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spilled coffee on laptopOkay, 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. That way we aren’t just reacting, we are acting with intent. Usually, that works out better in the long run. Time is precious in emergencies, but so is rational thinking and that’s what you came here for, isn’t it?

So take another calming breath and answer the following questions. They’ll help you figure out what you need to do next.

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

Remain calm and carry on reading this article. It WILL help you.

There Are Flames, Sparks & Smoke!

  1. Stop the spill. Stop whatever is spilling on it from spilling on it more. If this means tossing your water or coffee cup away from the laptop, do so and worry about that mess later. That mess won’t hurt you.
  2. Cut the power to your laptop. Unplug your laptop’s power cord AND network cable from the wall. Do NOT remove any other cables from the laptop itself. Trying to do so might result in an electric shock for you.
  3. Call for Help.
    1. First, yell FIRE, FIRE, FIRE! This alerts people around you that there is a fire so they can leave the building to safety.
    2. Second, call 911 or the fire department. Be prepared to tell them who you are, where you are, and the nature of the fire.
    3. Third, try to put out the fire with a fire extinguisher rated C 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, when heated releases CO2. That takes the oxygen away from the fire and smothers it. Do NOT use water or liquids. Do your best, but don’t waste time.

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Get Out. Whether you put the fire out or not, get out of the building. Laptops are made of many chemicals and metals which can be nasty when burning. Don’t try to be a hero.

No Flames, Sparks Or Smoke.

Good. Remain calm. Chances are this will be the case since many laptops have a degree of water-resistance to their keyboards these days. Still, if you want to save your laptop you’ll need to act fast. The first two steps are the same here as above:

  1. Stop the spill. Adding more liquid isn’t going to make things better.
  2. Cut the power to your laptop. Unplug the laptop and the network cable from the wall. Now, disconnect the power cable from the laptop. Please be careful when doing this. Some power sources have capacitors in them that can still store a charge and if you touch it with wet hands will give you a nasty shock.
  3. Turn the laptop over and remove the battery. This cuts all power to the laptop. Electronics and water don’t have as hard a time together as they do when there is electricity flowing through them. Turning the laptop over will also help in draining the liquid off of your laptop.
  4. Observe. Don’t do anything with the laptop for a good while, maybe 30 minutes or more. I say this just in case something is smoldering away in the laptop that could become a fire.
    If it DOES turn into a fire, Call for Help and Get Out, just like it says at the beginning of this article. If you notice a pungent odor near your laptop, there might have been a short-circuit in your laptop and you don’t want that becoming a fire. If you’ve ever short-circuited something, you’ll know that ozone smell all too well. It’s the smell of unicorn tears to us geeks.

Those steps are the emergency steps. By following those steps, you may have saved your laptop, prevented a fire, and prevented injury to yourself. That’s all that is really important here – your safety. Laptops we can replace, replacing you requires a lot more paperwork and involves a hiring campaign.

Now What?

Assuming that the fire department didn’t have to come out,and that there is something left of your laptop, we can try to restore the laptop to see if it’s still useable. If not, then we can try salvaging parts from it to recover data, or maybe have some useful RAM for our next laptop, maybe some other things like the screen and electrical components can be saved for kit-bashing into other fun electronics projects.

Tina just wrote an excellent article on how to dispose of an old laptop Disposing Of An Old Laptop - What To Recycle, What To Keep Disposing Of An Old Laptop - What To Recycle, What To Keep Laptops are a treasure trove of parts that can live more than one life. Whether they continue a life as spare part or become the subject of a DIY tech project, you can get a... Read More . If you’re looking for greater detail on how to remove components like your hard drive and RAM from your laptop, I recommend Matt Smith’s How To Upgrade Your Laptop In a Flash: Add a New Hard Drive & Increase RAM How To Upgrade Your Laptop In a Flash: Add a New Hard Drive & Increase RAM How To Upgrade Your Laptop In a Flash: Add a New Hard Drive & Increase RAM Laptops are not as easy to upgrade as desktops. Many components are simply soldered on to the motherboard and others, though technically replaceable, are restricted by technical skill and cost. There are, however, two upgrades... Read More .

