Water and electronics don’t mix – that’s a lesson many laptop owners learn the hard way. According to industry sources, liquid damage accounts for over 60% of laptop repairs. With the average cost of laptop liquid damage repairs estimated between $300-700, it’s an expensive lesson too.
We’ve all done it – grabbing a quick sip of coffee while answering emails, only to fumble the cup and watch helplessly as liquid seeps between the keys. Or getting caught in a sudden downpour en route to a meeting, bag and precious laptop in tow. Accidents happen, but when liquids and laptops collide, your heart just sinks.
The question is, how much water exposure can a laptop withstand before lasting damage is done? And if your device does take an unexpected bath, what steps should you take to potentially save your data and hardware? Let’s dive in…
How Rain Water Can Damage a Laptop
Water can damage laptops and other electronics in a few key ways:
Short circuits – Water, especially impure water like rain, contains ions that conduct electricity. If water bridges exposed circuits or components, it can short circuit the system and cause sudden failure or even permanent damage as circuits fry (https://www.quora.com/Why-does-water-destroy-electronic-devices). Short circuits are one of the most immediate ways water exposure can severely damage electronics.
Corrosion – Water causes oxidation and chemical reactions over time, corroding metal contacts and components. This leads to degraded performance or total failure over time as connections fail. Small amounts of water can catalyze corrosion of copper traces and solder points (https://apxcompany.com/why-does-water-damage-electronics/).
Condensation – Water evaporating after exposure leaves behind condensation inside components and the chassis. This moisture continues to enable shorting and corrosion over time, even once the laptop appears dry on the surface (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ax92alA9hy0). Lingering condensation can be an unseen cause of ongoing issues.
Most Vulnerable Components
When water gets inside a laptop, it can damage many internal components. However, some parts are more susceptible to water damage than others.
The keyboard is extremely vulnerable, as water can easily seep through gaps between the keys and into the internal hardware. Optical drives, USB ports, headphone jacks, vents, and other openings are also prone to allowing water ingress. Liquid spills on the keyboard or openings should be addressed immediately before the water reaches deeper internals.
Once inside, the most susceptible parts are the motherboard and electrical components like the RAM, CPU, GPU, and hard drive. These intricate parts often cannot withstand water exposure. The motherboard controls much of the laptop’s functionality, and water can short circuit traces and corrode solder joints. RAM and CPUs have exposed contacts that can easily oxidize and fail after getting wet. Hard drives have sensitive platters and moving parts that do not operate well with any moisture or water droplets inside the enclosure.
Ventilation grilles are also vulnerable points of entry. Water that seeps inside can gather and pool on components while evaporating slowly. This increases the duration of liquid exposure. Any water on the motherboard risks short circuiting the entire laptop once powered on.
Typical Liquid Damage Failures
Water damage can lead to a variety of problems and failures in a laptop. Some of the most common issues that can arise include:
Screen glitches and display issues – Water can short circuit and corrode the LCD display and connectors, leading to a scrambled, distorted, flickering or black screen (source). This is often repairable by replacing the screen or display cables.
Keyboard malfunction – Spilled liquids can short out the keyboard membrane and connectors, resulting in keys not working properly or not at all. The keyboard may need to be removed and cleaned or fully replaced (source).
Touchpad failure – Liquid damage can lead to a glitchy, inaccurate or unresponsive touchpad. This is because the touchpad uses a membrane similar to the keyboard that can be damaged by water. The touchpad may need cleaning or replacement.
Component corrosion – Moisture causes oxidation and corrosion of the laptop’s electronic components and circuitry. This can eventually lead to complete failure of components like the motherboard, RAM, SSD, etc. Extensive corrosion may require replacing damaged parts.
Short circuits – Water can short circuit the laptop’s delicate electronics, causing unpredictable crashes, freezing, rebooting or not powering on at all. Short circuits often require board-level repair or component replacement.
Factors That Increase Risk
There are several factors that can increase the risk of water damage to a laptop:
Laptop design – Some laptops have more tightly sealed casings and keyboards that help prevent liquid ingress. Older laptop models often lack these protective design features.
Laptop age – The older a laptop gets, the more wear and tear it experiences. Seals around the keyboard and ports get looser over time, allowing water to seep in more easily.
Usage patterns – Laptops subjected to more frequent transportation and movement are at higher risk of accidental spills. Using a laptop while eating or drinking also ups the chances.
Environment – Using a laptop outdoors or in other wet environments raises the odds of exposure to rain, spills, and splashes.
