What to Do When You Spill Coffee Onto Your Laptop

Coffee Near the LaptopToday’s techie tidbit is this: coffee is bad for your writing. Not that the blast of caffeine is not good to get your creative juices fl owing—it’s that liquids and laptops don’t mix.

I recently had someone bring me a laptop not even a month old. The person had spilled coffee all over it and, although she pulled the battery and power and turned it upside down, she also knew she was in trouble. The worst thing to do if this happens to you is to wait. The quick action of pulling the cord and the battery saved the unit. Did she lose her day’s work? … YES! Did she lose the entire laptop? … NO!

She contacted me directly, and I told her to put the laptop in a garbage bag (the small, eight gallon one) and put in as much DRY RICE (Please, not DRY ICE!) as they had, seal the entire mess and bring it to me.

I should point out now that ALL the next steps must be done CAREFULLY and BY SOMEONE WITH TRAINING!

When the unit reached me, it still reeked of ozone and coffee. Why coffee? That should be obvious, dear reader. But why ozone? When high voltages are involved in an electrical system such as a computer and electrical shorts due to moisture occur, some of the air molecules in the unit can be transformed to ozone to some small extent. (Even if there are no electrical shorts, if the voltages are high enough, ozone can still be created.)

My assessment? Surprise: the unit would need a thorough cleaning, so I removed the keyboard, and, using rubbing alcohol and cotton swabs, cleaned out all the coffee. I also discovered that this person likes her coffee way too sweet and blonde … but that’s for someone else to fi x. It was professionally beyond my pay scale.

After a couple of hours, I returned the unit to the bag of rice and left it in the sun. It took almost 16 hours, but when I fi red it up— voila!—it worked like a charm.

While this repair option does exist, and this happy outcome is somewhat atypical, there is a very simple way to avoid this:

  1. BE CAREFUL around your tools (i.e. Laptops & Computers) Having data backed up certainly helps lessen this problem.
  2. Keep GOOD backups! You never know when coffee or an earthquake or any other number of natural disasters are going to smash up your system.
  3. IF you break both Rule Number 1 and Number 2, don’t try to fix it yourself unless you are absolutely SURE of what you are doing. The only repair harder than cleaning up a machine that was “dunked” is doing it after someone else has already tried.

Be honest with yourself. If you slammed your car into a telephone pole, would you really want to try to fi x the body damage before going to a repair shop?

Simply put: are you qualified? Treat your laptop like your car—get professional help when it goes south because of your or someone else’s foolishness!