The 3 D’s

If you are lucky, it was just a water spill. Or at least some other drink that doesn’t have sugar or sugar substitutes in them. The sugary stuff becomes nasty sticky when it dries, you no doubt know.

  1. Drain. Drain as much of the liquid off of the laptop as you can. This usually involves turning it upside down like we did in a step above, but we want to drain it to the point where nothing is dripping off anymore.
  2. Dab. Using a super absorbent moist-but-completely-wrung-out sponge or cloth, dab the exterior surface of the laptop extensively. Believe it or not, the Sham-Wow really does work very well for this, said the man with experience. Keep rinsing and wringing out the dabber and keep dabbing. Get all the water or sugary stuff off of the laptop. Press gently on and between all the keys, buttons, and ports. You might want to use a Q-Tip for the ports and vents.  If you feel comfortable taking access panels off of your laptop, go ahead and do that, and use your dabber to remove any moisture in those areas. You could go as far as removing the hard drive and the RAM and checking the connections on those for any moisture. I don’t recommend taking the entire laptop apart for anybody, since that’s quite an undertaking. Plus, if you know how to take your laptop completely apart and put it back together again, this article is probably a little on the amateur side for you.

spilled liquid on laptop

If you do decide to remove the hard drive, the RAM, or take the laptop apart, little spots of sugary residue can be cleaned away with a Q-tip that is barely moist with pure rubbing alcohol, chemically known as 99% pure isopropyl alcohol. If it’s not on the shelves at your drugstore, ask the pharmacist. If you can’t find it at your drugstore, you can get it online.

The nice thing about rubbing alcohol is that it will clean AND almost instantly evaporate, so you’re not introducing any more moisture in the little nooks and crannies, or metal contacts.

Once you’ve removed as much moisture as possible, all you can do is let it dry. Do NOT put the battery back in. Do NOT put the power or any other cords back in. Just let it dry, the longer the better. You can speed up the drying process a bit by either increasing the temperature of the air, increasing the flow of the air, or using dessicants that aid in the absorption of moisture.

Increasing the temperature of the air can be done in a few ways. One is to use a blow dryer with the lowest heat setting possible. You are going to want to hold the blow dryer at least a foot away from the laptop while you do this to prevent any melting of the laptop. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend this method. You could also use a ‘drying box’. This is more of a professional level method which uses an enclosure that is fed with warm air.

The laptop sits inside the enclosure on a grate so that there is maximum airflow around the laptop. Some people claim to have had success by placing their electronics in an electric oven with the door wide open and on the lowest setting possible. Do NOT do that. That is so dangerous it hurts just to think about it.

Increasing the flow of air can be done with the blow dryer as well, without heat. This method will work, but you’re going to be spending a fair amount of time just standing there holding a blow dryer. Another method would be to put your laptop on something like a baking rack and pointing a household fan at the laptop. Now you’re free to let it sit for a good 24 hours.

Using dessicants is probably overkill, but they are worth considering if you have them and you’ve removed your hard drive and RAM. This is not a good method for drying out the entire laptop, unless you have a big bin and a big bag of dessicant.

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

spilled liquid on laptop

Rice can absorb up to twice its volume in water, making it a handy dessicant to keep around for such emergencies. Rice is also big enough that it is easily removed from the surface of most electronics. You put the hard drive and RAM into a bucket of rice big enough that the rice will completely cover the parts. Let it sit for at least 24 hours, longer if you can stand it. Then remove the parts and inspect for any residual moisture, or globs of sugary drink. Remove those with the dabber, like mentioned above.

If you’ve got a bunch of silica packets, you’ll want to empty the contents and immerse your electronics in the beads. The packet material does limit absorption somewhat.

spilled liquid on laptop

Sugary Drink Glob Removal

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

You might notice that some of the keys on the laptop aren’t functioning like they used to – now they stick a little or a lot! Laptop keys are fairly easily removed and replaced. Gently pry up the key until it pops off. Underneath the key, you may see an scissor like mechanism. This is what holds the key on, and pushes it back up into place after your press the key.

