What happens to a water damaged laptop?

Quick Answers

Water damage can have serious consequences for a laptop, including short circuits, corrosion, and permanent component failure. How extensive the damage is depends on factors like how much water got inside, what parts were affected, and how quickly it was addressed. With prompt action, some water damage may be reversible, but components like the motherboard are highly vulnerable. Complete failure is possible if water reached critical parts.

How Does Water Damage a Laptop?

Water can damage electronics in a few key ways:

Short Circuits

Water is conductive and can create shorts between components that aren’t meant to connect. This disrupts power flow and data signals. Short circuits can instantly damage parts like RAM and processors.


Many laptop components are made of conductive metals like copper. When water causes oxidation, it can rapidly corrode and degrade delicate circuits and connections. Corrosion continues damaging parts even after water is removed.

Interference with Mechanical Components

Water can interfere with moving parts like hard drive platters, DVD drives, and fans. If water causes sticking or friction, mechanical components can jam and become inoperable.

Component Degradation

Components like displays, keyboards, and circuit boards are very susceptible to water damage. Liquids can degrade component materials through corrosion, swell sensitive parts through absorption, or leave residue like minerals behind. Delicate silicon chips are especially vulnerable.

What Laptop Parts Are Most Vulnerable to Water Damage?

Some laptop components are designed to withstand minor splashes, but others are highly sensitive to moisture. Parts most easily damaged include:


The motherboard is the laptop’s central circuit board. It controls all electronic operations. Short circuits or corrosion on the motherboard can lead to complete laptop failure.

Processor (CPU)

The processor chip relies on an intricate network of tiny transistors. Water minerals and corrosion can permanently disrupt these delicate circuits.

Random Access Memory (RAM)

RAM chips store temporary data and are very susceptible to water damage. Short circuits or corrosion on RAM modules can lead to data loss and computer crashes.

Hard Disk Drive

While the hard drive casing can withstand some moisture, water on the platters or circuits can destroy the drive’s read/write heads and stored data.


LCD displays contain liquid crystal components that can be altered by water. The layers are also vulnerable to water separation damage.


Batteries contain corrosive electrolytes. Water can cause them to short circuit, overheat, or even explode in rare cases.


Keyboard membrane sheets and underlying electronics are thin and fragile. Water can easily damage these components and cause keyboard failure.

How Quickly Does Water Damage Occur?

Water damage occurs rapidly, within seconds or minutes:

  • Short circuits happen instantly when water bridges circuits.
  • Corrosion of metal parts begins in minutes.
  • Swelling and warping of components happens over minutes to hours.
  • Mineral residue is left behind as water evaporates.

This fast degradation underscores the urgency of quickly powering off and drying a water damaged laptop to limit damage. The longer components sit wet, the more corrosion occurs.

Factors That Determine How Much Damage Occurs

Several factors influence the extent of water damage:

Amount of Water

More water raises the risk of issues like short circuits, corrosion, residue, or physical damage. Even small amounts that evaporate quickly can leave minerals behind.

Water Composition

Pure water causes less corrosion and residue than tap water or other liquids, which leave more minerals behind. Saline/ocean water is very corrosive.

Power State During Exposure

Powered on electronics are more vulnerable to shorts and voltage spikes. Turning off the laptop ASAP helps limit damage.

Time Laptop Sits Wet

The longer components stay wet, the more corrosion occurs and more minerals are deposited. Quick drying reduces permanent damage.

Parts Exposed

The motherboard, RAM, processor and other critical parts are most easily damaged. Water reaching them often causes catastrophic failure.

Component Materials

Delicate parts like CPUs, RAM, and HDD platters are etched from vulnerable silicon. Plastic casings can warp or become brittle when wet. Metal parts corrode rapidly.

Signs of Water Damage

Visible signs of water damage include:

  • Mineral deposits or corrosion around ports and edges
  • Cloudy/foggy LCD screen discoloration
  • Cracked plastics around casing or keys
  • Blurry/stained labels or screw covers
  • Oxidation or blurred traces on circuit boards
  • Visible moisture beads inside screen/casing

However, not all damage may have visible symptoms. Electronics may appear undamaged yet have internal shorts, corrosion, or physical degradation to fragile components. Testing is required to confirm the laptop still functions properly.

Is Water Damage Reversible?

Water damage may sometimes be reversible if caught early before severe corrosion occurs. However, there is no guarantee, and even seemingly minor exposure can destroy sensitive components.

Actions That May Reverse Damage

  • Immediately powering off the laptop to prevent shorts
  • Disconnecting the battery to avoid further corrosion
  • Drying out the laptop within the first day before corrosion advances
  • Using isopropyl alcohol to displace water and slow corrosion
  • Cleaning away mineral residue before it sticks

These steps may save the laptop if water only contacted the casing and did not reach internal parts. However, if water reached circuit boards or chips, irreversible damage is much more likely.

