Assess the Damage
The first step is to thoroughly examine the laptop screen and note any visible signs of water damage. Look closely at the screen, especially around the edges and corners, for water spots or condensation. Also check for any visible water trapped underneath the screen or leaking out. The location and extent of visible moisture can indicate where water may have entered and how severe the damage is.
Next, test the screen’s functionality. Try turning on the laptop if it is not already on. See if the laptop powers on and projects an image to the screen as usual. If the screen remains blank or distorted even when the laptop is on, that is a bad sign. A dark or unresponsive screen typically means water has reached internal components and caused a malfunction.
Noting down the observable water damage and screen behavior will help determine the repairs needed. If the water presence is minor and screen still works, the laptop may just need drying out. Extensive water exposure indicated by screen failure requires disassembly to dry out and replace damaged parts.
Turn Off the Laptop
If your laptop is still on after the water spill, it is crucial to shut it down immediately. Keeping a laptop on with water inside can short circuit and damage components. According to experts at Asurion, you should press and hold the Power button for 5 seconds or longer until the laptop shuts down completely.
After ensuring the laptop is powered off, the next step is to disconnect the charger and remove any connected devices like USB drives or external monitors. Unplugging the laptop isolates it from power sources that could spread the water damage. Simply shutting down via the operating system is not enough, you want to cut power completely to stop electricity from reaching soaked components.
Do not wait to power off the laptop even if you want to check if it still works. As Quora users warn, turning on a wet laptop can cause further issues. It is best to let it dry out thoroughly before attempting to turn it back on. Leaving the laptop off gives you the best chance of being able to revive it after drying.
Disconnect the Battery
Carefully open the laptop case and locate the battery. You may need to remove some screws or panels to access the battery compartment. Refer to your laptop’s service manual if you’re unsure of how to open it safely.
Once you’ve located the battery, identify where it connects to the motherboard. There will likely be a cable or connector attaching the battery. Gently detach this cable to disconnect the battery from the laptop’s power supply.
Disconnecting the battery immediately cuts off electricity going to the components. This helps prevent short circuits and further water damage while you dry out the laptop. Just be very careful not to tear or damage the battery cable when removing it.
With the battery disconnected, you can leave it out while drying and cleaning the laptop. Just be sure to store it in a safe, dry place until you’re ready to reassemble the laptop.
Dry Out the Laptop
Once you’ve turned off and disconnected the battery, the next step is to thoroughly dry out the laptop’s interior. This helps prevent any remaining moisture from shorting out components or corroding metal parts.
Start by removing any covers or panels to access the inner components. The keyboard is usually easy to remove on most laptop models. Refer to a disassembly guide for your specific laptop if needed. With the covers off, use a microfiber cloth or chamois to blot up any droplets or moisture you see on the motherboard or other parts. Be gentle, and avoid wiping or scrubbing. Simply dab and lift repeatedly to absorb the moisture.1
Pay special attention to areas around ports or openings where liquid could collect. Remove any wet dust or debris. For hard-to-reach spots, try using a cotton swab or compressed air to dry out crevices. Work methodically until no moisture remains visible.
Use Desiccant Packs
One of the most effective ways to thoroughly dry out a wet laptop is to place moisture absorbing desiccant packs inside the laptop case. Desiccants work by absorbing water vapor through a process known as adsorption. Many commonly available desiccant packs are filled with silica gel beads.
To use desiccant packs for drying a wet laptop:
- Obtain and open several desiccant packs, making sure they are dry and unused. Packets that have already absorbed moisture will not be as effective.
- Place the open desiccant packs throughout the interior of the laptop case. Position them near areas that got wet or are prone to moisture buildup.
- Seal up the laptop case to contain the desiccant and any moisture inside. This helps concentrate the drying power of the packs.
- Leave the desiccant packs sealed inside the laptop case for at least 24-48 hours. The longer the better to allow thorough drying.
- Check if the packs have absorbed moisture and replace them with fresh dry packs as needed over time.
Silica gel desiccants are reusable. Once finished drying the laptop, you can dry out used packs by heating in a low oven until the beads turn blue again. This indicates the moisture has been removed.
