Spill Water on a MacBook Pro / Air? Here’s How You Might Be Able to Prevent Liquid Damage

Apr 13, 2014 - 22 Comments

Save a MacBook Pro or MacBook Air from Water Contact

Spilling water or another liquid onto a one to two thousand dollar plus MacBook Air or MacBook Pro is a horrible feeling, but before you completely panic, you can take a few proactive steps which may help to preserve the Mac or your data. There is never a guarantee that the Mac will be saved from permanent water damage, but sometimes you can recover a MacBook Air and MacBook Pro from spills and liquid encounters by taking some very quick actions, or perhaps just mitigate the water damage to the keyboard rather than the entire computer.

Before getting into specifics, it should probably go without saying that if you happen to drop a MacBook Air into a swimming pool, lake, ocean, or river, it’s basically guaranteed to be toast. Sure you can still try to save it, but the odds of recovery are extraordinarily low. This is really a guide aimed at helping to recover from smaller water encounters, like a splash from a spilled glass of water, or cup of coffee knocked over onto a desk with a MacBook Pro also sitting nearby. Unfortunately, the reality is that water contact with computers is much trickier to deal with and recover from than water getting into or onto an iPhone, but that doesn’t mean you can’t at least try to recover the Mac.

Of course there are no guarantees any of this will work for you, I’m just sharing what I did to save my own MacBook Air from permanent damage due to a water contact situation. And yes, that funny looking trick pictured in the the #6 step below actually worked.

1: Safety First!

This should go without saying, but personal safety needs to be your number one priority. Electricity and water obviously don’t mix and can pose a dangerous situation, if you’re not sure what to do, contact your local electricity / utility provider and they’ll let you know how to handle it. Generally if there’s a lot of water involved, you should take precautions for your own safety (like using the circuit breaker to cut all power) and forget about the computer though. Don’t risk it if you’re not sure what to do, contact a electrical professional.

For many MacBook spills and water encounters though, the device is running off battery power when the liquid contact happens, which makes disconnecting it a nonissue – that is what we’re focusing on here.

2: Turn the MacBook Pro / Air Off Immediately

The Mac needs to immediately turn off, assuming it’s still on. Hold down the Power button until the Mac shuts off, or shut it down from the Apple menu. You’ll have to worry about your documents later (OS X Auto Save should do it’s job), right now you’re trying to save the Mac itself.

3: Unplug All Other Cables / Cords

All external devices need to be disconnected immediately, whether its a display, monitor, external hard drive, even a mouse and keyboard. This is particularly true with powered devices since they could cause a short. Disconnect everything.

IF POSSIBLE, Disconnect the Battery

Most new MacBook Air and MacBook Pro models have internal batteries making this impossible, but if the Mac has a removable battery, take it out immediately.

4: Dry Off All Visible Water

Now that all power sources are disconnected, dry off all visible water completely. Use a cotton towel if possible because it’s highly absorbent, but paper towels can work ok too. Q-Tips and corners are helpful to get into the little cracks of the keyboard, trackpad, and ports. Get any and all visible water off of the Mac. Pay special attention to the keyboard because water can easily seep under the keys.

Those with technical aptitude, patience, and the proper screw drivers can also attempt to disassemble their machine to dry out components too. That’s probably the most effective method, but it’s far beyond the scope of this article.

5: Keyboard Spill? Flip it Over

If the water or liquid primarily went onto the keyboard of the MacBook Air / MacBook Pro, quickly flip it over so that it’s keys are face down against a towel. This can help to prevent the liquid from seeping further into the inner components, or at least minimize their contact.

6: Use This Funny Looking Towel & Fan Trick

This shoddy setup shown below uses a crate, a towel, and a room fan. The basic idea is to allow maximum airflow into and around the MacBook, while providing absorbency for any residual water. Do this in a low humidity environment if possible.

Possibly Save a MacBook Air from Water Damage

Crates work very well for this because they have large gaps where air can freely pass through, but use what is available to you. Moderately warm air is fine, but remember that heat is bad for electronics so you don’t want to be blasting the MacBook with a space heater or hairdryer.

