Thanks.

  • Marketing Specialist 
Everett, Washington 
Julie Rice
    Posted by Julie Rice, Everett, Washington | Mar 16, 2011

    That's funny, Scott. Have you actually spilled coffee on your laptop? I did this about 6 months ago and was so glad I knew what to do. My laptop is still alive and kicking.

  • Sales Coach, Success Coach, Business Coach 
Portland, Oregon 
Tshombe Brown
    Posted by Tshombe Brown, Portland, Oregon | Mar 16, 2011

    My "spilled milk" was a cup of hot chocolate (and I RARELY even drink hot chocolate.....and this time, I didn't even get but a sip or two!) all over my laptop, my desk, on the floor and on me.

    I wouldn't be exaggerating when I say I was half-hysterical, jumping around, shaking the computer, blowing on it, grabbing anything in the vicinity to dry it!

    I actually ended up taking it to the shop and fortunately no major damage had been done and my data (as I recall. It was years ago when this happened) was recovered.

    Wished I'd had your article years ago!

  • Executive Director 
Clearwater, Florida 
Stan Dubin
    Posted by Stan Dubin, Clearwater, Florida | Mar 17, 2011

    Great advice, Julie! I'm too embarrassed to say here what kinds of things I've spilled into my keyboard, but I like knowing what to do IF it ever happens again!

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