Clean with Isopropyl Alcohol
Once the laptop is fully disassembled and dried out, the next step is to clean the motherboard and components with 90% or higher isopropyl alcohol. This helps remove any remaining minerals and deposits left behind after water damage.
Use a cotton swab or soft cloth dampened with isopropyl alcohol to gently wipe down the motherboard, being careful around any chips or delicate components. Take your time and pay close attention to areas where corrosion is visible. Allow the isopropyl alcohol to sit for 1-2 minutes before wiping to help dissolve deposits.
“Put a little bit of Isopropyl Alcohol onto the corrosion and let it sit a minute or two before using the toothbrush to very gently brush it off” (Source).
Check for any remaining dirt or corrosion and reapply alcohol as needed. Be patient and gentle during this process. Rushing could damage components. Thorough cleaning with 90%+ isopropyl alcohol can help restore a water damaged laptop motherboard.
Inspect for Corrosion
Once the laptop is fully dry, open it up and visually inspect the motherboard and ports for any signs of corrosion. Corrosion occurs when the minerals in water react with the metals in electronics and can cause conductive pathways to break down over time . Look for areas with rust-colored deposits, pitting, or flaking. Pay close attention to:
- USB and charging ports
- Audio jack
- RAM and SSD slots
- Under keyboard and trackpad
Use a magnifying glass if needed to spot early corrosion. Targeted cleaning with isopropyl alcohol is recommended for corroded spots. Gently rub the area with a cotton swab or soft brush dampened with alcohol to remove corrosion . Be very careful not to damage any components. If corrosion is extensive, a motherboard replacement may be required.
Reassemble the Laptop
Once the laptop is completely dry, it’s time to reassemble it. First, reattach the battery by sliding it back into place and screwing it in securely. Then replace the bottom case cover and any other covers that were removed. Line up the screw holes and use a Phillips head screwdriver to screw the case back together tightly.
Be sure to securely fasten all screws – a loose case cover can cause issues down the line. Double check that all connectors and cables are firmly plugged in where they should be. Snap plastic clips back into place and press all components firmly into their slots. Take care when handling ribbon cables as they are fragile. With everything tightened down and reconnected, the laptop is ready to be powered back on.
Turn On and Test
After fully drying and cleaning your laptop, the next step is to turn it on and test all functions to assess the extent of any remaining water damage. First, reconnect the battery and plug in the AC power adapter. Press the power button to turn on your laptop.
Once powered on, thoroughly test all components and functions. Check that the screen powers on and displays properly, with no distorted imagery or dead pixels. Verify the keyboard and trackpad are responsive and working. Test all ports like USB, HDMI, Ethernet, and audio to confirm they are operational.
If possible, boot into BIOS or UEFI settings to check for any displayed hardware errors. Also listen closely for any abnormal noises from fans or drives spinning up. Finally, boot into your operating system if it loads. Test wireless, sound, camera, and other built-in features.
Document any ongoing issues, as significant keyboard, screen, or logic board failure may require cleaning by a professional or full water damage laptop repair. Minor issues may resolve on their own as remaining moisture fully evaporates.
Next Steps if Unrepairable
If you’ve tried drying out and cleaning your laptop but it still won’t turn on, the damage may be beyond DIY repair. At that point, you’ll need to consider data recovery options and whether to pursue professional repair or replacement of the laptop.
If your laptop won’t power on at all, recovering your data can be challenging without professional help. Some options to try retrieving your files include:
- Removing the hard drive and connecting it to another computer with a SATA-to-USB cable.
- Taking your laptop to a repair shop for data recovery services. This can be expensive but may be able to recover data even from damaged drives.
- Using data recovery software like Disk Drill after connecting the drive to another system.
You’ll also need to decide whether to repair or replace your water damaged laptop. Factors to consider include:
- Cost of professional repair – Component-level repair costs can quickly approach the price of a new laptop.
- Age and value of your laptop – Repair costs may exceed the current value of an older machine.
- Availability of replacement parts – Some laptops have proprietary parts that are hard to source.
- Likelihood of full restoration – Extensive water damage raises uncertainty.
In many cases, replacing the laptop entirely may be the most cost effective option after water damage. But professional data recovery combined with selective component repair may make sense for high-value or irreplaceable data.