Don’t Panic If You’ve Spilled Water on Your Laptop — Here’s What You Can Do

published Feb 27, 2024
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Spilling glass of water on the black laptop. Accident with technology
Credit: aleks333/Shutterstock

Few things can send chills down your spine quite like spilling water on your laptop. Not only can drowning your electronics be a death sentence for your computer, but trying to salvage your device and your data can also be a costly endeavor as well. The good news is that not every spill has to mean the end of the road for your laptop. 

Quick Overview

What to Do If You’ve Spilled Water on Your Laptop

  1. Remain calm.
  2. Unplug and turn off your laptop.
  3. Remove the battery (if possible).
  4. Wipe away excess water.
  5. Air dry for 24 to 48 hours.
  6. Consult a professional.

What to Do If You Spilled Water on Your Laptop

If you’ve spilled water directly (or had a cleaning mistake) on your laptop, here’s what you can do to try and fix it yourself. (If all else fails, you’ll want to seek out professional help.)

Immediately after you spill water, be sure to remain calm.

The most important thing you should do is remain calm, according to James Copeland, director of technical services at Prism Specialties, a restoration company that specializes in restoring damaged electronics, art, textiles, and documents.

“While it’s important to act quickly, panicking can lead to poor decision-making and make the situation worse.” Instead, Copeland says you’ll need to stay calm and act methodically by following the steps below to get the best results.

Power down your computer to avoid any short circuits.

You’re going to need to turn everything off as soon as you can. Disconnect it from the power source and docking station (if equipped), and unplug any peripherals, USB drives, dongles, or any other accessories that are connected, says Copeland. “Removing power from the laptop prevents the risk of electric shock and shorts in electrical circuits due to the conductivity of the water, reducing the risk of permanent damage.”

Remove the battery (if possible). 

If your laptop has a removable battery, Copeland says you’ll want to take it out ASAP. “This ensures that there is no electrical current flowing through the laptop, which will reduce the risk of short circuits.”

“While it may help to turn the laptop upside down and place it on a towel to let the water drain out, avoid excessive flipping and shaking, it may spread the water to more sensitive areas and other components,” Copeland says, noting that if you’ve flipped your laptop to take the battery out, it’s important to leave it upside down from that point on so that it can drain. 

Wipe away excess water.

Next, you’ll want to tackle any water that remains on the surface or near where your laptop spilled. “Use a lint-free cloth such as a microfiber cloth to gently wipe and soak up any visible water on the surface, keyboard, trackpad, vents, and ports,” says Copeland. “Removing excess water will prevent more water getting into the interior components and helps speed the drying process.”

Air dry for 24 to 48 hours.

Then, Copeland says you should place the laptop in a warm and dry environment with plenty of airflow, allowing it to thoroughly dry for one to two days. “Allowing it to fully dry is crucial to prevent residual moisture in the internal components from causing damage,” he says.

Consult a professional.

If you’re uncertain or concerned about potential damage and require data recovery, Copeland says your final step is to seek professional help. “Professionals can assess the extent of the damage and perform appropriate procedures to minimize further damage and safely recover data.”

Frequently Asked Questions

Copeland addresses some frequently asked questions about water-damaged laptops below. 

Is there a way to help my laptop dry faster? 

“Do not use hairdryers, heaters, or other heat sources,” stresses Copeland, and that includes the sun. “Do not place it out in the sun, as excessive heat can cause more harm than good. High heat can damage delicate components and rice and the dust from rice can create more problems by getting stuck in and around components.”

Should I check it before the two days are up?

You’ll want to resist the urge to turn on your laptop until you are confident that it is completely dry, he says. If you power it on too early, it can lead to further damage.

Where do I go if my laptop is still under warranty? 

“If your laptop is under warranty, consider taking it to an authorized service center associated with your laptop’s brand. They are trained to handle specific brands and may offer warranty-covered repairs,” shares Copeland. “Some laptop manufacturers have their own service centers that handle repairs. Contact the manufacturer or check their website for information on authorized service providers in your area.”

If your laptop is not covered under warranty, Copeland says to head to a place that specializes in these types of repairs. “Local computer repair shops often provide services for various brands and models. Do your research and make sure to choose a reputable and experienced shop with positive reviews.”

How can you save whatever was on your laptop if it’s been damaged?

Copeland recommends that you consider professional data recovery services, like Prism Specialties, which has technicians with specialized tools and expertise to help you recover damaged drives, instead of doing it yourself. “There is a risk of losing data if you repeatedly attempt data recovery or transfer processes yourself — especially if the storage medium is damaged.”

Is water damage different from damage from other liquids?

The short answer is yes, and even various types of water can be different when it comes to damaged electronics. “There are three categories of water, and each one can contain various minerals, sediment, corrosive substances, contaminants, and toxins.”

  • Sanitary liquids, which come from sources such as faucets and toilet tanks. These sources can quickly degrade to a category two (below).
  • Gray water, which comes from sources such as dishwashers, washing machines, sink drains, and toilet overflows that contain urine only (no fecal matter).
  • Black water — the most unsanitary — comes from sources such as sewer backups, toilet overflows with fecal matter, flooding from rivers and streams, etc.

While drinking water is typically less harmful to electronics compared to some other liquids because it doesn’t contain sugars, acids, or other corrosive substances, Copeland says it can still cause short circuits and damage sensitive electronic components.

Other types of liquids, like soda, coffee, and chemicals also come with their own set of extra concerns because they can be significantly more corrosive than water. “These substances can leave residue on electronic components, leading to long-term damage if not properly addressed,” Copeland explains. “Some liquids, such as cleaning solutions or chemicals, can be highly damaging to electronic devices because they can be highly acidic or caustic and may cause rapid corrosion, short circuits, and irreversible damage.”

Will my insurance policy cover my damaged laptop?

“Some insurance policies offer coverage for accidental damage to electronic devices. Check your insurance coverage to see if it includes protection for spills and liquid damage,” he says.