Gently clean around that part with either your dabber or a slightly moist Q-tip until all the residue is gone. Jackson did an article on doing this same thing on his MacBook How To Deal With Spilled Coffee or Coke on Your Macbook How To Deal With Spilled Coffee or Coke on Your Macbook Read More .

spilled coffee on laptop

You can use either plain warm water, or rubbing alcohol as mentioned above. Personally, I don’t recommend soapy water. Do the same with the key itself. Once you’ve removed all the residue, gently push the key into place. If done well, you’ll hear a satisfying little click and feel the key go down and come right back up again. Now move on to the next sticky key and do the same thing.

Once you’ve gone through your keyboard one by one, give the laptop some time to air out and try the keys again.

It’s Dry – Now What?

Now, you can either take it into an authorized repair depot for a through inspection and testing, or you can fire up the laptop and see what happens. Although the first idea is the best one, I can guess that most of you won’t do this. Sure it costs money, but so does a new laptop and lost data.

Okay, now you’re laptop is powered up and you’ve turned it on. Either it works – or it doesn’t. If it works, good for you! Go buy yourself a no-spill sippy cup as a reward! If it doesn’t work, all is not lost. Now comes the data recovery part.

Data Recovery

Maybe the laptop’s motherboard is cooked, or the RAM is no good. Really, that’s for a technician to decide. What you can do is try to recover your files off of the hard drive. Here’s how we go about doing that.

  1. Remove the access plate above the hard drive. This is usually indicated by an icon that looks a bit like a hard drive or the initials HDD or SSD. If you aren’t sure what access plate to remove, refer to the manufacturer’s website for details.
  2. Discharge any static electricity on you. You can do this by using a static discharge wrist band or touching something metal that is grounded.
  3. Remove the hard drive. Usually this is done by gently sliding the hard drive back from the connectors maybe half an inch. Once the hard drive is clear of the connectors, put it in a place safe from spills, Spilly McSpillypants.
  4. Get an external hard drive enclosure or SATA to USB device, or hard drive dock. Any of these devices should allow you to connect the hard drive to another computer so that you can access the files. If the plates spin on your hard drive, you should be able to recover the files. Solid State Drives might not be as easy to troubleshoot. Now back up all of your files to this computer and save them for transferring to a new laptop. Or, if you already bought a new laptop, use the device to connect to the laptop and transfer the files on to the new laptop. Either way, data saved!
  5. If all of the above fails, you may need to contact a data recovery specialist. They have an array of hardware and software tools to help them recover as much data as possible. Their services aren’t cheap, but if it’s your only copies of important photographs or sensitive data, this option may well be worth it.

What About Next Time?

There will be no next-time. You got a no-spill sippy cup right? But just in case, make sure that you are making regular backups of important data to an external hard drive or cloud storage like DropBox or GDrive. That way, you can at least avoid the panic of whether your important data is safe or not. You may also consider looking into hardware insurance for your laptop. Some plans cover replacement due to perils like spillage or even dropping. These plans are usually purchased from someone other than the manufacturer, and you need to read the plan very carefully before buying into it.

We’ve covered the emergency measures to make sure that you are safe in the event of a spill on your laptop. We’ve also gone over the cleaning and drying of your laptop to try to save it and keep it useful. We’ve also gone over some steps on data recover if your laptop simply didn’t make it. We’ve also touched on preventative measures so that this incident doesn’t repeat itself.

I hope you’ve found the information here useful, or at least it opened your eyes to what can possibly happen with spills around electronics. If you’ve found it useful, or have some stories about spills to share, please do so in the comments below. I respond to as many comments as I can.

Image Credits: Laptop Keys via Jackson Chung, MakeUseOf.coms, Clean Motherboard with Q-Tip via Shutterstock, Silica Gel packets via Shutterstock, Coffee Spill on Laptop via Shutterstock, Drying iPhone in Rice via stevendepolo Flickr

  1. Ginger Boudreaux
    October 12, 2016 at 3:06 pm

    I spilled coffee on my laptop I wiped it all off with paper towels I didn't know I was supposed to turn my laptop upside down and I didn't turn it off either I panicked and my first thought was clean up the mess. My laptop will still turn on and I can see my pics, files etc however I can't use my keys what can I do?

