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Repair News Articles from the Tech Industry

April 12, 2007

How to Save a Laptop from Liquid Damage
Don’t drink and type
If you're tempted to down a soda, water, glass of wine, coffee, or other liquid while typing away at your keyboard, you may end up paying the ultimate price—liquid spilled into your computer from an accidental knock, a few drips or a dropped cup. If this happens, don't panic. Instead, follow these simple instructions as quickly as you can to try to salvage your computer.

1. Shut it off! Immediately remove the battery, the A/C adapter, and unplug the device after the spill. The biggest danger at first is the device shorting out.
2. Turn it upside down immediately to stop the liquid from traveling deeper into the machine.
3. Clean up any part of the spill you can get to. Use paper towels or any absorbent material that is lint-free.
4. Inspect the keyboard. Some keyboards are designed to protect the internals from liquids:

* Pour out any liquid contained in a keyboard enclosure.
* Remove and clean an easily removable keyboard.
5. Wipe up anything sticky. This may include the screen, the keys on the keyboard, and any buttons. Use a clean, slightly dampened, lint-free cloth.
6. Disconnect and remove any and all external devices.
7. Insulate yourself from static discharge. Static electricity can be very high voltage. Static discharge from your hands and body can destroy even a dry computer. Learn how to Avoid Destroying a Computer With Electrostatic Discharge.
Remove the drive
Remove the drive
Disassemble the case. If you cannot get to the whole spill, then it may be necessary to remove the laptop's case. Most spills will contain chemicals that can corrode internal circuit boards:

* If you aren't comfortable taking your device apart, then get it to someone who is, as soon as possible.
* Pull the hard drive to protect your data.
* Remove as many cards or drives as you can.
9. Remove dry residue. Use a toothbrush or lint-free cloth to gently remove any dried residue from non-water stains such as cola or coffee. Blow the residue away with compressed air.
10. Rinse off the residue. If you spilled anything besides water on the laptop, rinsing it clean will be the most dramatic part. There are several ways to rinse your machine, depending on the kind of spill, and how much risk you are willing to endure:

* Think about what has been spilled on/in your computer, and determine whether it is water soluble or petro-chemical based. In the case of the former, deionized water will work fine. If it is oily, etc., then rinse with denatured alcohol, and then rinse with deionized water.
* Rinse with water. Take any components that have residue (a fresh spill or an old spill of cola) and rinse them under the tap. Most circuit boards and similar non-moving components handle water well, as long as they are not powered. Some internal components with moving parts may not handle water well, for example, fans and CD/DVD drives.
* Rinse with deionized or distilled water. Many people prefer to rinse with deionized water over tap water. Regular water will leave deposits that can cause electrical shorts, but deionized water will rinse clean, dry, and leave nothing behind.
* Don't get too carried away rinsing your machine. Water and laptops do not mix, either. Rinse as much as you need to, and not more. Carefully blot up excess water, if any.
Let it rest
Let it rest
Let it dry. Be completely sure that the parts are dry before you proceed. As with rinsing, there are different theories on drying:

* Dry naturally. Prop the machine up, away from surfaces, so that air can circulate in and around the entire unit. Leave the machine to dry for 24 to 48 hours.
* Dry with light heat. Place your deck on a warm radiator or on top of a warm sill or shelf -- out of direct sunlight -- or near other source of warmth. Do not use high levels of heat, just moderately warm sources of heat. Let it dry for 12 hours, or so. A nearby dehumidifier may improve drying time.
* Never use a hair dryer, as this will cause static problems and fill your machine with more contaminants and dust. A hair dryer at a high setting could also melt some of the plastic components.
12. Clean with a solvent. A second rinse with a solvent-based cleaner is recommended by some, and abhorred by others.