Configure that oddball fan setup and let it sit turned off and unplugged, now it’s time to wait.

7: Wait

Wait at least 96 hours in that funny configuration, if not longer, before even thinking about turning the MacBook back on again to see if it works. It can take a long time for water or liquids to dry out from internal components, don’t rush it.

8: Take it to an Apple Store to Check for Damage

After waiting a long time and you know for certain that the MacBook Pro / Air has zero remaining liquid within it, you’re certainly welcome to turn the Mac on yourself and see what happens. For most users though, the best bet is to wait until it’s dry, then take it directly to an Apple Store so they can determine if there’s any damage, and if so, what damage is done to what components.

If you’re very fortunate and act quickly, you may get away with no damage to the MacBook at all. Or maybe you’ll only end up with just a damaged keyboard, while the remainder of the components are fine. If liquid got the logic board or power system, the Mac is probably beyond a simple repair, in which case you’ll be out some serious cash unless you had a good insurance or an accidental damage policy on the Mac.

What About Stuffing the Mac Into Silica Gel or Rice?

If you have tons of silica gel packets handy, you can certainly try to pack the MacBook Air / Pro into a large ziplock bag with them. Silica or rice works well for recovering cell phones from water contact damage, but larger pieces of hardware would presumably require larger amounts of silica packets to have any efficacy. From personal experience, rice is less effective with a computer, but if you’re going to have it sitting around waiting to dry out anyway you can give it a try, iFixIt reports some success with it. If you’ve had a positive experience with sticking a MacBook Air or MacBook Pro into a bag of rice for a few days to revive it after water contact, let us know in the comments.

Do you have any experience saving your MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, or MacBook from damage due to water contact or a spill? Let us know what you did in the comments!

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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Tips & Tricks, Troubleshooting

22 Comments

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  1. Jan Beckman says:

    The best results I have had with several macs is to open them up immediately and liberally dosing it with rubbing alcohol. It will absorb all water and then evaporate without a trace. It costs very little and works fantastic.

    • Rodrigo says:

      I agree this is a great method perhaps the best to save liquid damage on any electronic, Mac included, BUT, it is extremely complex for to open a MacBook Air or Retina MacBook Pro and not for even a semi-technical user. But, if you’re very proficient with dissasembly and have the tools to take a Mac apart and put it back together, this is a great method.

      Otherwise I think the above article advice is great, perhaps the towel part being unnecessary though because it may block some airflow once the initial water has been absorbed. I have recovered from small splashes before by doing a similar trick, but the bottom line is that for Macs, you have to let them dry out for 3-4 days minimum.

      BTW, AppleCare+ will cover liquid damage and accidents. Otherwise consider putting your Macs on a renters or home owners insurance policy to get them covered. For businesses, maybe put them under the business insurance for accidental situations too.

  2. Ben says:

    I too have used the rubbing alcohol trick on electronics with good results.

  3. OldRogue says:

    I’m not even sure why ‘absorbancy’ is mentioned here. Just turn it over and shake gently. Let the liquid go where it may. Clean that up later. The main thing is to get the water out, and dry air in. A towel is just going to get in the way of the drying process.

  4. chris b says:

    The two posters above who recommended rubbing alcohol are leaving out that RA contains about 30% water as a diluting agent. So, don’t listen to their “tip” – RA isn’t hydrophilic and doesn’t adsorb water.

    Isopropyl alcohol 99%, which is hard to find and buy for legal reasons, works much better in this regard, but it tends to displace and doesn’t at all adsorb water (or adsorb coffee, juice, etc.).

  5. Kwei Quartey says:

    Mine was the worst of scenarios. During a plane flight, I tipped a full cup of hot tea over my MacBook keyboard. The logic board was fried, and the keyboard was also kaput. Fortunately all data intact. I had to buy a new one and have the data transferred. I now use a keyboard protector!

    • phan says:

      Dumped water on your Macbook during a flight? Oh that really sucks, I would be so bummed.

      I’ve had splash encounters but never a full cup of tea or anything like that

  6. mj says:

    The new crystal kitty litter works well for smaller items. Dump the item into a ziplock with litter to cover and then wait and wait and wait..

