The bad thing about a laptop is that you tend to sit down with it at places where a computer actually doesn’t belong. Like the livingroom, the garden, the kitchen or even in bed. That’s the whole point with a laptop, that you can move around with, but unfortunatley we also very often present our preasiuos black boxes for uneccesary risks like enjoying a glass of wine in its precense.
Accidents with beverages and laptops are more common then I though and this became apparent after I wrote the article Salvage your device after liquid spill which was about a router that got water into it.
Don’t even think about doing this as an experiment unless you’re 110% sure about what you’re doing!! Not only can you ruin your laptop beyond repair but you can also get to see other unwanted effects like electrocution, fire or even explosion caused by the shortcut the liquid causes. You’ve been warned.
For this experiment I used an old Dell Latitude CSx 500Mhz that was donated to me after my former boss managed to crack the screen on it after passing an x-ray machine while travelling. Except for the screen that has a crack in it; it’s a perfectly fine laptop. As liquids I used a glass of a Kroon van Oranje Pinotage from South africa as well as a glass of lemonade (for the sugar :)).
Have a look at the video to get you started with what the effect the wine and lemonade had on the laptop. It’s less dramatic then you’d think. (Thank god for that!)
So now you have a laptop which has suffered from alcohol and sugar poisoning and the absolute first thing you need to think about is to disconnect all power sources to not make things worse. E.g. unplug any AC adapters and take the battery out of the laptop.
The second thing you need to keep in mind is that time is not your friend. Many people that have this happening to their laptop will try to ‘dry it out’ and this is one of worst things you can do. All liquids contain minerals which lead electricity and many liquids contain sugars and other interesting ingredients which of many are corrosive.
You need to get this out of your laptop as soon as possible.
Actually it’s quiet simple. Take the laptop apart, which can be a challenge in itself, and rinse the parts affected (no more no less) in tap water and when it’s clean rinse it again with distilled water to make sure that the tap water in gone as it contains minerals, chlor and calcium. Let it dry and then assemble it again.
As it is to see in the video I poured more liquids over my poor laptop then it would normally be facing, but I’m trying to simulate a worst case scenario here. On this particular model of laptop the keyboard is perforated for air circulation which of course means that the liquids got straight through. I literally had two glasses of not very good liquids in my laptop and it was soaked through pretty good.
The hard drive managed not to get any on it so this was just to be removed to be left outside this project. If your hard drive has been drenched then there is one thing you shouldn’t do with it – rinse it in water. You can rinse the backside where the circuit board is located but beware of the ventilation holes as these provide a passage from the outside world to the inside of the hard drive. Even if you see that there is liquid in there you shouldn’t rinse it as you will only make things worse. You can however take some kitchen paper and dry it off carefully.
If you have a ‘normal’ keyboard and you spilled ‘a bit of wine’ on it then it’s of course unnecessary to completely disassemble your laptop but just follow the below instructions and only apply it to you keyboard.
It’s surprising how difficult it is to capture the wetness on a picture…
While you start wondering on how to get your laptop apart it’s a good idea to send a family member down to the local gas station to get some distilled water or as most people know it; battery water. The reason for using this in the second rinse is that even though it is not true distilled water it is clean enough and it doesn’t contain any minerals or corrosive materials. So if you rinse electronics in this and then let it dry then you get a result without residues.
ESD is not your friend. What it comes down to is that you should handle all parts in
the computer with outmost care and you should preferrably be grounded while doing
this to avoid zapping your laptop.
On the other hand – I didn’t! But don’t come and say that I didn’t warn you.
A couple of tips in disassembling your laptop.
If you look at the above picture and the previous one then you’ll see that there’s a big metal box in the first picture but not in the second. This is the shielding and cooling box for the processor and it will have to be removed as well. Be careful when removing this as there’s a heat plastic or paste on at least one place. The function of this is to improve the transfer of heat from the processor to the heat sink and you should make sure that it stays intact during the whole process of cleaning away the liquid.
When you’ve gotten the wine-o parts out of the laptop it’s time to take a bath. Or rather take a shower in the bathtub. You don’t want to submerge these thingies under water.. Trust me.
Rinse the parts that have become wined under luke warm water richly. A word of warning here; If only a piece of the laptop has been wined then only rinse that part. It’s an unnecessary risk to rinse more then necessary as ‘you never know.
When you rinse the wined parts you should let the water do the work for you. Meaning, do not rub the areas with your fingers, use a tooth brush or anything else.
I even had wine and lemonade inside the processor cooling fan and this really worried me. After all, moving parts usually don’t like water. Unless they’re build for it of course, but that’s not the case for a fan inside a computer.
None the less it went through the process of taking a shower.
When everything is clean then rinse it well under the distilled water. The theory is at least that the ‘dirty’ water will be replaced with the ‘clean’ water as it’s rinsed off.
It’s good to pay attention and this is something I didn’t do. I most laptops the processor (cpu) is soldered directly to the motherboard but not in this case, it was mounted on a socket. This meant that I also had to remove the processor to make sure that the underside of it and the socket could be rinsed properly.
Now when everything is clean clean clean we need to dry it.
Your first friend here is the centrifugal force. Simply hold the pieces and rotate your arms like a fool because that’s what you’re going to look like.
Your second friend here is your mouth. Make sure you have a dry mouth (!) and blow inside the connectors (and in my case the processor socket) to force the last water out of them. If you have compressed air or air on can then you can use that of course, but be careful that the force of the air is not to strong.
Then peg the parts to the washing line and leave them to dry for at lease 24 hours.
On this picture you can also see the inside of the cooling heat sink. The pink square is the piece that attaches to the processor while the white is the one that attaches to one of the bridges. Can never remember which one it is but I believe it’s the north bridge that is the one that needs cooling.
Exciting! Time to assemble the laptop again.
One thing that I noticed when I put the processor back in its socket was that it (the socket) hadn’t had enough time to dry. On this picture
Testing if everything works is best done with the AC adapter. This is with two reasons. The first is that the AC adapter can’t leave as much power as the battery can and the second is that if something goes wrong then you can unplug the power faster then if you need to remove the battery.
Don’t bend over the laptop when connecting the power as ‘you never know’! What if it blows up? Then you don’t want to have your face there.
I ran my first test without the keyboard connected but you can of course connect this if you want to. When you are satisfied that it’s working then put everything back together and that’s about it.
But what if it doesn’t work?
As you’ve already seen the video I don’t have to tell you that this actually worked in the end. One thing that I found very surprising was that the speaker in the chassis (which I also cleaned) sounded normal. The fan made some strange noise for the first couple of minutes but after that it sounded ok. I guess that was because there as some moist inside it and that it dried up after these minutes.
The key to success on doing this whole process is time. Clean the laptop as soon as possible so that nothing is allowed to dry up. If it already has then that’s how it is and you can still clean it but it’s definitely better to clean it while the liquid is liquid so to speak.
And leave it to dry for as long as you can. If you can wait more then 24 hours then do so. It can never dry too much as I myself noticed.
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