Damage That Cannot Be Reversed

  • Short circuited RAM, CPU, or motherboard
  • Corroded processor chip or circuit board traces
  • Hard drive disk platter damage
  • Separated LCD display layers causing clouding
  • Mineral deposits on circuit boards that cause electrical faults

Once water contacts the inner laptop, permanent component failure becomes likely. Delicate parts like the CPU are difficult to repair or replace, so damage to core computing components often totals the laptop.

How to Dry Out a Wet Laptop

To give a wet laptop the best chance of survival:

  1. Immediately power off and disconnect AC power.
  2. Remove any peripherals like USB drives.
  3. Take out the battery to avoid further damage from potential shorts.
  4. Dry exterior surfaces with a microfiber cloth to soak up standing moisture.
  5. Do not shake the laptop or invert it to avoid spreading water internally.
  6. Use compressed air to blow leftover moisture out of ports, buttons, and cracks.
  7. Place the laptop upside down on an absorbent towel in a dry room.
  8. The laptop can be left open at an angle or keyboards and casing removed to expose internals and help drying.
  9. Use a fan blowing ambient air to speed evaporation. Avoid heat, which can damage components.
  10. If drying fully internally, wait at least 24-48 hours before reconnecting power.

The key is prompt action and patience. Testing too soon risks short circuiting still-damp components. Allow time for all moisture to fully evaporate internally before attempting to power on.

DIY Water Damage Repairs

It’s possible but challenging to repair minor water damage yourself:

Replacing Components

If damaged parts like the keyboard are accessible, you can replace them. However, disassembling a laptop is difficult and risks harming delicate components.

Cleaning Residue

You can try gently cleaning off mineral deposits from circuit boards using isopropyl alcohol and a toothbrush. Avoid scrubbing, which can damage board traces.

Corrosion Removal

Applying electrical contact cleaner to corroded points may displace moisture if corrosion is very minor. This only postpones damage unless all water is removed.

Drying Internal Components

It’s possible to fully disassemble a laptop to directly dry out individual parts. This is extremely difficult and still not certain to work if parts are already damaged.


  • Further damaging components if improperly disassembled
  • Failure to fully dry out all internal moisture
  • Residual mineral deposits shorting circuits
  • Permanent component damage from corrosion

With unpredictable results and risk of making damage worse, it’s usually best to seek professional repair of liquid damaged electronics.

Water Damage Repair Cost

Liquid damage repair costs depend on the severity and which parts require replacement:

Repair Average Cost
Motherboard replacement $200-$500
CPU replacement $100-$300
RAM replacement $50-$150
Hard drive replacement $100-$200
Full laptop replacement $300-$1500

At minimum, expect to pay $100+ for component cleaning and testing. If the motherboard, CPU, RAM, or HDD are damaged, it often costs more to replace parts than buying a new laptop.

Data Recovery from Water Damaged Hard Drives

If water damaged just the laptop but not the hard drive, data recovery is often possible:

Steps for HDD Data Recovery

  1. Remove HDD from laptop and connect to another PC via USB adapter or enclosure
  2. Image the drive to create a complete sector copy as a backup
  3. Scan image for recoverable files and folders
  4. Extract copies of retrievable data to another drive

Damaged areas manifest as corrupted sectors. Data in still-intact sectors can usually be successfully recovered.

Chances of Full HDD Recovery

  • Good if no platter damage and only electronics exposed
  • Fair with some readable sectors intact
  • Poor if platters are scratched or corroded

Ask a specialist for evaluation. With minor exposure, excellent recovery is possible. But if water reached the platters, data may be unrecoverable.

Preventing Water Damage to Laptops

To avoid liquid damage issues:

General Precautions

  • Keep drinks away from laptops
  • Shut laptops when transporting with drinks
  • Never place laptops near sinks or tubs
  • Ensure kids and pets don’t spill on laptops
  • Store laptops on high shelves in basements prone to flooding
  • Use laptop cases to avoid rain exposure

Environment Modifications

  • Add splash guards around sinks where laptops are used
  • Install baseboard heating instead of risky water-based radiators
  • Fix household plumbing issues that may leak near electronics

Laptop Design Features for Liquid Resistance

  • Sealing gaskets around ports and seam
  • Internal insulation around components
  • Plastic casing instead of magnesium
  • SSD storage instead of HDD
  • Spill drain holes through chassis

Carefully choosing a semi-rugged or rugged laptop model offers the best liquid damage prevention for accident-prone owners.


Liquid damage remains a serious risk for consumer electronics like laptops. Moisture can rapidly corrode components leading to permanent failure. Quick action is necessary at the first sign of exposure to potentially reverse minor damage. But major spills that reach core parts will likely total the laptop. Precautions help avoid damaging slips in the first place. Investing in a water-resistant laptop model is wise for anyone prone to splashing drinks near their computer.

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