  7. JP Atlanta says:

    Anyone thought of a Shop-Vac? Getting all power removed is first line of defense. I almost wish Apple would make a special physical switch you could flip that would disconnect the internal battery. However, they could also easily build the keyboard and case that would not allow liquids into the internals as well but would cost them MILLIONS in spill replacement sales yearly.

  8. Tom says:

    I have lost 5 Mac laptops over last 5 years to liquid spills.
    Mostly due to spills of wine or other liquids in airplanes or on our kitchen counter.

    Wine on an unprotected keyboard, even small amounts, is deadly, the Mac cries a squeal and is lost.

    I now use keyboard protecter and it works, IF you are careful to get the liquid off the keyboard and Mac quickly, before it gets into the Mac. I had a clumsy airline attendant. But the protector worked.

    With the technologies available today, one would think Apple could make all iPhones and Macs waterproof, or at least water resistant.

    • Rodrigo says:

      Keyboard protector is smart! This lets you quickly turn a Mac over to dump the liquids off. The water / fluid seeping into the keyboard and behind the keys is the killer, that’s how it gets to the logic board. Great idea!

  9. Computech says:

    Nothing you read on the internet about putting laptops in rice, using fans, hair driers or whatever other tricks are any substitute for actually taking your computer to an apple authorized service provider (not an apple store) to have them take it apart fully and inspect every component for liquid damage. Many times the computer can be cleaned and repaired without permanent damage if caught soon enough. If liquid is left in a laptop, even if it is still working the even tiny amount of liquid can slowly corrode away components that can fail weeks or even a year after the accident. Please spend the money to have it inspected properly if liquid damage occurs.

  10. Hookoa says:

    Rice, by itself has little effect even for cell phones.

    That said, burying a cell phone in a container of rice and warming the rice DOES have good effect.

    Easiest way to do this is to place the container on top of a countertop Microwave oven that has a light bulb to light the interior. Place the container of rice/cell phone right over the location of the light bulb and leave the door of the MW open for 24 hours or more.

    Alternatively, rig a 40-60 watt bulb lamp. Use your ingenuity.

  11. Alberto says:

    My solution works perfectly: I never drink or bring any kind of liquid close to a computer…

    • Grey says:

      This is the correct answer, and obviates the entire discussion here. If you bring liquid near a laptop, it’s going to find its way in, eventually — and regardless of how careful you are. If you’re drinking from an open cup on an airplane with your Air in your lap, you absolutely deserve what’s going to happen, because you’re stupid or in denial or both.

      My policy is different with my desktop (Mac Pro) setup: I can afford to lose a $49 Apple keyboard (or even a $79 BT keyboard), especially because I keep a backup of each on the shelf — new-in-box castoffs from Craigslist, at half price. Still, if you’re careful and lucky, a keyboard might wear itself out before getting coffee-fucked. I’m going on 3 years now.

  12. Alex says:

    I’ve had both beer and water over my MacBook 17 inch on 4 sepperate occasions. Turned it off and flipped it upside down instantly each time and the thing is still preforming like a dream. I think that speed is the main factor here.

    There’s a great video of a MacBook Air being put underwater by CNET and the only thing that stopped working was the battery: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l_0CN-12npY

  13. Anthony ACMT says:

    I often read theses forums and never comment but the advice given on this subject is terrible. I am not trying to scare anyone but I am an ACMT and have been successfully repairing liquid damaged 6 years, 2000 units later I have learned a few things and no amount of wishing or praying will save your Macbook Air or Pro from the damage done by liquid of any kind. Macs as you know are precisely engineered and are not designed to be exposed to liquid in any amount. The bottom line is that any amount of liquid that makes its way to a logic board that has power or is even powered off will cause corrosion. No amount of rice, silica gel or blow drying changes this. Corrosion is the enemy here and electricity is the catalyst driving the corrosion process so the key is to disconnect all power to the unit asap, this includes disconnecting the battery. Unfortunately Apple has begun to use proprietary screws on all new Macs so this poses a real challenge for most people. In most cases corrosion left un treated or un-repaired will cause the main logic board to fail or otherwise malfunction causing your Mac to behave strangely.

