I just spilled something on my computer, now what?

broken  laptop

We spend lots of time at the computer and as humans we need liquid nourishment occasionally. Sometimes it’s simply a glass of water while other times it might be a soda pop, coffee or an “adult beverage.” If you remember from your childhood: liquid and electronics don’t mix. The famous warnings about not using a hair dryer in the bathtub or plugging something in with wet hands is good advice.

Accidents happen and it’s important to act quickly so remember this lesson well for future reference :-)

Your first instinct is to clean up the mess. Avoid that instinct. Should liquid spill on your laptop, the first thing to do is to cut power. Don’t bother saving what you are working on–it’s probably not as valuable as your laptop (If it’s a desktop and the spill is on the keyboard, unplug the keyboard immediately and you should be ok.)

Dry your hands first if wet, but your primary goal is to cut power. Power mixed with water is the enemy. Don’t just pull the power plug from the back of the laptop, but remove the battery. Removing the battery is the step people forget. If you aren’t sure how to remove it, no time like the present to learn how to do so (certain Macbooks don’t have easily removable batteries). With the battery and power cord removed, try to turn on the laptop. That discharges any last bit of power from it.

Next, with no power present, your goal is to dry it out the computer as quickly as possible. Put the laptop in a container that you can such as close as tight as possible, such as a under bed organizer and put in that container a desiccant such as “DampRid” which you can get at most hardware stores. The goal is to wick out the moisture. If it’s after hours and you are in a pinch, the next best solution is something like a trash bag and some uncooked rice from a grocery store. Don’t use “MinuteRice” that is parboiled but a cheap uncooked rice and at least a pound of it. Open the bag of rice and dump it into the trash bag. Carefully put the laptop in the bag and try to avoid any rice kernels from getting in the laptop. I suggest putting the laptop on a table and keeping the rice to one side of the bag. Use some packing tape to seal the bag as tight as possible. I also save those desiccant packs found inside shoes or clothing to keep them dry for just such an emergency.

Now wait. And wait some more. Wait at least 24 to 48 hours depending upon the humidity in the air. If it’s winter and the air is bone dry, 24 hours might be sufficient, but during the summer when humidity is high, 48 hours is a must.

Open the container and see if you see ANY moisture. If you do, it’s back to the waiting game. Don’t turn it on until you are 100% sure all moisture is gone.

During this waiting period, it’s time to call your insurance company because the computer may not function. Sometimes mishaps like this are covered by homeowners insurance, business insurance or renter’s insurance. College students frequently have coverage under their parents’ policy. If the accident happens within the first 90 days of purchase, it may be covered by buyer’s protection provided by the credit card company. If the agent says you aren’t covered, now is time to consider coverage for the future. Best to know your options and give yourself something to do while you WAIT until the computer dries out. Don’t be tempted to test it before hand.

Many times drying it out quickly is enough. The water evaporates and all is good. If it wasn’t water, then we’ve often got problems. Sticky substances like sugar from coffee or pop get stuck inside the system as they don’t evaporate. The keys might stick and the keyboard need to be replaced, but I’ve also seen that sugar start to caramelize and melt in a system causing problems weeks later. Of course, the computer may not even start up and then it’s end game.

If you smell smoke or burning…stop. It should be obvious but I must say that because it can cause a fire danger and those fumes are none too good to smell either.

If the computer does come on, it’s time to immediately backup. While it works now, the goop and junk left over by the liquid can cause problems weeks later, so while it’s running, protect your data.

How to prevent the spills? Keep your laptop elevated so that way if something spills, it’s less likely to get on your computer. Similarly, keep your beverage on a chair or on the floor and not on the same surface as the computer. Or just get up from the computer and go in the kitchen and drink there.

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