Mission Possible: How to Save a Laptop from a Coffee Spill


Your mission: Save your laptop from a coffee spill disaster.

Saving your electronic devices in the event of an unfortunate baptism by coffee can be a “Mission “Possible” – with a little luck and some lightening-fast reflexes.

The basic parameters of the situation: Liquids can cause short-circuits. Short circuits damage electronic components.

Your odds of successfully recovering from a spill depend the amount of liquid that was spilled, how corrosive and conductive the liquid is and how you react to the situation.

Assuming the spill was an accident, the only factor you can control here is your reaction. To assist you in reacting like a laptop-saving superhero, we have prepared a step-by-step guide, with what to do (and what not to do) to tilt the odds of a successful recovery in your favor.

Saving Your Computer from a Coffee Spill: What Not to Do

Don’t throw in the towel – figuratively or literally. Don’t assume that everything is hopeless or waste time crying over spilled coffee. Also, while your first instinct might be to head for towels to clean up the spill, there are other things you need to do first. Towels can wait.

Don’t bother with closing programs or saving data. You don’t have time for that either.


Saving Your Computer from a Coffee Spill: What to Do

Step 1: Focus on acting quickly but calmly.

Step 2: If your hands are wet, dry them off. Given that there is no time for fetching towels, I recommend using the shirt off your back.

Step 3: Is your computer plugged into a wall outlet? If so, check the AC adapter. If the adapter or the wall outlet appears to be wet or damp in any way, stop and turn off the power at the circuit breaker. When it comes to water and electricity, safety must be first and foremost.

Step 4: Immediately unplug the laptop from its power cord and perform a hard shutdown by pressing and holding the power button.

Step 5: Pull out the laptop battery.

Step 6: Remove all cables, attachments and peripheral cards and devices. At this stage, everything should be “UN” – unpowered, unplugged, unattached.

Step 7: Gently tilt the laptop and let the liquid drain back out, while keeping the draining liquid away from the LCD display.

Step 8: OK, now we are at the part with the towels. Fetch some soft, clean and absorbent towels. Place the laptop carefully on the towels. Wipe off any exterior traces of the liquid. If the liquid is sticky, use a towel that has been dampened with distilled or deionized water to wipe off the sticky bits.

Step 9: Keep in mind that sugar will not evaporate away. If you spilled a large volume of liquid or if that liquid contained sugar, milk or other additives, you might want to have a professional take over here. While there are numerous online guides to taking apart and cleaning a laptop, a professional will have the knowledge and the requisite tools. They will also perform that work in a clean and static-free environment.

Step 10: Place the computer on towels in a safe and dry place and wait for 48 hours. You are waiting for things to become completely bone-dry. It’s possible that 24 hours might do the trick, but this is no time for jumping the gun. Be patient.

Do not attempt to turn on the computer until you have completed the mandatory drying-out waiting period.

Step 11: If the AC adapter was soaked in the spill, purchase a replacement.

Step 12: With a bone-dry computer and a new AC adapter (if required) plugged in, power up your computer. If anything seems off or if you smell anything unusual, immediately power down and take it to a professional.


Saving Your Computer from a Coffee Spill: An Ounce of Prevention

The very best way to deal with a spill is not to have one in the first place. Consider placing a side table near your workspace for your beverages to sit separate from your laptop.

The next best thing is to be prepared. Memorize what you need to do in the event of a spill, and familiarize yourself with your laptop. Knowing how to remove the battery will significantly improve your reaction time.

One final note . . . remember that the Prime Directive for computer owners is: Backup Your Data!

For additional reading on recovering from a spill, we recommend “I just spilled something on my computer, now what?“, which presents the basics of using a desiccant to speed up the drying-out process.


Are you a spill survivor? Share your recovery scenarios with us in the comments below!

Photo Credit: Makenosound via cc

Photo Credit: nate steiner via cc

Photo Credit: Tabbymom Jen via cc


Robyn is a freelance writer, editor and a serious foodie. A native of Seattle, she has found a new home in Northern California where she splits her time about equally between hiking in the redwoods and typing in local coffee shops. In addition to writing for CoffeeKrave, Robyn is currently working on a project to produce a short animated documentary—"Clipped and Tucked"—about her adventures in cooking recipes from antique cookbooks.

One comment: On Mission Possible: How to Save a Laptop from a Coffee Spill

  • Thanks for linking to my article and what a great website. My love of computing is only challenged by my love of coffee. My secret to working around coffee, which I’m pretty much drinking 24/7 is to use a laptop stand to gently raise my computer above potential spills: http://www.laptopdesk.net/laptop-desk-2-0-gray.html It’s portable and puts my laptop at a good viewing angle.

    Written while drinking some flash brewed decaf from an Aeropress

    Again, thanks for the link and I’m definitely putting this in my RSS Feed

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