Spilled Liquid on Laptop Touchpad: What to Do?

Here’s what you need to do if you spilled liquid such as water or coffee on your laptop touchpad:

If you spill a liquid on your laptop, turn it off and unplug it from power as quickly as you reasonably can. 

It usually takes time for water to damage a laptop, and there is a fair chance that you can turn it off before that happens. 

After the computer is off, leave it off until you can address the spill thoroughly.

So if you want to learn all about what to do if you spilled water on your laptop touchpad, then you’re in the right place.

Let’s get started!

What Should You Do First When Liquid Gets on Your Laptop Touchpad?

Let’s hammer this point home. Turn off the computer right away. Everything else is secondary. 

We’ll get deep into why this matters very soon, but focus on removing electricity from the equation as soon as you can.

After that is done, there are a number of other steps you can take to try to protect the laptop. If those steps fail, there are even more steps you can take to repair any damage.

Turn Your Laptop Off

Immediately turn off and unplug the laptop. This is the most important step. Liquids can cause shorts that damage the circuits of your laptop, but only if there is electrical power. 

Don’t worry about going through a proper shutdown. Unplug the laptop as quickly as you can (assuming it is plugged in), and hold the power button until it is completely off.

If your laptop has a removable battery, remove the battery once the laptop is off.

When water (or other liquids) gets into the circuitry of a laptop, the conductive material in those liquids (usually called electrolytes) can mess with the circuitry. 

Basically, electricity can flow through the water instead of just through the wiring. By allowing unintended current through the device, you can get situations where current goes the wrong way and damages some of the small, delicate circuits inside of the computer.

This can only happen if there is a source of power for the laptop. If current doesn’t flow, then it can’t flow the wrong way and cause damage. This is the biggest concern when fluid spills on a laptop, and getting the power off is your best defense.

Sometimes, water gets to the circuitry too fast, and you can’t prevent damage. But, laptops are made for daily use, and the electronic components are not readily exposed. 

In many cases, it takes time for the liquid to work past the laptop’s shell and get to the circuitry. You can’t prevent that from happening, but you can turn the laptop off before any damage occurs.

Now, there are other problems that can arise from a spill, and we’ll cover them too, but turning off the laptop is by far the most important and urgent step to take.

Let Your Laptop Dry

If you just spilled water, then your main concern is to let the laptop dry. Drinkable water typically has electrolytes in it, but it usually doesn’t have much else. 

You’re not really worried about residues left behind by drinkable water. If you think the water that was spilled on the laptop was particularly hard or had a lot of stuff dissolved in it, then you might need to consider cleaning the laptop. 

Similarly, if the liquid spilled isn’t water, then the laptop definitely needs cleaning. That’s covered in the next section.

When it comes to letting a laptop dry, you don’t need to do anything too special. Don’t put the laptop in rice. That just introduces new foreign objects and problems into the equation. 

Instead, you want to leave the laptop in a low humidity area for up to two days so it can dry out naturally. If you’re comfortable opening up the shell, that’s fine. That helps everything dry out faster and more thoroughly.

If you want to, you can run a fan across the laptop. This can help if humidity is an issue, but the most important thing is time. Also, avoid running cold air across the laptop as that can induce condensation, negating your efforts.

If the Spill Wasn’t Water

If you spilled something that might leave a residue as it dries, then you have to take more action. Hard water can fall in this category, and all sugary drinks fit the mold. The sugar won’t evaporate, and it leaves a sticky residue that can damage electronics.

The good news is that most liquids will not harm the laptop as long as you leave it unpowered. That gives you time to thoroughly clean the device and prevent permanent harm. The bad news is that cleaning a laptop ranges from simple to pretty complicated.

The first thing to consider is the shell. Most laptop shells are made from plastics and/or aluminum. These materials are easy to clean. You can use a damp cloth to wipe the shell and remove any residue. 

You don’t need to use any cleaning products, and in fact, you shouldn’t. They can introduce corrosion into the equation, and that’s very bad for computers. Just wipe away the residue and let the device dry thoroughly.

Laptop screens often get caught in the crosshairs of a spill. The surface of a laptop screen is easy to clean. Use a microfiber cloth and a streak-free screen-cleaning solution. 

