Spill Coffee on Your Laptop? Follow These Steps

Every morning you follow the same routine. You wake up, shower, and dress. Then you make yourself a cup of coffee. You sip your coffee while you check your email on your laptop, and finally you prepare for another long work day.

But this morning felt different. You missed your alarm clock, the water was cold, and you couldn’t find your favorite pair of pants. You ran out of creamer, and when you went to check your mail, you spilled the entire cup all over your keyboard.

Before you panic, take a deep breath. Now follow this guide.

If You See Smoke, Sparks, or Flames . . .

Not long after you spilled your coffee, the laptop flashed, sparked, and let off a frightening stream of smoke. You smell burning, which never indicates anything good.

  1. Stop the Spill. The more you add to the spill, the more you feed the reaction that causes the flames. Toss the coffee cup aside and worry about the mess later.
  2. Pull the Plug. You can often stop laptop fires when you deprive them of their electrical current. Pull the power cord from the wall (as well as the network cable if you don’t have wireless). Do not try to remove any other cables attached directly to the laptop as they may shock you.
  3. Alert Others. If anyone else is in the building, let them know about the fire and the potential danger. You want to give them a chance to exit the building or help you put out the flames.
  4. Call the Fire Department. Even if the fire looks small and manageable, you should contact the fire department, just in case the situation gets out of hand. Give them complete details about the situation, including who and where you are, as well as the type of fire that occurred.
  5. Put out the Fire (if possible). If you only see a few small flames or sparks, you can put out the fire with an extinguisher or smother it with a blanket. Do not use water to put out an electrical fire. Water conducts electricity, making the situation worse.
  6. Exit the Building. Whether or not you managed to put out the fire, you should exit the building. Laptops have chemicals and metals that will emit toxic fumes when burned.

If No Smoke Appears. . .

Fortunately the spill seemed fairly harmless. No sparks or fires for you! Unfortunately, you still have a spilled coffee cup to manage.

  1. Stop the Spill. To limit the damage to your laptop, you want to keep the spill under control. Move the coffee away from your laptop so the mess doesn’t escalate.
  2. Pull the Plug. Although you might not see any smoke, you don’t want to take any chances. Pull the plug to prevent sparking.
  3. Remove the Battery. In addition to pulling the cord, you’ll want to remove the battery to completely cut off all power from your laptop. This step ensures electricity won’t flow through your laptop and cause an electrical fire.
  4. Watch and Wait. Although the urgency of the situation may prompt you to take action, you should carefully observe your laptop for the next few minutes before doing anything else. Something hidden could still smolder and lead to a fire. If you smell the pungent odor of ozone, your laptop has a short circuit, so stay on the lookout for sparks.

How to Approach Cleanup

Assuming your laptop survived the spill and didn’t melt in your living room, you can now handle the sticky remains.

  1. Turn the Laptop Over to Drain the Liquid. Electronics and liquids don’t mix. As long as coffee remains on your laptop, you run the risk of internal and external damage to your machine. Tip your laptop over so gravity helps drain the fluid away. You want to make sure it no longer drips before turning it over again.
  2. Remove External Components. If you have USB drives, external hard drives, CDs, or Micro SD cards attached to your laptop, remove them now to minimize data loss. Also, remove any cords, mouse attachments, and similar items so you can better clean the computer’ nooks and crevices.
  3. Dab and Blot with a Sponge or Cloth. You want to soak up any remaining liquid that didn’t drain away from your laptop. Use a sponge or cloth to blot excess coffee from the keyboard, screen, and connective ports.
  4. Allow the Laptop to Air Dry. Never use sand, sawdust, baby powder, or baking soda to accelerate the drying process. This method introduces foreign debris into your machine and often leads to corrosion. You may have to wait hours or even days before the liquid fully evaporates.
  5. Bring It to a Professional for Repairs. A repair technician can assess your laptop damage and suggest the best method for repair. He or she may recommend replacing the laptop entirely depending on the damage.

If you follow these steps, you may be able to save your laptop and all your important information. In the future, you can prevent spills by using a cup with a lid, covering your system with protective sleeves, and keeping food and drinks a few feet away from your devices.

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