Okay, let’s take a deep breath and deal with the emergency first. Any emergency requires us to take a moment or two and assess the situation. So we don’t just react, we act with intent. This usually works better in the long run. Time is valuable in emergencies, but rational thinking is what you came here for, isn’t it?

So take another calming breath and answer the following questions. They will help you understand what you need to do next.

Can you still see things on your laptop monitor? Or are there flames, sparks and smoke?

Keep calm and keep reading this article. This will help you.

There are flames, sparks and smoke!

  1. Stop spill. Stop whatever is spilled on it and don’t spill more on it. If this means you threw away your water or coffee cup from your laptop, do so and take care of that mess later. This mess won’t hurt you.
  2. Power off your laptop . Disconnect the laptop power cord and network cable from the wall. DO NOT disconnect any other cables from the laptop itself. Attempting to do so may result in electric shock to you.
  3. Call for help.
    1. First yell FIRE, FIRE, FIRE ! This warns people around you that they can leave the building safely.
    2. Secondly call 911 or the fire department. Be prepared to tell them who you are, where you are, and the nature of fire.
    3. Thirdly try to put out the fire with a class C fire extinguisher for electrical fires.

spilled coffee on laptop

If you don’t have a C-rated fire extinguisher, you can try using baking soda. Baking soda releases CO2 when heated. This takes oxygen from the fire and suffocates it. DO NOT use water or liquids. Do your best, but don’t waste time.

Get out. Whether you put out the fire or not, exit the building. Laptops are made from many chemicals and metals that can be nasty when burned. Don’t try to be a hero.

No flames, sparks or smoke.

Good. Keep calm. This is likely to be the case, as many laptops these days are water resistant to their keyboards. However, if you want to keep your laptop, you need to act fast. The first two steps here are the same as above:

  1. Stop spill. Adding more liquid won’t make things better.
  2. Power off your laptop . Disconnect laptop and network cable from the wall . Now unplug the power cable from the laptop. Please be careful while doing this. Some power supplies have capacitors that can store a charge, and if you touch it with wet hands, it can be uncomfortable.
  3. Turn the laptop over and remove the battery. This turns off all power to the laptop. It’s not as hard for electronics and water to spend time together as it is when electricity flows through them. Turning the laptop over will also help in draining the liquid from your laptop.
  4. Note. Do nothing with the laptop for a while, maybe 30 minutes or more. I say this just in case something smolders in the laptop and it could start a fire.
    If it turns into a fire, contact for help and get out as stated at the beginning of this article. If you notice a strong smell near your laptop, your laptop may have shorted out and you don’t want it to turn into a fire. If you’ve ever shorted something, you’ll know that ozone smells too good. This is the smell of unicorn tears for us geeks.

These steps are extraordinary steps. By completing these steps, you Maybe saved your laptop, prevented a fire, and prevented injury. That’s all that really matters here — your safety . Laptops that we can replace, replacing you requires much more paperwork and involves a recruitment campaign.

Now what?

Assuming the fire department wasn’t supposed to come out, and that there’s something left of your laptop, we can try to restore the laptop to see if it’s usable. If not then we can try to extract data recovery parts from it or maybe have some usable RAM for our next laptop maybe some other things like the screen and electrical components can be saved to install kits in others fun electronics projects.

Tina just wrote a great article on how to get rid of an old laptop. . If you want more information on how to remove components such as hard drive and RAM from a laptop, I recommend Matt Smith’s How to Upgrade a Laptop with Flash Memory: Add a New Hard Drive and Upgrade RAM. .


If you’re lucky, it was just a water spill. Or at least some other drink that does not contain sugar or sugar substitutes. Without a doubt, sweet substances become unpleasant when they dry out.

  1. Drain. Drain as much liquid as possible from the laptop. This usually involves flipping it upside down like we did in the step above, but we want to deplete it to the point where nothing else drips.
  2. Dab. Using a super absorbent sponge or cloth that is damp but fully wrung out, thoroughly wipe the outside of the laptop. Believe it or not, Sham-Wow actually works really well for this, said the person with the experience. Keep rinsing and wringing out the smear, and keep rubbing. Get all the water or sweet things from the laptop. Gently press on and in between all keys, buttons, and ports. You may want to use Q-Tip for ports and vents. If you feel comfortable removing the protective panels from your laptop, do so and use your tool to remove moisture from those areas. You can go so far as to remove the hard drive and RAM and check the connections for moisture. I don’t recommend taking the whole laptop apart to anyone as it’s quite a difficult task. Also, if you know how to completely disassemble a laptop and put it back together, this article is probably a bit for you.

spilled liquid on laptop

If you choose to remove the hard drive, RAM, or disassemble the laptop, small stains of sugary residue can be removed with a Q-tip that is barely moistened with pure alcohol, chemically known as 99% isopropyl alcohol. If it’s not on the shelves in your pharmacy, ask your pharmacist. If you cannot find it at your pharmacy, you can get it online.

The good thing about alcohol is that it will clear and evaporate almost instantly, so you won’t be introducing moisture into little nooks and crannies or metal contacts anymore.

Once you’ve removed as much moisture as possible, all you can do is give it dry up . DO NOT put the battery back in. DO NOT plug the power or any other cords back. Just let it dry, the longer the better. You can speed up the drying process a bit by increasing the air temperature, increasing the airflow, or using desiccants to help absorb moisture.

