So you’ve had an unfortunate incident (or someone else did and handed the problem off in a panic), or maybe the story isn’t clear and you just have a suspicion….that the computer you are looking at had liquid of something spilled on it. Milk, soft drink, adult beverage, or even plain old water can all have potentially devastating effects on ANY computer.
TURN IT OFF
The absolutely first thing you want to do is turn it off. Unplug the laptop and remove any batteries. Do a hard shutdown if you must. Better to have Windows complain later than lose all your data now. Any liquid spill can quickly reach circuitry and cause devastating shorts. Also, liquid on components will lead to corrosion damage which is generally catastrophic. A shorted motherboard can easily lead to sparks, fire, and data loss.
Before attempting self service, verify that your machine is not under warranty or covered by accidental damage protection. Liquid spills are only covered by accidental damage policies and will void any other kind of warranty.
Dismantle and dry off
You may start thinking about how you can quickly it dry off and get back to work. That leads to ideas of using heat guns and hair dryers. Don’t do that. For laptops, that will destroy the keyboard and any plastics in the frame.
For laptops, remove drives and connected cables and peripherals. Remove flash drives, portable hard drives, network cables, wireless adapters, usb printer cables, keyboards and mice. Remove any hard drives or optical drives. Liquid can get into the connectors and make them corrode, gum up, and interfere with connections. Drives can take on liquid and be ruined. Shorted connections can damage both ends of the connection. If you are not comfortable with disassembly, especially the outer casing, seek a professional immediately.
Qtips and rubbing alcohol do well for cleaning contacts and removing residue from hard-to-reach places. A lint-free cloth should be used for anything else. Blot out what you can, don’t wipe. Wiping will only spread the mess.
For the remaining liquid, flip the laptop over and give it 24 hours to drip dry. The bottom of a laptop case is usually compartmentalized. There are lots of places for liquid to flow into and sit inside the laptop. Your goal is to let gravity and air do the work. No shaking, that will stir things up more and you risk dropping the laptop and causing further damage. Compressed air can do wonders here as well.
Once it has had 24 hours to dry out it’s time to reassemble. Check carefully to make sure you don’t miss any connections and make sure everything is clean and dry before installing. Power it on, see that everything works as intended. If you aren’t sure at any point, stop and bring it to a qualified repair professional.
Be aware: water is the easiest liquid to clean up after. After 24 hours when following these instructions it is possible to have 100% system function restored if no damage was done prior to power-down and disassembly. Soft drinks and other beverages are far more difficult, as they leave a sticky residue. Alcohol does a good job cleaning this up, but it takes some time and effort to be certain. A slightly damp lint-free cloth can also do wonders, being careful not to use too much water and make a new mess.