Eventually, it’s going to happen: You’re going to spill something on your laptop, or drop your phone in the toilet, and assume that it’s gone to the big gadget graveyard in the sky. However, if you plan ahead and know the steps to take to save your device from a watery grave, there is a chance that you can save it from an early demise, as I recently discovered.
First, let me tell you my story: There is nothing more relaxing than sitting down with a laptop and a nice big cup of hot chocolate and reading through a few long blog posts or catching up on the latest viral videos. Recently however, the computer gods were not smiling down upon me, and after setting a full cup of hot chocolate on the table, I proceeded to reach over and try to type something, catch the top of the glass with my hand, and watch in slow motion as the entire cup poured itself on top of my MacBook’s keyboard. Normally, this would mean the hasty death of an otherwise healthy computer, but with a bit of quick thinking and an emergency, MacGuyver style surgery, I was actually able to save (and in the process clean) the laptop to let it live another day.
Since laptop deaths via liquid destruction seem to be a common occurrence, I wanted to share my experience in hopes that it will someday save you from the same situation and save a laptop from an unplanned bath. (Though I’m writing this after saving a laptop, the steps should work equally well for a cell phone, camera, or any other device that occasionally finds its way into the toilet bowl.)
How to save a soaked gadget:
- Unplug the device and take out the battery IMMEDIATELY! – Liquids are not the enemy here, liquids and power are, since that’s what’s going to cause power spikes and short circuits, so be sure to remove any and all sources of power as soon as possible.
- Dry the outside of the device – The goal here is to remove any extra liquid that could get into the device once you start taking things apart. Since there will already be some liquid inside, the last thing you want to do is make things worse.
- Disassemble the device – Liquid can find its way into the smallest nooks and crannies, so you’ll want to take apart and remove as many pieces and parts as possible so that you can uncover any hidden areas of moisture. For a good source of disassembly (and more importantly, reassembly) guides, check out iFixIt.
- Dry the inside of the device – Start with any big areas of wetness, and work your way down into the nooks and crannies. The goal here is to just start drying things, and chances are, even if it doesn’t look wet, it is, so you’ll want to give everything at least one, and preferably multiple rounds of drying. In my case, I used paper towels and cotton swabs, but towels, t-shirts, and even napkins will work as long as they won’t fall apart and leave little pieces of lint/paper/garbage in the device.
- Wash what gets dirty – This may seem counter-intuitive, but as I said before, liquid isn’t the enemy here, liquids and power are, so it’s sometimes OK to wash some parts that get especially dirty once you’ve got everything disassembled. Of course you’ll want to be smart about this step, so don’t go sticking your hard drive or your motherboard under the faucet, but for components without a lot of electrical parts, a good wash can do wonders to bring them back to life. In my case, the keyboard had a sticky residue from the chocolate that made all the keys stick while typing, so I removed the keyboard and soaked it in a bath of warm water for about five minutes. When your done washing, you’ll want to dry the part as quickly as possible, since lingering liquids are what will cause rust and other problems down the road. A hair dryer turned to high speeds with low heat works well here for getting all of the liquid out of the small areas, but just do your best to get it as dry as possible as quickly as possible with whatever you have on hand.
- Wait – Even after you think everything is dry, there will more than likely be a few areas that are still wet that you didn’t get to, so you’ll want to wait at least 24 hours before putting the device back together to ensure that everything has had a chance to completely dry out. In my case, I put the laptop in front of a fan and let the fan run for a day, but if that’s not an option for you, just give it a little extra time in the open before putting it back together.
- Reassemble the device – Once everything is clean and dry, you just need to put it back together and see if all of your quick thinking and hard work has paid off. Typically everything is going to go back on in the reverse order of how it came off, but be sure to check back with your instructions for any details.
- Test the device – Cross your fingers, close your eyes, and press the power button. In the best-case scenario, the device will turn on immediately and act like nothing ever happened. In the worst-case scenario, the device will do nothing, and you’ll now have a very expensive paperweight on your hands. In that case, you can sometimes still save some of the parts for a last ditch effort, such as a laptop screen that you can swap onto a laptop from eBay with a broken screen, but other than that, you’ve now sacrificed a device to the water gods.
If you’re not willing or able to take your device apart due to lack of skills, tools or both, the next best bet is to remove any source of power (power plug and battery) and then just let the device sit for a few days before turning it on again. I’ve also heard of situations where people put their device in a container full of rice for a day or two and had that work, since the rice draws out the moisture, so you might want to try that as well. In any case, it’s at least worth trying to save your gadget, so don’t just assume that because it got a little wet that it’s never going to work again.