What’s the worst thing to spill on a laptop?

We’ve all been there – sitting in a coffee shop, laptop open in front of us, when suddenly your elbow knocks over your large mocha latte right onto the keyboard. You jump up in shock, grabbing napkins to try and stem the tide of brown liquid seeping into the cracks between the keys. Your heart sinks as you realize there’s nothing you can do to stop the damage being done to your expensive laptop’s inner workings. Though it may seem harmless in the moment, spilling liquids like coffee, water, or soda onto your laptop can lead to long-term issues and even completely fry your machine’s sensitive electronics. In this article, we’ll explore the worst liquids you can spill on your laptop and how to clean up these messy situations to potentially save your precious device.

What Happens When Liquids Are Spilled

When liquid is spilled on a laptop, it can quickly seep into the internal components and cause damage. According to https://www.digitaltrends.com/computing/what-to-do-if-you-spilled-water-on-your-laptop/, liquids can short circuit the electronic components and connections inside the laptop.

Liquids are conductive, so when they come into contact with the electronics inside a laptop, they can create shorts and cause components to corrode or stop working properly. The liquid can spread quickly over the motherboard and get into ports, drives, the keyboard, trackpad, and other components.

Even a small amount of liquid can damage a laptop if it reaches sensitive internals. The liquid could immediately fry circuits and components or could slowly cause corrosion over time. Any type of liquid, even drinks that seem harmless, have the potential to damage a laptop when spilled on or inside it.

The Dangers of Water

Water can cause severe damage to a laptop quite easily. The main dangers are short-circuiting and corrosion. When water gets inside a laptop, it can cause electric current to flow in unintended paths, creating shorts that can fry the components and circuitry. Even small amounts of water can bridge connections and allow current to flow where it shouldn’t (https://www.digitaltrends.com/computing/what-to-do-if-you-spilled-water-on-your-laptop/).

Additionally, the minerals and impurities in water can start corroding the metal components and traces on the laptop’s logic board and other integrated circuits. Corrosion occurs over time as the water deposits these minerals on the metal surfaces, slowly eating away at them. This can eventually cause connections to break down completely, resulting in device failure (https://www.asurion.com/connect/tech-tips/spilled-water-on-laptop/).

Short-circuiting can happen immediately, while corrosion occurs over hours and days. But both mechanisms can permanently destroy a laptop if water gets inside. Even turning off and drying out the laptop may not prevent eventual failure down the line, as corrosion continues damaging the internals.

Problems with Coffee and Tea

Coffee and tea can cause major issues if spilled on a laptop. The sticky, sugary residues left behind after the initial spill can lead to a number of problems.

The sugars and oils in coffee and tea can leave sticky buildup on laptop keyboards and other components. This sticky residue attracts dirt, dust and other contaminants. Over time, this can cause keys to stick and stop functioning properly [1]. The gunk can also prevent a laptop from closing properly if it gets on the hinges and case.

Coffee and tea can also leave stubborn stains on laptop exteriors. These stains can be difficult or impossible to remove, leaving the laptop looking dirty and worn. The heat from a spilled hot coffee or tea can also warp and discolor plastic components.

Additionally, the sugars and acids in coffee and tea can corrode metal components like screws or connectors over time. This can lead to loose or malfunctioning internal laptop parts down the road.

Coffee and tea can also damage important internal electronics if enough liquid seeps down under keys into the inner workings of a laptop. This liquid damage can short circuit motherboards and other components, making the laptop unusable.

Why Soda is So Bad

Soda can be one of the worst liquids to spill on a laptop due to its acidic properties, high sugar content, and conductivity. The carbonic and phosphoric acids found in soda can corrode and eat away at the metal components and wiring of a laptop over time. Even just a few hours of exposure can begin damaging critical parts (1).

The high sugar content of soda makes it extremely sticky as it dries. This stickiness can gum up moving parts like the keyboard and trackpad, preventing keys from springing back up after being pressed down and causing the trackpad to become unresponsive. Dried, sticky soda residue is very difficult to fully remove from the small crevices of a laptop keyboard (2).

Finally, because soda is a conductive liquid, spilling it on a laptop while powered on can immediately short circuit the components and fry the sensitive electronics. The sugary acids from soda are highly conductive and corrosive, creating a dangerous combination for laptop electronics.

Watch Out for Alcohol

Alcohol, including isopropyl alcohol, ethyl alcohol, and rubbing alcohol, can be very damaging to laptop screens and other components when spilled. According to experts, alcohol can rapidly penetrate between the layers of a laptop screen, causing blurring, discoloration, and dead pixels (ZDNet). The alcohol essentially damages the glue holding the screen layers together. Once alcohol seeps into a laptop, it’s nearly impossible to fully remove it and repair the damage. Using alcohol to clean the exterior of a laptop screen is also risky, as any dripping can seep into the interior.