Overall, carefully considering the laptop’s design, age, typical usage, and operating environment can help assess its vulnerability to water damage.
Precautions and Prevention
There are several precautions you can take to help prevent liquid damage to your laptop:
Use a laptop cover or case when transporting your laptop. A snug fitting case can help prevent spills from reaching internal components. Look for a water-resistant case for extra protection. According to Which.co.uk, using a case is one of the best ways to prevent laptop water damage.
Avoid placing liquids near your laptop. Keep drinks, vases, and other containers away from where you use your laptop. Spills can happen easily, so limiting nearby liquids reduces the chances.
Use a waterproof keyboard cover. A keyboard cover can protect the delicate keyboard components from spills. They are inexpensive and easy to install.
Work on an elevated, dry surface. Avoid using your laptop where it could get wet, such as outside or near sinks. Opt for a dry, elevated surface like a desk or table.
Handle with care if you must transport it. When moving your laptop from place to place, hold it securely and upright. Avoid tilting it or carrying it loosely, which could lead to spills.
Keep it powered off when not in use. That way, if an accident does occur, your laptop won’t be actively powered on and damaged.
What to Do if Laptop Gets Wet
If your laptop accidentally gets exposed to water, it’s important to take immediate action to give yourself the best chance of saving your device and data. Here are some recommended steps:
First and foremost, do not turn on your laptop if it is wet. Powering on electronics that have been exposed to liquid can cause short circuits and permanent damage. Immediately unplug the laptop and remove any attached peripherals like USB devices.1
Remove the battery from the laptop if possible. This eliminates the risk of short circuiting the battery and prevents possible fire hazards.2
Turn the laptop upside down to allow the liquid to drain out through any openings or vents. Absorb any visible pooled water on the surface with a dry microfiber cloth.
Let the laptop dry thoroughly before attempting to turn it on again. Place it in a well-ventilated area. You can also try putting the laptop in a bag or container of uncooked rice, which will help absorb residual moisture.
After at least 48 hours of drying, reconnect the battery and peripherals and try turning on your laptop. If it powers up normally, run diagnostics to check for any damage or loss of functionality.
Taking quick action to dry out a wet laptop gives you the best chance of being able to salvage it. But liquid exposure can still cause irreversible damage in some cases. Contact a repair technician if the laptop fails to power on or exhibits odd behavior after drying.
When to Attempt Repairs vs Replace
Deciding whether to repair or replace a water-damaged laptop depends on several factors:
Cost – Water damage repairs can range from $200-500+ depending on the components affected. Replacing the entire laptop may be cheaper if damage is extensive. Compare repair quotes to replacement cost.
Level of Damage – If critical components like the motherboard are damaged beyond repair, replacement may be necessary. Minor damage like to the keyboard may be cheaper to fix.
Laptop Value – Repairing an older, low-end laptop may not be worth the cost. Replacing it with a newer model may be better long-term.
According to this Quora source, minor water damage can often be repaired, but extensive damage likely requires replacement. Consider your laptop’s repair costs vs. its current value when deciding.
Water-Resistant Laptop Options
While no laptop is fully waterproof, some models are designed to better withstand splashes and spills. According to bestlaptopsventure.com, “These laptops have proven reliable companions for working professionals, students, and outdoor enthusiasts.”
Some of the most water-resistant laptop options include:
- Panasonic Toughbooks – Extremely durable laptops built to withstand rugged conditions. According to bobjohnson.com, “Toughbooks are among the most water-resistant laptops in the world today.”
- Getac laptops – Also built for extreme durability. Some Getac models are IP65 certified to withstand pressurized jets of water.
- Dell Latitude and Lenovo ThinkPad laptops – Business laptops like the Latitude and ThinkPad often have more durable construction and spill-resistant keyboards.
While water-resistant laptops can better withstand splashes and spills, it’s still best to avoid exposing them to liquid. No laptop is fully waterproof. But for demanding conditions, water-resistant models provide more protection.
Even a small amount of water can cause severe damage to a laptop’s internal components. The most vulnerable areas are the keyboard, motherboard, and ports. Typical liquid damage failures include short circuits, corrosion, mineral deposits, and erosion.
Factors that increase the risk of water damage include using the laptop near sinks, tubs, pools, and other sources of water. Precautions like keeping drinks away from the laptop can help prevent accidents. If the laptop does get wet, immediate action like turning it off, disconnecting power, and drying it thoroughly may allow for repairs.
While water-resistant laptops are available, the best defense is vigilance around liquids. With proper care and precaution, laptop water damage can be avoided.