  2. Raine Eaday
    September 9, 2016 at 3:29 pm

    Spilled cranberry juice on mine hours after I got it back from being fixed. I need shooting. So far it's alright, no stickyness, not fizzing and certainly no flames, but I'm dubious.

  3. peter
    July 31, 2016 at 8:52 am helped

  4. Diane
    June 30, 2016 at 10:03 pm

    So I believe I have a spill protected keyboard I found just a tiny bit of moisture under one key I didn't do each individual key yet ughhhh. Regardless if I wait 24 hrs I plug it in and try it ?

  5. Ceyann
    January 28, 2016 at 2:36 am

    what if it is a little laptop and the battery nor the keypad can be removed?? what do i do then???...

    • Guy McDowell
      February 3, 2016 at 12:43 pm

      Hi Ceyann,

      I'm sorry to hear about the spill. Taking it to your computer technician is the best option now.

  6. Bruce
    December 14, 2015 at 8:53 pm

    You're right, but I felt keeping it under 100 degrees was probably pretty safe. Seems like it was. Through the day yesterday we kept turning the laptop to expose different edges and openings to the airflow. After about 10 hours in the dehydrator we took it out, put the battery in and booted.

    All went well but you could tell some liquid actually got into the structure that holds the LED screen, or at least the connecting cables. Turned it off immediately and disassembled the lid to allow more airflow to the screen and cables. We left it overnight, again on 90 degrees, and reassembled it this morning.

    Now, under certain lighting conditions, you can see where the tea left some residue on the bottom 1/3 of the screen interior, but the computer is completely usable and all files are intact. A new screen would run about $50 but the latent image is so minor she is not interested in that at this time.

    Just FYI, it's an Excaliber 12-tray dehydrator, big enough for the Toshiba Satellite. Thanks again.

    • Guy McDowell
      February 3, 2016 at 12:44 pm

      Hi Bruce,

      I'm glad that worked out for you. BTW, I want one of those Excalibur dehydrators. They are the best for home dehydrating. Well, that and solar dehydrators.

  7. Bruce
    December 13, 2015 at 6:51 pm

    My bride dumped an entire cup of hot tea (no sugar) on her laptop this morning. We pulled the battery immediately, drained as much as possible, and then placed the entire laptop in her food dehydrator. It's set at 90 degrees, has a blowing fan and we'll keep it in there for 24 hours. Fingers crossed, but thanks for the article.

    • Guy McDowell
      December 13, 2015 at 9:12 pm

      Be careful with the heat. Plastic, electronics, and heat don't mix well. Getting it too dry might cause a different set of issues.

  8. Noor Verstraete
    November 8, 2015 at 7:55 pm

    Really Thank you! I just spilled a little bit of water on the laptop of my father and i was really in panic! But thank to these good instructions it all came good ;)

    • Guy McDowell
      November 14, 2015 at 5:14 pm

      Very glad I could help. :)

  9. Toby
    March 2, 2015 at 4:03 am

    I am surprised that no one has mentioned getting an external keyboard .... I had a small spill on my laptop which is supposedly spill-protected - very small spill but ... The keyboard wasn't working. I plugged in an external keyboard and it works fine. I use the laptop as my desktop at home though.

    • Guy
      March 2, 2015 at 1:33 pm

      Hi Toby,

      Wow, I'm surprised I didn't mention that too! Sometimes the simplest fix is the easiest to overlook. Good call!

  10. techspecX
    February 15, 2015 at 4:01 pm

    Seriously got a good laugh on the " Laptops we can replace, replacing you requires a lot more paperwork and involves a hiring campaign."

    Well written artcile and thanks for the tips!

    • Guy
      February 15, 2015 at 5:28 pm

      Thank you! I try to keep it light. :)

  11. Jeff
    December 19, 2014 at 3:06 pm

    I had a really small quantity of water spilled on my computer a few days ago... It was plugged all day

    My cat spilled a really small quantity of water on my computer a few days ago... the problem is that he did it in the morning and I only discovered it hours after the fact. My computer was plugged all day but in sleeping mode.

