Can a MacBook survive a drop of water?

Water and electronics generally do not mix well. We all know that dropping your phone in water can easily break it. But what about more advanced electronics like laptops? Can a MacBook survive coming into contact with liquid?

In this article, we will explore what happens when water gets inside a MacBook. We’ll look at the potential damage water can cause, factors that affect survivability, and steps you can take to give your MacBook the best chance possible of surviving a water encounter.

What Happens When Water Gets Inside a MacBook

When liquid comes into contact with the internal electronics of a laptop, a few things can happen:

  • Short circuit – Water can cause short circuits on logic boards and components, making them unusable.
  • Corrosion – The minerals in water can corrode metallic components and etch circuit boards.
  • Residue – Water leaves behind mineral deposits when it dries out, which can interfere with electrical connections.
  • Rust – If the water causes any bare metal parts to rust, they can lose structural integrity.

These effects can damage a MacBook in several ways:

  • Render it completely unusable by frying the logic board.
  • Cause intermittent crashes, freezing, or other glitches.
  • Degrade performance over time as components slowly fail.
  • Damage ports, speakers, the display, or other parts.

In the worst case scenario, liquid can immediately destroy an unlucky MacBook. But damage is not always instant – it can take time to fully manifest.

Factors That Affect Water Damage Survival

Many variables influence whether or not a spill will prove fatal for a MacBook:

Amount of liquid

The more fluid there is, the greater the potential for harm. A few droplets have a lower chance of reaching vulnerable components than a major spill.

Point of entry

Where the water gets in matters. An edge-on spill into ports or vents leads right to components. Spills to the keyboard may damage it without going deeper into the laptop.

Liquid composition

Water itself causes damage, but other liquids can be worse. Acids or oils can react with parts in additional ways beyond just getting them wet.

Power status

Powered off laptops are safer than those running when spilled on. Powered on systems actively conduct electricity, increasing the odds of a short.

Speed of response

Fast action to cut power and dry out a MacBook can prevent liquid from penetrating deeper into the chassis and minimize damage.

Model and age

Newer MacBooks tend to be more tightly sealed and resistant to spills than older ones. But no model is completely impervious with enough liquid exposure.

Best Practices to Survive Water Damage

While water accidents are never good, you can take steps to give your MacBook the best chance of making it through unscathed:

Keep it powered off when not in use

Don’t leave your MacBook sleeping or powered on when you are not actively using it. Power it down completely to reduce the chance of shorts if spilled on.

Use a protective case or bag

Cases and bags add extra protection to shield your laptop from direct water exposure in the event of a spill.

Ensure vents and ports are clear

Keep dust and debris clear of vents and ports so that they cannot wick moisture deeper into the chassis if spilled on.

Enable FileVault encryption

FileVault ensures your data is secure even if physical laptop damage occurs from liquid.

Back up religiously

Regular backups to external drives mean you can easily restore your data if water damage forces you to replace your MacBook.

Never eat or drink over your laptop

Avoid having open containers of liquid like drinks or soup around your laptop to prevent catastrophic spills.

Respond quickly to spills

If you do spill liquid on your MacBook, immediately power it down, dry it thoroughly with a towel, and place it upside down to avoid residual dripping deeper inside.

Assessing Water Damage

If your MacBook does suffer a water spill, how can you tell the extent of the damage? Here are some signs that may indicate your laptop survived unharmed:

  • No visible evidence of moisture inside ports, vents, or chassis seams
  • No condensation between the screen and keyboard when opened
  • No sign of clouding, haziness, or other visible water damage to the screen
  • No evidence of fogging or view obstruction in the camera lens
  • No rust visible on exposed metal surfaces
  • Full functioning of keyboard, trackpad, and ports
  • Ability to successfully power on without any glitches, crashes, or errors

Conversely, these are signs your MacBook likely suffered water damage:

  • Visible moisture or condensation inside chassis
  • Corrosion visible in ports or connectors
  • Hazy or blotchy areas on the screen from water
  • Camera lens fogged over internally
  • Rust spots on external metal surfaces
  • Key buttons or trackpad not physically responding
  • USB or charging ports not recognizing devices
  • Difficulty powering on, crashed system, glitchy performance

If you observe any of the latter warning signs above, power your MacBook down immediately and do not attempt to charge it or turn it on again until inspected by an Apple repair technician.

