This is the stuff of nightmares:
Time slows as you see the coffee tipping over…
… and you realize that yes, that was indeed your arm, and worse, that was your laptop.
And now you see the coffee begin to recede, into the laptop, and a voice in your head screams, Where is it going?
Panic – But Briefly
Give yourself a second to practice your four-letter vocabulary. You reach for your iPhone to call your therapist. But, wait – there’s work to be done. First, turn the laptop off immediately by holding down the power button. Then, unplug the power cord. Carefully tip your laptop to the left or right, to drain the keyboard of liquid while trying to make sure it does not get on the screen or other areas. Turn the laptop upside-down, forming an inverted “V,” and remove the battery if you can. Disconnect any external devices, such as keyboards or phone chargers.
Grab some paper towels or rags, Quiznos napkins, cotton swabs, cotton balls, pocket lint, or anything else that is absorbent. Quickly soak up any residual liquid, using cotton swabs to reach between and under the keys. If you have a can of compressed air, use it along with a towel to drive moisture out from beneath the keys, sweeping from one side to the other. A powerful wet/dry vacuum may work, as well – just be quick. The main point right now is to remove standing moisture, not to pass a white-glove test. Most keyboards today are somewhat spill-resistant and they are designed like a dish to hold moisture, instead of letting it leak through to the circuits below.
WARNING: The following steps are for those who aren’t afraid to loosen a screw or two. If the prospect scares you, take your laptop instead to the nearest repair shop. In San Francisco, Mac users can go to the nearest Apple Store or to Keane (and tell them MacCentric Solutions sent you!). Downtown, sprint to Sweet Memory. In SoMA or other parts of the Bay Area, run over to Central Computers. If you’re willing to bust out your tool set, roll up your sleeves and give the following instructions a shot.
Assess the Destruction
Turn your laptop upside-down again. Touch a grounded metal object to release static – that means one that’s plugged into a three-prong electrical outlet, like the computers of your officemates, who are currently clustered around you, trying not to say, “I told you so.” Ask them to make themselves useful and pull up the iFixit disassembly instructions for your laptop model. Find a small Phillips screwdriver, or whatever arcane tool the manufacturer requires for your laptop. Remove the memory chips and inspect the area for moisture. If you have an optical drive, remove the screw that holds it in place, usually found near the center of the machine, and slide the drive out. If moisture is present in either place, it is a good idea to partially disassemble the machine. Don’t worry, it’s not that scary, and it’s less damaging than the corrosive coffee you just lavished upon it.
Unscrew the hard drive assembly and slide it away from the connection port. Disconnect the antenna leads and remove the wireless card. If there is a button-type battery, remove it as well. Dry all the connections using cotton swabs or similar and soak up any liquids from the circuit board. Further disassembly can be difficult, but if you are experienced and willing, go as far as you feel comfortable. Tip: get a bunch of small cups or bowls and put screws into them. Label your containers so you remember how to reassemble their contents! There is nothing more frustrating, after a victorious reassembly, than having one leftover screw.
Prepare to Wait
Remove any remaining liquid and clean any sticky spots with isopropyl alcohol. Allow the machine to dry for at least two days. The first few hours may be difficult, but take comfort in the fact that the withdrawal symptoms will slowly subside. (Now is a good time to call that therapist. Perhaps you can reduce the chances of lingering PTSD.) When sufficient time has passed, carefully reassemble the laptop. Plug in the battery, apply power and, if you are so inclined, pray. Press the power button and, hopefully, you will have a fully-functional laptop. You may have some keys that are a bit sticky when pressed, which can be remedied by carefully prying each key cap off and cleaning the spring mechanism with isopropyl alcohol.
Learn the Error of Your Ways
Now, after a prayer of thanks, invest in a spill-resistant travel mug. It’s much cheaper than a new laptop.