Tip & How-To about Computers & Internet

Recover from a Coffee or Soda Spill Disaster

You know that feeling you get when you spill that cup of coffee into your brand new laptop or new keyboard. It is definitely something you don't want to go through. With this thought in mind I have put together a simple emergency disaster plan for dealing with beverage soiled electronics.

Be quick and act fast.
It must really betray one's feelings to just have spilt that sticky cup of coffee or soda onto your expensive laptop. You can virtually see your money getting soaked, but there's no time to waste, every second wasted is a second that whatever you spilled gets to dry and become sticky; the sort of stickiness that leads to a corrosive short-circuiting catastrophe.
Turn the machine off immediately and disconnect it from any main AC or wall socket. If it's a laptop remove the battery pack, if its a keyboard unplug it from your PC. If the liquid creates a short-circuit whilst there's electricity running through it then the chances of a fiery smoke burning disaster will me immanent. Disconnecting and switching off immediately improves the chances of saving your piece of technology.

Evaluate the extent of the spill
Now that you've unplugged and disconnected the device take a brief few seconds to assess the extent of the spill. Was it just a few drops spilt on a keyboard the kind of spill that can easily be cleaned by removing the keys around the spilled area? You may need to use an alcohol solution to break down sticky areas. Don't be afraid to give the removed keys a good rinse down to make sure they're clean and to make them look good as new; as long as you dry them off properly before re-inserting them. Make sure you remove as much wetness as this will start to make your keys stick when it dries.


Take it apart if necessary
Don't have a break down when you come to the realization that the spill has gone further than the surface. If you aren't seasoned in the arts of taking apart electronics and putting them back together again (with all screws in place) then maybe you should get some assistance on the matter, find a local PC store and ask a technician to take a look. Taking apart your expensive gadget is a chance you may have to take to isolate and remove the spill before it causes permanent damage. You will most likely need a screwdriver or many of them as there can be all sorts of shapes and sizes when it comes to electronic parts; star, flat, weird star shapes etc of all sizes. Just follow these few guide rules when dismantling the gadget as you go:

1) You may need to use a bit of force when removing plastic clip plates or circuit boards, but beware. If the component seems to be taking more stress than it can handle then there may be hidden screws nearby.
2) If you're taking something particularly complicated apart why not take a few snap shots with your digital camera as you go along.
3) Draw some sort of mental map as to which screws go where, you can even draw a literal map if you want to. Don't just put all your screws into one big pile and expect to know where each one goes afterwards, I'm sure you'll come across may different sizes and shapes in the one device alone.
4) What your focus should be is to find any circuit boards that may have been exposed to the spill. If its a heavy spill on a keyboard then you'll need to find the main circuit board that runs underneath the keys. If it's a laptop on the other hand then you'll need to remove the effected boards including the motherboard and smaller circuit boards near the spill. This is where I ultimately suggest clear documentation of everything you remove, their places, screws and orientation etc.

Give it a good 'ol rinse down
Once you have removed the circuit board or boards that may have been affected by the spill, you'll need to clean off the stain. If the spill is rather small then you can use alcohol swabs to clean it off. If the whole circuit board is drenched, you'll need to resort to extreme measures. And by this I mean completely disconnect it from the rest of the device and run it under soapy water. Now I know what's running through your head, running electronics...under water...that's madness!!! Thinking this is fair game, water and electronics are in most circumstances a bad combination, but sometimes you have to be brutal to save the things you love. I can't stress this enough: MAKE SURE THE CIRCUIT BOARD IS DISCONNECTED FROM THE POWER!!! If you see smoke and fire and have yourself a hair raising experience because you failed to remove the power cord or disconnect it entirely from any power source then you've been warned. LIVE ELECTRONICS MIXED WITH WATER IS EXTREMELY DANGEROUS!!! So long as the circuit board has no power running through it, it is completely harmless. With the warnings out of the way and what not let's get back to the rinse down. Don't scrub the part down hard, be gentle, let the soapy water dissolve the problem away. When you've removed the stain and any chance of stickiness, rinse off the soapy suds. For the best chance of revival I suggest using distilled or deionized water, you should be able to find it at most retail supermarkets. This water has less iron in it than regular water just in case you miss a spot wile drying at least it wont rust out the component from the inside. If you don't have distilled or deionized water on hand, regular water should be fine however it may leave tiny deposits as it dries.

Dry it up good
I suggest you air dry the component as a towel or cloth can leave behind lint. Use a hair dryer at a low setting from a distance so you don't overheat any components or warp the circuit board. If you want to speed up the process then you can pack the wet parts in a siccative, such as silica gel (that gel pack you sometimes find in shoes or product that are to be kept dry) or plain old white rice from the kitchen will do the trick.

Once all the components are clean and dry, it's time to put everything back together with the help of your trusty mental map or camera shots. Make sure everything fits together securely.

This method won't guarantee that your gadget will be working again, but at least there's a chance. My team has saved a laptop from a coffee spill using this method and that was way after sticky crystallization had taken place. All I can say is good luck and happy cleaning.

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I spilled coffee on the key board and need to replace it. The key board appears to be sealed in with a plastic surround. How do i get the key board out? It is an E-system 3213Intel celeron. Yours hopefully Jo


Take the keyboard and run water over it and take it apart and let the component dry out (while it is not connected to the computer).

I had a mechanic tell me that this is what he did to a keyboard that was part of an automobile engine analysis Bear Ace machine at Sears.

He said that someone spilled a cup of coffee on it and it wouldn't work.

Good luck on this repair of a coffee stained keyboard.

Jul 20, 2010 | Gateway Computers & Internet

1 Answer

a cup of coffee spills in the keyboard of my laptop, now coffee is dry out but the keys are stuck


I'm sorry but the keyboard has to be replaced. The new keyboards us a chemical contact and the hot coffee has damaged the chemical.

Mar 25, 2010 | Computers & Internet

1 Answer

another keyboard will not work


laptop keyboards also go. Has anything been spilled on it that you know of ?

Try plugging in a USB keyboard and see if the problem goes away. If so, you need to just get a new keyboard for the laptop.

I alreay had to change mine when I spilled VERY little coffee on it.

Jul 06, 2008 | Computers & Internet

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