    Anyways, the keyboard is almost dead and so are my usb ports. However, my Hard Drive seems to be fine. Here are my questions :
    1) My first option is to copy my hard drive by using an external hard drive enclosure. However, what happends if I had different Windows Accounts on my computer? With that option, will I be able to copy the 3 accounts that I had (general account with no password, my girlfriend's account who had a password and my account that had a password)? Will I have access to the 3 different accounts because I want to copy the data of all these accounts?
    2) My second option is to buy a used laptop, exactly like mine, and just insert my hard drive into this computer (I found a few for sale on internet). Will it be working fine if it's exactly the same model? I heard that I may have to reinstall Windows, but that would destroy all my data, so I better do a backup before I do it. But, once again, I would come up with the same question I had before : how do I copy different Windows accounts using your method?

    Thanks a lot for your useful article!

  12. joe mcfly
    August 22, 2013 at 10:03 am

    Is this a comedy joke? plus its make me laugh (haha) that all.

    • Guy M
      August 22, 2013 at 12:30 pm

      I'm not sure. What other kind of jokes are there? If you got a chuckle, that's good. Although I'm not sure what's funny.

  13. Carolyn Barnett
    April 20, 2013 at 3:34 pm

    Thank you so much for all the information. I am always drinking coffee at my computer and it is a good thing to know how to help dry the spills!

    • Guy McDowell
      April 20, 2013 at 7:36 pm

      Prevention is the key. Best to get a no-spill mug, even if it's for dry martinis.

  14. Michael Portner
    April 20, 2013 at 1:29 am

    One item you did not mention is possiblely getting a silicone topper for your keyboard. This would be a third party offering. Make sure you order the one that matches your keyboard as different manufacturers and different models within the same manufacturer may have a different keyboard layout.

    • Guy McDowell
      April 20, 2013 at 7:36 pm

      Do they make those for laptops?

      • Michael Portner
        April 21, 2013 at 12:39 am

        I have seen them for desktop keyboards in lab settings and someone mentioned having one for a laptop. I apologize for not having mfg names. Suggest Google it. This item may be going the way of the buggy whip since everything is becoming a touch screen. One item I have also seen was an external silicone keyboard which actually can be rolled up. This unit is completely sealed. No dust liquid or anything else can destroy it. Well maybe some strong acid!

  15. Keith Swartz
    April 18, 2013 at 7:02 pm

    THANK YOU FOR THIS ARTICLE! AWESOME!! This is a great diy for recovering from an END OF THE WORLD Accident! Thanks, but I hope & pray I never have to implement it!

    • Guy McDowell
      April 18, 2013 at 10:34 pm

      I hope you never do have to use it either. But to paraphrase, spills happen.

      DANGER: Do not use your laptop on soft surfaces like a bed spread or cushion. There was another horrible fire in Prince Edward Island last week caused this way. I just had to write this here somewhere. Please compute carefully.

      • Jalu Priyanto
        July 1, 2013 at 6:46 am

        thanks for the info.almost set a fire on my bed last month.

  16. phogey2
    April 17, 2013 at 9:53 pm

    yes it was very useful thank you .I like what your bio says "striving to do the best job in the best way possible" .fyi the insides of a clean baby diaper work too. Now the guilt doesn't seem so bad . typing a broken keyboard & answering my cell that's got duck tape on the back .

    • Guy McDowell
      April 18, 2013 at 10:32 pm

      Disposable baby diapers would work great, so would feminine hygiene products. Anything that is clean and super absorbent. Good call!

  17. Stephan A
    April 16, 2013 at 11:21 pm

    Thanks, this is great to know. I hope I never have to use it personally. However, some of my kids have laundered or flushed their cell phones. Tried some of this in the past. Some came close, but most was a lost cause.

  18. Eric
    April 16, 2013 at 7:15 pm

    My wife spilled a whole glass of red wine on her laptop keyboard. I brought to the sink, there wine coming out of every hole. I grabbed a bottle on rubbing alcohol and poured it on the keyboard until it ran clear. Took the whole bottle. Took out the battery and opened the dvd. Put a fan on it over night. In the morning it booted right up and has worked ever since.