One Quora user reported their laptop screen going dim after using ethyl alcohol to wipe it down. The alcohol likely penetrated the screen layers and blurred the image (Quora). While many people think alcohol is generally safe for electronics, it’s too harsh for cleaning laptop screens. It’s better to use distilled water, specialized screen wipes, or a microfiber cloth. With alcohol, a small slip can lead to an irreparably damaged screen.

Oils and Grease

Oils and greases like cooking oil or lubricants can be extremely damaging if spilled on a laptop. These thick liquids can coat the internal components of a laptop and interfere with proper heat dissipation (https://superuser.com/questions/1007968/what-lubricants-can-be-safely-added-to-a-laptop-fan). As electronics heat up during normal operation, they rely on air circulation to cool down. An oil or grease coating can prevent this heat from escaping, leading to potential overheating and damage to components.

Oils can also seep under keys and into crevices, making them extremely difficult to fully clean and remove (https://www.quora.com/What-should-I-do-if-I-spill-oil-on-my-laptop). Any remaining oil residue left inside a laptop can continue to cause issues long-term. Oils can also stain and damage exterior surfaces like keyboards, touchpads, and screens.

If oil or grease is spilled on a laptop, it’s important to act quickly. Turn off and unplug the laptop immediately, then wipe off any exterior oil with a microfiber cloth. For any oil that got inside, it’s best to take the laptop to a repair shop for professional cleaning as soon as possible.

Sugary and Sticky Substances

Spilling sugary substances like soda, juice, honey, maple syrup, or anything with high sugar content can be disastrous for a laptop. The high sugar concentration acts as a glue, causing keys to stick and hampering the normal function of the keyboard.

According to an article on The Guardian[1], spilling a large, syrupy drink like a caramel frappuccino requires a deep clean to remove all traces of sugar from the laptop’s internals. Sugar left behind can lead to stickiness and eventual corrosion of the components.

Furthermore, the sugary stickiness can attract pests like ants and cockroaches into the laptop. A Quora thread[2] recommends thinking deeply about the errors made when bringing sugary food and drink near electronics.

In summary, sugary spills can gum up the keyboard, attract pests, and damage the sensitive inner components of a laptop if not thoroughly cleaned.

How to Clean Up Spills

If you spill a liquid on your laptop, it’s important to act quickly to clean it up before permanent damage occurs. The cleaning method may vary slightly depending on the type of liquid spilled.

For water spills, turn off the laptop immediately and disconnect any cables or external devices. Wipe up any excess liquid with a dry towel or cloth, then place the laptop upside down to allow the water to drain out. Allow it to dry completely before turning it back on – this may take 1-2 days. Using a can of compressed air can help blow out any trapped moisture in crevices.

With coffee, tea or soda spills, swiftly wipe away excess liquid with a dry towel. Mix a solution of 60% water and 40% isopropyl alcohol and dampen a microfiber cloth with it. Gently wipe down the entire laptop surface with the cloth, which will help displace any sticky residue. Let dry fully before use. For stickier spills, use isopropyl alcohol directly on a cloth.

For alcohol spills like wine or beer, blot away excess liquid right away. Use isopropyl alcohol and a microfiber cloth to wipe down the entire surface. Be patient and let the laptop dry out for at least 24 hours before attempting to turn on again. The alcohol in the spill can short circuit the laptop if powered on too soon.

If cooking oil, grease or lotions get on a laptop, use a paper towel to blot up any excess. Rub gently with a mix of mild dish soap and warm water on a microfiber cloth to break up the oil. Avoid getting any moisture in openings. Wipe dry with a towel and let fully dry before using again.

For syrupy spills like juice or soda, lift off any keys or panels possible to access the spill underneath. Blot up the visible liquid, then use isopropyl alcohol and cotton swabs to scrub away sticky residue under keys or crevices. Let dry fully before reattaching panels or keys.

Preventing Future Spills

There are several steps you can take to reduce the chance of spilling liquids on your laptop in the future:

Use spill-proof cups or bottles with lids and straws. These make it much harder for liquids to spill out if tipped over accidentally. Products like Yeti Rambler cups are designed not to spill and can provide peace of mind when using your laptop around liquids.

Invest in a waterproof keyboard cover or skin. These protective layers create a barrier between your keyboard and any potential spills. Covers made of silicone or thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) material are flexible yet impermeable.

Avoid placing open containers near your laptop. Drinks like coffee, tea, soda, etc. should be kept at a safe distance from your device when possible. Using a secondary table or surface helps isolate potential spills.

Handle open beverages carefully around laptops. Limit transporting open containers in the same hand or bag as your laptop. Taking extra precaution ensures a secure grip and stance when holding drinks.

Keep laptop on stable surfaces. Choose flat, level surfaces like tables when setting your device down. Avoid precarious spots like couch cushions or blankets where tip-overs are more likely.