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