Depending on the severity of the screen, you might need to go over it a few times, but that’s fine. Be sure not to scrub vigorously. Pressure on the screen can damage it, so take your time and be gentle.

If the keys are sticky or have a substance on them, then the process is a little more involved. You can remove laptop keys and clean them individually. Once again, they are usually plastic, and a damp cloth will do. Let them dry before placing them back on the keyboard.

If the keyboard components under the keys are sticky, things are tough. Keyboards come in a number of different configurations and design styles. 

If you’re not comfortable or familiar with cleaning the underbelly of a keyboard, it’s probably better to involve an experienced IT pro. There are electrical components that can be damaged by bad cleaning techniques, and membrane keyboards can be particularly tricky.

The same goes for other internal components. The innards of a laptop have a lot of small, vulnerable pieces, and you can’t just go over them with a damp cloth. 

It’s usually better to involve precision tools that allow you to remove substances without damaging the hardware. This is often best done by someone with experience. 

If you’re not worried about potentially destroying the laptop, then you can look up tutorials and try it yourself. Be warned that it is very easy to cause damage when trying to clean the inner workings of a laptop.

Test Your Laptop

When everything is clean and dry (you really need to let it dry for more than a day to be sure), then you can test the laptop. It’s the moment of truth and how you find out if your efforts saved the device.

If possible, you want to test the device with a circuit tester or multimeter before you plug it in and turn it on. This method allows you to identify problems with the laptop without pumping a bunch of destructive electricity through the device.

If you don’t have the time, tools, or knowledge to do that, you can turn on the laptop and hope for the best. If it works, congratulations! 

Your quick action and patient care saved the computer. If it doesn’t work, keep reading.

What If the Laptop Doesn’t Work After a Spill on the Touchpad?

Despite your best efforts, the spill causes problems with your laptop. Before we jump into troubleshooting and dealing with issues, it’s important to note that not all problems are the same. 

A spill can prevent a laptop from turning on. It can damage other parts like the screen, keyboard, speakers, trackpad, and more. So, your computer might turn on just fine but ultimately still have problems that need to be addressed.

Troubleshooting Steps

Troubleshooting a laptop after a spill can be difficult, especially if the device doesn’t turn on. If it does turn on and just has a specific problem, like the keyboard not working, then things are a little more obvious. Replace the part that no longer works.

Regardless, troubleshooting is a matter of going through the individual components of the computer to test the circuits. A multimeter with a load tester can handle a lot of it. 

You can also get specialized circuit testers for computers. They have plug attachments that are designed to work with standard configurations in laptops.

The point of testing is to find places where power can’t flow the way it is supposed to. So, you start with the power supply and follow the circuits from there. You will test across the main regions of the motherboard until you find every point where there are problems.

If this sounds like too much, you can take the computer to a repair shop. That’s perfectly fine. For the most part, this is what the technicians will be doing.

Cleaning

You read about cleaning up above, but it’s important to understand that it is often a part of the repair process. Without thorough cleaning, a laptop cannot be repaired. 

Naturally, this depends on what was spilled, but unless it was clean water, there are going to be residues left behind. You can follow the steps in the previous section that discusses cleaning, or you can hand this project off to someone with experience.

Replacing Parts

Once troubleshooting and cleaning are complete, you should have a list of damages. The standard procedure is to replace any and all damaged parts. Once you do, the laptop should be working again.

Some parts, when replaced, will require you to reinstall your operating system. 

As long as the hard drive wasn’t damaged, you can back it up before any reinstallation. This requires a second computer and a device that allows you to connect the laptop hard drive (hard drive enclosures are the most commonly used tool). 

When the laptop hard drive is connected to another computer, you can use the functioning computer to make your backup (or a technician can do all of this).

For many components, it’s possible to repair them rather than replace them, but it often requires micro soldering. That’s a rather advanced skill. 

If you know how to micro solder, you probably don’t need this tutorial. In fact, micro soldering is so advanced that many computer repair shops don’t offer it as a service.

Replacing the Laptop

If the damage is extensive enough, it might prove more reasonable to replace the laptop as a whole. Typically, if you have to replace more than two major components, the total cost of repair is going to rival the cost of a new laptop. 

Using the techniques mentioned above, you can still save data from the damaged laptop, as long as the hard drive was not destroyed by the spill.