What to Do If You Spill Liquid on Your Computer or Phone

Accidents happen, and eventually you’ll find yourself faced with a spill. Whether you’ve knocked coffee onto your laptop or dumped soda on your phone, here’s what to do.

Will a spilled beverage destroy an electronic device? That depends on the beverage and the device. Water on a desktop computer keyboard? No big deal. Can of pop on a laptop? Um… that could be a new laptop. Submerged smart phone? Might be okay, depending on how waterproof it is. (Although if it dropped into the toilet, I’d personally want a new phone…)

The less complex the device, the more likely it’ll survive a spill. For example, the keyboard connected to your desktop computer is just the keyboard, not the computer itself. There’s not much to damage, and even if it does break, it’s easy and inexpensive enough to replace. But a laptop’s motherboard and hard drive are directly beneath the keyboard. Anything that spills is going to drip right onto the most vulnerable parts of your computer. Phones are often water resistant, but water resistant doesn’t mean waterproof. Liquid can still sneak in through the seams and ports.

The kind of liquid also makes a big difference. Water is less of a problem, unless it soaks into a vital component or is left to sit and rust. On the other hand, beverages like coffee and pop are sticky and tend to short-circuit electronics. I keep my morning latte on a side table for just that reason.

If you do suffer a spill, safety first! Turn the device off and unplug it right away. If it has a removable battery (laptops often do), disconnect it, dry it, and set it aside.

Next, you’ll want to get out as much liquid as possible. Tip your device at an angle and give it a gentle shake. Use lint-free cloth towels rather than paper, because paper tends to shred. If your phone or laptop is in a protective case (and I hope it is), then remove the case and clean it separately. You should also remove any screen protectors and replace them later with new ones.

Some folks will tell you to put your phone or keyboard in a bag of rice to draw out the moisture. I’m hesitant to do that because the rice could scratch the screen or get into the circuits. You’re better off using those sealed silica gel packs that come in pill bottles. Enclose the device in a bag or plastic box with several silica gel packs. I like to leave it sitting, upside down or tilted at an angle, so that any remaining moisture can drain away from the electronics.

I recommend that you wait at least three days before attempting to use the device. If it malfunctions in any way, power off immediately, remove any batteries, and take it to a specialist for an assessment.

Will your warranty cover damage from spills? Possibly. Some do, some don’t, and some do if you paid extra. Bear in mind, however, that cracking open your computer case to dry things out could void your warranty. Each manufacturer’s definition of “user serviceable” is different, but is usually limited to components like removable batteries and replacement memory modules. You can check your warranty status on your computer manufacturer’s support site.

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One thought on “What to Do If You Spill Liquid on Your Computer or Phone

  1. Moisture isn’t exactly uncommon when it comes to accidents and technology, though it can have a negative impact if cared for improperly. Unplugging said device and attempting to remove as much moisture as possible is essential to ensuring its longevity.


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