What Happens When a Laptop Gets Wet
Water can cause major damage to a laptop’s internal components. When liquid is spilled or leaks inside a laptop, it can short circuit the electronic boards and corrode metal parts. According to Statista, liquid damage accounts for 37% of broken notebooks from accidents. Short circuits and corrosion occur when electricity travels through water instead of the intended path on the circuit board. This disrupts the flow of power and data, leading to component failure.
The most vulnerable parts of a laptop are the motherboard and ports where water can enter. However, damage depends on the amount and type of liquid. Small spills may only affect certain keys or functions temporarily, while larger spills can completely fry the motherboard. Water alone causes issues, but liquids like soda, alcohol and coffee can worsen corrosion and stickiness.
Why Putting a Wet Laptop in Rice Can Help
Rice is an effective material for absorbing moisture from wet electronics through the scientific process of osmosis. Osmosis occurs when there is an imbalance of water concentration across a permeable membrane, causing water molecules to pass through the membrane from areas of low concentration to areas of high concentration until an equilibrium is reached.
Rice grains contain a large amount of starch and have a porous structure that allows water molecules to easily pass in and out. When dry rice is placed near a wet object like a laptop, the water concentration is much higher in the laptop so water begins migrating out of the laptop and into the rice grains through osmosis. As the rice absorbs the moisture, the concentration of water becomes more balanced between the rice and laptop, gradually drying out the laptop components.
Studies have shown that rice absorbs moisture most effectively from the atmosphere and wet materials when fully dried first. The starch in rice has strong hygroscopic properties, meaning it attracts and retains moisture easily. Rice will continue pulling in water molecules through osmosis until it reaches an equilibrium moisture level.
Overall, surrounding wet electronics in dry rice creates a moisture gradient that enables the rice to effectively extract water from the electronics via osmotic pressure. This helps dry out and potentially revive electronics exposed to liquid spills or water damage.
How Long Should You Leave a Laptop in Rice?
It’s generally recommended to leave a wet laptop in rice for 48-72 hours to give it sufficient time to dry out completely. According to WikiHow , sealing a water damaged laptop in a container with dry rice for 48 hours can help minimize the chance of permanent damage or data loss. The rice will slowly absorb any moisture that got inside the laptop.
The New York Times  also recommends leaving a wet laptop in rice for a minimum of 4 hours, but ideally longer if possible. They note that even if the laptop seems dry on the outside, internal components can still retain water, so more time is better.
Quora users  agree that 24 hours may not be enough drying time and recommend closer to 48 hours to thoroughly dry out all components.
The key is being patient and allowing enough time for the rice to fully absorb any moisture. Rushing to turn on a still wet laptop risks short circuiting and permanent damage. Follow the 48-72 hour guideline for best results.
Tips for Drying a Wet Laptop
If you’ve spilled liquid on your laptop, it’s important to dry it out as quickly as possible to give it the best chance of surviving. Here are some tips for drying a wet laptop:
Remove the battery and unplug the power cord. You want to power down the machine to avoid short circuiting while drying. Refer to the user manual if needed to properly remove the battery.
Disassemble the laptop. Open it up and remove any covers, cards, drives, and components that you can. The more you disassemble, the better chance you’ll have of drying internal components.
Carefully wipe up any pooled or standing liquid with a microfiber cloth. Make sure not to leave any moisture inside.
Place paper towels or cloth underneath, around and on top of the exposed components to draw moisture out. Replace them frequently.
Use a can of compressed air to blow out droplets in hard to reach areas.
Leave the laptop in a dry, ventilated area. Air circulation will help evaporate the moisture. Do not seal it in an airtight container.
Be patient. It may take at least 24 hours until you can retest if the laptop works. Longer if the spill was significant.
Rice is a popular desiccant often recommended for drying electronics. Burying the disassembled laptop in rice can help absorb moisture. Just don’t power up the laptop until you’ve removed all the rice again.
Avoid applying direct heat from a hairdryer or other source to dry the laptop, as it risks damaging the components.
Let the laptop dry thoroughly before reassembling and attempting to turn on again. If it doesn’t power on or work properly, you may need professional data recovery or repair services.
Signs Your Laptop is Too Far Gone
Certain signs may indicate that water damage to your laptop is irreparable and attempting to repair it would be futile. Some key indications that your laptop may be beyond saving include:
Corrosion – If water exposure caused corrosion on the laptop’s internal components like the motherboard, this can be incredibly difficult to repair. Corrosion can quickly spread and damage connections needed for the laptop to function.
Shorts – If water caused any shorts in the laptop’s circuitry, this often requires replacing major components like the motherboard which may not be feasible. Shorts can prevent the laptop from powering on entirely.