Raising the air temperature can be done in several ways. One of them is to use a hair dryer with the lowest possible temperature. You will need to keep the hair dryer at least a foot away from the laptop while you do this to prevent the laptop from melting. Personally, I would not recommend this method. You can also use a «drying cabinet». This is a professional level method that uses an enclosure that is fed with warm air.

The laptop sits inside the case on a grill so that there is maximum airflow around the laptop. Some people claim to have had success by putting their electronics in an electric oven with the door wide open and on the lowest settings possible. NOT do it. It’s so dangerous that it hurts just to think about it.

Increasing the air flow can also be done with a blow dryer, without heating. This method will work, but you will be wasting quite a lot of time just standing there with a hair dryer. Another way is to put your laptop on a baking rack and point your home fan at it. Now you can leave it for 24 hours.

Using dehumidifiers is probably overkill, but worth considering if you have them and have removed your hard drive and RAM. This is not a good method for drying an entire laptop unless you have a large basket and a large bag of desiccant.

There are professional grade silica desiccants, like the little packets you sometimes see in medicine bottles, or you can use the home remedy we call rice.

spilled liquid on laptop

Rice can absorb twice its volume in water, making it a handy desiccant for such emergencies. The rice is also large enough to be easily removed from the surface of most electronics. You place the hard drive and RAM in a bucket of rice large enough so that the rice completely covers the parts. Leave for 24 hours, longer if you can. Then remove the parts and inspect them for residual moisture or sugary drink globules. Remove those with the label as above.

If you have a bunch of silica bags, you need to clear the contents and submerge your electronics in the beads. The bag material limits absorption somewhat.

spilled liquid on laptop

Removing Sweet Drink Glob

If there is any residue left from the sweet drink on the parts or the laptop, use only products that have been rinsed in warm water and wrung out completely. You may need to gently rub the residue to remove it, but be careful not to scratch any surfaces, especially if you can — especially the screen.

You may notice that some keys on the laptop don’t work the way they used to — now they stick a little or a lot! The laptop keys are fairly easy to remove and replace. Carefully lift the key until it pops out. Under the key, you can see a scissor-like mechanism. This is what holds the key and pushes it into place after the key is pressed.

Gently clean this part with a dab or a slightly damp Q-tip until all residue is gone. Jackson wrote an article on how to do the same on his MacBook. macbook

spilled coffee on laptop

You can use plain warm water or alcohol as above. Personally, I do not recommend soapy water. Do the same with the key itself. After you have removed all residue, gently press the key into place. If done well, you will hear a nice little click and feel the key go down and back up again. Now move on to the next sticky key and do the same.

After you pass over the keyboard one by one, give the laptop a little time to let the air out and try again.

Dry — now what?

Now you can either take it to an authorized repair depot for end-to-end inspection and testing, or fire up the laptop and see what happens. While the first idea is the best, I can only assume that most of you won’t. Sure, it costs money, but so does a new laptop. and lost data.

Okay, now your laptop is on and you’ve turned it on. Either it works or it doesn’t. If it works, good for you! Buy yourself a non-spill drinking cup as a reward! If that doesn’t work, all is not lost. Now comes the data recovery part.

Data recovery

Perhaps the laptop motherboard is cooked, or the RAM is not good. In fact, it’s up to the technique. What you can do is try to recover your files from your hard drive. Here’s how we do it.

  1. Remove the access cover above the hard drive. This is usually indicated by an icon that looks like a hard drive or the initials HDD or SSD. If you are unsure which access plate to remove, refer to the manufacturer’s website for details.
  2. Discharge any static electricity on you. This can be done with a static discharge wrist strap or by touching a grounded metal object.
  3. Take out the hard drive. This is usually done by gently prying the hard drive away from the connectors, perhaps half an inch. Once the hard drive is free from the connectors, place it in a spill-safe area, Spilly McSpillypants.
  4. Purchase an external hard drive or SATA-USB device or hard drive docking station. Any of these devices should allow you to connect your hard drive to another computer so you can access your files. If the platters are spinning on your hard drive, you will be able to recover the files. Solid state drives may not be as easy to troubleshoot. Now back up all your files on this computer and save them to transfer to your new laptop. Or, if you’ve already bought a new laptop, use the device to connect to your laptop and transfer files to your new laptop. In any case, the data is saved!
  5. If all of the above does not help, you may need to contact a data recovery specialist. They have a set of hardware and software tools to help them recover as much data as possible. Their services are not cheap, but if these are your only copies of important photos or sensitive data, this option may well be worth it.

How about next time?

There won’t be next time. You got a non-spill baking cup, right? But just in case, make sure you regularly back up your important data to an external hard drive or cloud storage like DropBox or GDrive. This way you can at least avoid panicking if your important data is safe or not. You may also want to consider equipment insurance for your laptop. Some plans call for replacement due to hazards such as leakage or even a fall. These plans are usually purchased from someone other than the manufacturer and you need to read the plan very carefully before purchasing it.

We’ve covered emergency measures to keep you safe in the event of a spill on your laptop. We’ve also covered cleaning and drying your laptop to preserve it and keep it useful. We also went through some data recovery steps if your laptop just couldn’t do it. We also touched on preventive measures so that this incident does not happen again.

I hope you found the information here helpful, or at least opened your eyes to what can happen with spills around electronics. If you found this helpful or have some spill stories, please do so in the comments below. I answer as many comments as I can.

Image Credits: Laptop Keys via Jackson Chung, .coms. clean motherboard with Q-Tip via Shutterstock silica gel packs via Shutterstock, spilling coffee on a laptop via Shutterstock drying iPhone in rice via stevendepolo Flickr

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