    Ok….now the question is what do I do to fix this issue? Well as I see it you have 3 options.

    1. Listen to the guy who says put it in a bag of rice and pray. The result will likely be a broken Macbook Pro full of rice, if the unit does come back to life it’s likely only a matter of time until you see issues start to pop up and you will likely need to budget for a new MacBook.

    2. Take it to the Apple Store. I worked for Apple for many years and the answer is almost always the same “Dude you spilled water on it…buy a new MacBook” or the We can send it out but it will cost you $740.00 for a 13″ or below and $1240 for a 15″ or above, does not matter if it is a drop or a gallon and it will void your warranty.

    3. Google it!!!! There are several reputable independent service providers out there that offer MacBook Pro liquid damage repair services nationwide at about a 1/3 of what the Apple store charges and some of them even offer free shipping.

    Bottom line is if you spilled something on your MacBook and you want it fixed correctly it’s likely going to cost you only question is how much? Thats for you to decide but do your research and good luck!!

  14. Sim says:

    A few years ago, half a cup of water was accidentally spilled onto the keyboard of my white Macbook. The screen went blank in under a minute and cannot power up again.

    I opted to upgrade to the Macbook Pro because the repair cost turned out to be more than half the price of the Macbook! The repair centre said that the main board need to be replaced. The white Macbook was left in the closet and forgotten.

    A year ago I toke it out while clearing the closet. Out of curiosity I connect the power cable and pressed the power button, to my surprise it was able to power up again but unable to boot!

    Quickly inserted an OSX CD and reinstall the OS successfully. It’s still working fine to this day.

    The water must have short circuited the electronics but did not damage it. It’s working again after all the water had dried up.

  15. VLF says:

    Last year I stayed in a hotel and one day, during my absence in the room, a hot water pipe broke in the bathroom.
    When I came back the room was full of steam, it was so hot I could not enter for a few minutes and water was dripping from walls and the ceiling. The bed was saturated so were all my clothes.
    On the desk there was a brand new (2013) MBP, A Sony camera, a MIDI controller, a DJ mixer, two power boards, an assortment of power supplies and an Airport Express box, as well as two WD backup disks.
    Once I opened the window (yes, in some countries you CAN open hotel windows!) I picked up the MBP, turned it off while water was pouring out of the bottom enclosure cooling slots. I wiped it with a towel, which was wet as well. The camera battery compartment had water in it, the mixer, once tipped, also turned out to be flooded.
    Quietly hoping the hotel would replace anything broken I did not do any dance footwork. Moved the gear to a new room, and the next day started and used all the electrical equipment with the hotel manager present.
    And guess what? Everything worked, 100%! No problems, no shorting, nothing. The camera required a sensor clean, that’s all.
    Maybe the steam settled on the bodies of the equipment rather than flood the components, I don’t know, however seeing water gushing out of the vents of the MBP gave me a bit of rush I must say.

  16. Karen says:

    I spilt a full glass of water over my MBP. Immediately powered it off and turned it over. Water poured out. Then I placed it in a storage container filled with rice. I left it for 4 days- computer open and setting on top of rice. When I opened the box and powered up my computer, it worked! And has been working for 3 yrs since that time with no problems.

  17. Sidrit says:

    Hello guys,

    A year ago i spilled a cafe late with SUGAR on my Mac book pro Retina (2013). After turning it off and drying it upside down i turned it successfully on. The only traces of the spill were to be found on the sticky keys on my keybord which i managed to clean by removing all of them one by one. Today, a year from the damage i would like to ask you guys whether you think i am of the hook or there might be some corrosion inside my MAC?

    FYI The mac is working perfectly in all aspects: Sound, Battery, speed, ports and so on. Not a single irregularity so far.

    Thank you in advance

    MacBook Pro with Retina display, OS X Mavericks (10.9.4)

  18. Rocky says:

    My two year old kid pissed on my MacBook Pro. It was in off state, trying to dry it off with mild hot air.

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