Won’t Turn On – If your laptop won’t turn on at all even after drying, this indicates major water damage. Power issues are very difficult to troubleshoot and fix.
Visible Internal Damage – Opening up the laptop case and seeing visible corrosion, residue, or damage on internal parts is a bad sign. This level of damage is usually only repairable by completely replacing parts.
Cost of Repair Too High – Sometimes the total cost of replacements needed ends up exceeding the value of the laptop. At this point, repair would not make financial sense.
Overall, if inspection of your laptop shows significant visible internal damage or it is completely unusable even after thorough drying, it is likely at the point where repair would be prohibitively expensive or impossible. In these cases, salvaging any data and looking for replacement may be the only options.
When to Send to a Professional
In some cases of severe water damage, it’s best to send your laptop to a professional repair service for full disassembly and cleaning. Signs that professional help is needed include:
- The laptop was fully submerged in water
- Liquid got inside the laptop and components are wet
- You can see moisture or corrosion on the logic board
- The laptop immediately shuts off when powered on
- It does not power on at all, even after drying
Professional services use specialized tools and techniques to fully take apart laptops and properly clean or replace any damaged parts. They can wash logic boards, remove corrosion, check connections, and test components. Some things you should not try at home. According to uBreakiFix, water-damaged electronics that won’t power on often have shorted logic boards that need professional repair (https://www.ubreakifix.com/computer-repair/pc-repair/pc-water-damage-repair-diagnostic).
For severe laptop water damage, professional repair offers the best chance of fixing the device and recovering data. Costs vary depending on the service needed but expect to pay $100-$300+. The peace of mind of proper cleaning and repair may be worth it for an expensive laptop with important data.
Preventing Water Damage
The best way to avoid water damage to your laptop is to take preventative measures (source). Always use a laptop bag or protective case when transporting your computer. Bags and cases provide padding against bumps and drops, and many are designed to be water resistant or waterproof. Avoid placing open containers of liquids near your laptop, even if you have a spill-proof keyboard. It’s also wise not to eat or drink while using your laptop. Accidents can happen easily with cups, bottles, and foods in close proximity to your device.
When working in rainy or snowy weather, take extra precautions to keep your laptop dry. Consider waterproof covers or plastic sleeves if you’ll be out and about. At home or the office, don’t leave your laptop near sinks, bathtubs, pools, or other sources of water. Use common sense to minimize situations where splashing or spilling could occur. With some care and planning, you can avoid laptop water damage incidents.
Water Damage Warranty Coverage
Most laptop manufacturers do not cover water damage under their standard warranty. However, many offer accidental damage protection plans that can be purchased separately to cover spills and other accidents.
For example, HP has an accidental damage protection plan that covers spills, drops, and other damage for an additional fee (source). Dell also offers similar accidental damage service plans. Check with your specific laptop manufacturer to see what options may be available.
Without an accidental damage plan, any water damage repairs would not be covered under the standard laptop warranty. You may have to pay out of pocket for the repairs or replacements. Costs can range from $200-600+ depending on the extent of the damage.
For future purchases, carefully review warranty details and consider opting for accidental damage coverage. This provides peace of mind if any spills or drops occur.
Data Recovery Options
If you have important files stored on your laptop that were not backed up before it got wet, you may want to utilize professional data recovery services as a last resort. Companies like DriveSavers and Kroll Ontrack specialize in recovering data from water damaged devices. They use sophisticated techniques in cleanroom facilities to attempt extracting data from the internal storage. This type of specialized service can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars, but may be worthwhile for critical irreplaceable data.
According to computertech.com, “Data recovery services use advanced techniques to repair drives and extract data from drives that have been damaged due to exposure to liquids. There are no guarantees of success, but it is often the last hope of recovering important data from a drive that has been damaged by water exposure.”
If your laptop gets wet, quick action is essential to give it the best chance of survival. Immediately power it off, remove the battery, and dry off any exterior moisture. The next step is to place the laptop in a container of dry, uncooked rice. This will help absorb any remaining moisture inside the device.
Most experts recommend leaving a wet laptop in rice for at least 24-48 hours to allow sufficient drying time. However, the longer you can leave it the better – some advise up to 4 or 5 days for very wet laptops. Check on your laptop daily and stir the rice to maximize moisture absorption.
Look for signs like visible moisture and corroding components to determine if your laptop can be revived or not. For very wet laptops that won’t power back on after a week in rice, it’s likely time to seek professional data recovery/repair services.
With some quick action you can often save a laptop from water damage. But prevention is also key – keep liquids away and invest in a protective laptop case. If all else fails, make sure your data is regularly backed up.