What to Do About a Wet Laptop

By James T Wood

According to studies by laptop insurance provider Protecsure, spilled liquid ranks among the top four causes of damage to portable computers. From that agonizing, slow-motion moment when the spill happens until the instant the liquid lands on your computer, you have just seconds to remove the battery and unplug the power adapter. The faster you do this, the better chance you have of avoiding a short circuit and saving your computer.

Air Dry

If you just spilled a few drops of clean water on your laptop, the simplest method is to let it dry naturally. Turn the laptop upside down, leaving it open so that air can flow around the keyboard; you can even set it in front of a fan. Don’t use heat, though, because hot air can melt plastic components inside the machine. After letting it dry for two days, you can check for moisture around the area where the spill occurred. If it feels dry, reinstall the battery and boot up the machine.

Desiccant

If the liquid soaked deep into the innards of your laptop, you can draw it out using a desiccant, such as the silica gel that often ships with new products to keep them dry, or some uncooked rice. You also need a container large enough to hold your laptop -- a plastic storage tub with a lid or a garbage bag and tape -- to create an airtight seal that prevents external moisture from saturating the desiccant before it can draw the water out. After filling the container with enough rice to submerge your laptop completely, close it and keep the computer inside for two days. Brush off any rice with a soft cloth before powering on the laptop.

Remove the Keyboard

Laptop keyboards are the most vulnerable spot for spills, and you may need to remove the keyboard to reach all of the liquid. Start by pouring off the liquid and wiping up anything that spilled on the computer's surface. After removing the keyboard according to the instructions found in the support section of the laptop manufacturer’s website, you should wipe up any remaining liquid and use a mild cleaner, sprayed onto a soft cloth, to finish the job.

Alcohol

If your computer was completely submerged in a liquid other than water, surface-cleaning techniques probably won't be enough to get inside all the nooks and crannies. Use 99 percent pure rubbing or isopropyl alcohol to displace the offending liquid -- anything that's less pure may leave residue when it evaporates, which could cause a short. In a large container, submerge your laptop in rubbing alcohol for several minutes, and swish it around so the alcohol gets into all the components inside. After removing the computer from the alcohol solution, let it dry for two days.

Disassemble the Computer

If all else fails, and you have confidence in your technical abilities, you can take apart your laptop and clean it. There’s a risk of further damage, however, so proceed with caution and follow the instructions on the laptop manufacturer’s website. After you've dissembled the computer, clean up any liquid residue with a cotton swab dipped in 99 percent isopropyl alcohol. The computer should dry for 48 hours before you reassemble it and turn it on.