* If you suspect that your first rinse did not remove all of the residue, a chemical rinse of this kind may be worth the risk. The advantages of such a rinse are: there is only one substance to apply and remove; that substance, typically, evaporates; long drying times are not required. The disadvantage is that, if you use the wrong solvents, you can literally dissolve your computer.
* Buy and use 99% (not 90%) isopropyl alcohol. Never, ever use gasoline or acetone to clean computer parts.
* Using a cotton swab, carefully rub or wipe each component of the board, until it is clean.
* Try flux remover, a spray-on can available in electronics stores, rather than isopropyl alcohol.
Put it back together
Put it back together
Put the laptop back together, and test it to see if it is working.


* Some companies have a spill provision in their warranties; it won't hurt to check before removing the case.
* You can buy total replacement 'notebook insurance' for the machine on an annual basis fairly cheaply (at least until it's depreciated enough not to bother with). Don't buy an extended warranty or 'replacement' contract at the store unless you've shopped the price on-line.
* Removing the case on most laptops is not easy. Critically, you must remove all screws. The screws are tiny and will be all over the place. Check for screws on the outside, of course, but also in any internal compartments, such as, behind the battery or under labels.
* Never force the case off, or you will break plastic or bend metal. If the case does not come off easily, look for more screws.
* Case screws may be star screws, in which case you will need the correct-sized, star screwdriver set.
* If there are many different screws in the casing, then you can make a drawing of the layout on paper, and tape each screw to the drawing. This way you won't be in doubt about which goes where when you're putting the whole thing back together.
* Look for a service manual or hardware maintenance manual for your particular laptop on the manufacturer's website. These guides can tell you, step by step, how to disassemble your laptop.
* When drying the computer, allow air to circulate all around the machine, by propping it up away from surfaces, so that air can get under it.
* Check a tropical fish store for tablets to deionize water.
* Deionized water is used often in the semiconductor industry, as tap water contains many ions or chemical impurities that may leave a residue on very sensitive electronic components.
* Consider purchasing an "accidental spill" warranty, if you know you are going to be around liquids frequently. This may add a few hundred dollars to the purchase price of your laptop, but it will be much cheaper than having to buy a new one.
* Several companies sell keyboard covers/membranes for laptops. For about $15 www.protectcovers.com will match you to the right cover. It does take a little getting used to, and you have to turn up the keypad sensitivity, but it doesn't allow spills to get between the keys.
* Several companies also sell laptop vests and laptop jackets. Shoreline seems to be the best priced [~$15]. The vests are a light cover that merely protect the top and bottom of a laptop from scratches (one model comes with a handle) while the jacket zips completely shut around the laptop like a binder (also has a zipper for back access ports). There are some more expensive models of laptop jackets meant for use in extreme conditions, and they have enough padding to protect against moderate falls.
* Some tablet machines have no keyboard to spill into (or break), and come with rubber condoms to protect ports. You can still spill liquids into them, you'll just have a tougher time doing it.
* You could consider a 'ruggedized notebook' that is liquid and shock proof if you are prone to accidents. These won't be 'cutting edge', but they can be used as a club.


* Whatever you do, DO NOT power your laptop on to check if everything is OK. Give the laptop at least 24 hours to dry completely on its own before attempting any sort of power on at all.
Water and laptops do not mix
Water and laptops do not mix
Water and electricity do not mix! Make sure all power is off.
* Even "clean" tap water can destroy electronics. If you drop a laptop into tap water, still be prepared for the DI water rinse.
* Many, if not most, laptops contain a CMOS battery that is constantly providing a small amount of power to the laptop. Even this small amount of power may be more than enough to cause an electrical short. It would probably be best to remove this battery (it looks like a watch battery), as soon as possible, after a spill. Note, though, that this will erase any modified BIOS settings.
* If you choose to let the spill dry without cleaning, be aware that any acid present will slowly "eat" the circuit boards, until the device fails.
* Opening the case will void the warranty. However, spilling acidic liquid into the device probably already did that anyway, as few warranties cover this kind of damage.
* A heavily soaked AC adapter will need to be replaced.
* Organic solvents can be dangerous and even explosive. Use only in a well ventilated environment with the correct personal protective equipment, such as gloves and an organic solvent respirator.

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