When to Request Professional Repair

While it’s possible a very minor spill could dry without permanent damage, it’s best to err on the side of caution and seek professional help if liquid substantially contacts any internal components. Don’t attempt to power on your MacBook or charge it if the following occurs:

  • Large spill directly into vent or port
  • Submersion in liquid for more than a split second
  • Visible moisture inside chassis or on screen/camera internals
  • Any signs of short circuit like buzzing, popping, or burning smell
  • External rust or corrosion visible on metal parts
  • Laptop fails to power on or exhibits odd behavior

Trying to operate a MacBook that has been flooded with liquid can make damage worse by shorting additional parts. Leave assessment and repair to pros.

Liquid Damage Repair Options

For liquid damaged MacBooks, Apple offers a few repair options:

  • In-warranty repair – If the MacBook is still covered under AppleCare warranty, water damage diagnosis and repair may be fully or partially covered.
  • Out-of-warranty flat rate – For MacBooks past warranty, Apple charges a flat repair fee based on model.
  • ACMI repair – Apple Authorized Service Providers can also perform liquid damage repairs.
  • Do-it-yourself – It’s possible to dry out some MacBooks at home if damage is minor, but proceed with caution.

Apple does not recommend opening up and self-servicing water damaged portables. The best bet is to consult a trained technician for an assessment.

Water Exposure Prevention Tips

While a little bad luck with spills can happen to anyone, you can take proactive measures to keep your MacBook from harm:

Use a protective case

A good quality case or shell adds padding and seals off ports to prevent direct water intrusion.

Ban liquids near laptops

Avoid eating or drinking when using your MacBook to prevent mishaps. Postpone tasks like watching videos or reading recipes that could encourage dangerous multitasking.

Keep your workspace clear

Remove water bottles, glasses, vases, or anything with fluid from the immediate area around your laptop.

Carry laptops securely

Keep your MacBook snugly zipped into a padded case or bag when transporting to reduce chances of a spill from an open container in your bag.

Never operate near water

Avoid placing your MacBook by pools, sprinklers, sinks, or anywhere it could get splashed. Take extra care on boats or at the beach.

Store laptops safely

Don’t leave your MacBook anywhere with risk of exposure to rain, sprinklers, plumbing leaks, or flooding when not in use.

Use a waterproof bag

For outdoor use in boats or around water, a fully watertight laptop bag provides the best spill protection.

Inspect regularly for damage

Periodically check for any signs of water intrusion like foggy ports or camera lens so minor issues don’t become major.

Surviving Real-World Water Damage

While controlled experiments can simulate water exposure, how does water risk play out in the real world? Let’s look at two examples of MacBooks surviving spills.

Case Study 1: Surviving a Toilet Dunk

Nobody wants to drop their laptop into an actual toilet, but it happened to a friend of mine. As she was taking her MacBook Air out of her bag to do some work, it slipped right into the bowl just after flushing. Understandably panicked, she immediately snatched it back out. The good news is it survived!

Though soaked, she quickly dried it off with hand towels and shut it down. She left it powered off and dismantled for over 48 hours to dry thoroughly. Amazingly, once reassembled and turned back on several days later, everything still functioned. Beyond a slightly shrunken keyboard sticker, her MacBook Air was fine. Moral of the story: all is not necessarily lost even after prolonged toilet immersion if you act fast.

Case Study 2: Minor Pool Splashing

Another friend had a less traumatic but still worrying experience when a small splash of pool water happened to hit the open ventilation grill on the back of his MacBook Pro.

He was sitting poolside with the laptop open on a table, when some drifting water from people getting in and out of the pool flew right into the vent. He immediately grabbed it and shut it down.

Though only a small amount of water hit the vent, he was concerned and let it dry out for over a week just in case, even though there were no immediate symptoms. In the end, his quick reaction prevented any long-term damage. The laptop worked fine after cautious reactivation.

The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, the most important factor for surviving any kind of water exposure with your MacBook is the speed of your reaction. The quicker you can power off and dry out your laptop, the better your chances of avoiding permanent damage. While major spills likely require professional assistance, your quick instincts can still save the day and your data.

With vigilance and proper care, even a brief encounter with water doesn’t have to spell certain doom for your MacBook. With the right response, there is hope of cheating a watery fate and living to compute another day. Just don’t make a habit out of exposing it to liquid!