    • Guy McDowell
      April 16, 2013 at 10:47 pm

      Glad to hear. Sorry about the waste of a good glass of wine though. In Canada, we call wasting a drink alcohol abuse. ;-)

  19. Kannon Yamada
    April 16, 2013 at 6:36 pm

    Great article! I particularly enjoy your methodology for dealing with a fire. :-)

    There's a lot of depth in the article - not only do you cover the emergency methods, there's also recovery tips. Very useful.

  20. Manish Parmar
    April 16, 2013 at 1:51 pm

    thanx..useful info. hats off..!!

  21. Aleksandra H
    April 16, 2013 at 1:25 pm

    thanks, good to know

  22. macwitty
    April 16, 2013 at 12:46 pm

    Thanks, yes helpful. I do hope I remember it if it happens. Maybe this article could be turned into a computer sos-poster

  23. Carey Barnett
    April 16, 2013 at 12:18 pm

    Caveat re: Rubbing Alcohol

    I am a laptop technician.

    Never use 'rubbing alcohol' per se. What you want is pure isopropyl alcohol. It should be on the shelf right next to the rubbing alcohol, so be careful. Rubbing alcohol - as it's used in massage - has lubricants, scents, and other crap in it. It's great for a massage, but a screaming bitch on electronics.

    Also, under that little silicon layer, which is under the key, may be a switch with a conductive lubricant on it. That lubricant may be an essential part of the function of the switch (key, button, etc). You do not want to remove that lubricant. Don't drown it. Slow and careful is the key (pun intended).


    • Guy McDowell
      April 16, 2013 at 10:47 pm


      I called it rubbing alcohol but then went on to say, "99% pure isopropyl alcohol". So, yeah that might confuse someone.

      Good point on the lubricants as well. It's important to stay lubed. And now this thread proceeds rapidly downhill....

  24. Noman Fayez
    April 16, 2013 at 10:07 am

    most of the time nothing will happen... just use surgery gloves... remove power cord.. remove all external cables one by one... remove battery... take a screw driver.. open it.. then disassembly laptop parts one by one... use a dry clothes to dry out water from the inside.. specially from the back end of key board... ask your wife's hair dryer... after one half an hour... assembly everything....... I hope it will solve 99.9% problem.. except you put a big glass of coffee or a jug of water on your laptop..... Thanks!!

  25. Sidhart Shakya
    April 16, 2013 at 9:59 am

    Love this article, very interesting and knowledgeable ...

  26. Adrian C
    April 16, 2013 at 8:58 am

    Really Interesting Article! Thank You.

  27. Todd Troutt
    April 16, 2013 at 8:31 am

    Where were you about 7 years ago when I could have used this? ;o) Seriously - good info to know.

  28. Danielle
    April 16, 2013 at 2:34 am

    I lost half a cup of coffee on my laptop and after doing all of the above instructions I used my hairdrier to help dryto get them from them. The keyboard, the heat warped some of my keys. I found on the web and got new keys for my laptop. If your missing keys definitely try them.

    • Adrian C
      April 16, 2013 at 8:56 am

      Great suggestion, Now i can put the delete key in my older laptop.

    • Guy McDowell
      April 16, 2013 at 11:57 am

      Thank you for that great link!

      That's why I advise against using any heat source really. Not much good can come of it.

      Patience is the key. Pun intended.

  29. Chris Marcoe
    April 16, 2013 at 2:33 am

    My son has gotten several things drenched before. Rice never seems to work. Of course, it my be because when he gets things wet, its soaked. Like, through the laundry soaked.

    • Josh Mustillo
      April 16, 2013 at 3:35 am

      Thats What She Said

    • Guy McDowell
      April 16, 2013 at 11:59 am

      Lots of devices have a battery still in them and the electricity from that, coupled with the beating and water of a laundry machine, will take pretty much any device out.

      As for checking the laundry for electronics, well, that's a whole other issue.

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