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What to Do if You Spill Liquid on a MacBook Pro

Ryan Collins asks:

I was using my MacBook Pro the other day and I had a drink near it. I know, this was a very bad idea. My dogs were playing and they ran into the table, which caused the drink to spell all over the keyboard. One side of my keyboard is sticky and I don’t know how to fix it. Do you have any suggestions?

Keyboard CoverRyan, this is, indeed, a difficult situation. If the only damage done by this spill is a set of sticky keys, then you’re actually one of the lucky ones. Damage done during a spill on a laptop can be quite severe, and will often escalate over a period of days as moisture seeps deeper into the device.

The first thing you should do when a spill has occurred is unplug the laptop and turn it off by holding your finger on the power button for five seconds. Once the laptop is off, keep it open and flip it upside down so it tents with the keyboard and screen aiming toward the table.

Take paper towels and do your best to sop up the liquid between and under keys. This might take some time, but you want to do everything you can to separate moisture from the inner components of the MacBook Pro. Some people recommend going so far as to place it in a container and fill it with rice or a special moisture-absorbing substance made specifically for electronics, but that’s up to you.

If your MacBook Pro is covered by AppleCare or the initial warranty, you might want to consider making an appointment at your local Apple Store to have the experts there look at and/or fix any damage. This repair is likely to cost you, though with AppleCare you can receive a discount for accidental damage. It’s better to bring it to an Apple Store before turning it on in the event that moisture has made its way deeper and the process of powering it up causes irreparable damage.

Things you can do at your own risk:

  • Remove keys from the keyboard and attempt to clean under them.
  • Remove the battery (not possible on some models) in order to prevent electrical shorts.
  • If the MacBook Pro experiences problems, leave it off for a week and try again.

You can take steps to protect your MacBook from this type of damage by investing in a case and keyboard cover. These will help prevent spills from getting under keys and damaging internal components. It won’t guarantee the safety of your laptop, but it’s better than having it turn into a paperweight.