Spilled Drink on Laptop: What to Do

22nd Jul 2019

Top Spills That Damage Laptops

We’ve all had those mornings where it seems like nothing is going right, we don’t have enough time, and we’re moving too quickly. It’s these types of mornings when we’re more likely to spill something on our laptops. A spilled drink on laptops is potentially fatal to your machine. A small amount of liquid might be ok, but when a whole cup of coffee is dumped on the keyboard and gets into the internal components of the computer, it’s bad news. Spilled wine on laptops, or spilled tea on laptops, are other common sources of a laptop’s early demise.

At OC Rugged Laptops, we offer a collection of new and  refurbished rugged laptops, water resistant laptops, Toughbooks, and more. When your job takes you all over the place, or when you have to work with heavy machinery, bumpy rides, extreme temperatures, or other elements, then you need a laptop that you don’t have to worry about! And you also won’t have to worry about spilling drinks on your laptop.

Let’s take a look at the most common drink spills (and other types of liquid exposure) that damage laptops, and what to do if you spill a drink on your laptop.

Most Common Spills That Damage Laptops

Common Spills That Damage Laptops

Nail Polish Remover

Anyone who has used nail polish remover will recognize the intense smell and understand that the liquid contains some very harsh chemicals. The active ingredient in this liquid is often acetone, a solvent that can disintegrate plastic. In non-acetone removers, ethyl acetate is used, which is a flammable chemical. If nail polish remover is spilled on your laptop, it can very quickly dissolve internal components. So when you’re home removing your old nail polish, it’s best to keep your computer in another area.


If you had a hard day at work and want to unwind with a drink, that’s great! Go for it. Just remember to keep your computer stored away for the night. Any drink will be bad for your computer if it’s spilled, including liquor. Besides, liquor is too expensive to become a spilled drink on your laptop.


Spilled tea on laptops? This one is more problematic than you might think, even if the tea contains no sugar or cream. Tannins, or tannic acid, can be found in a variety of drinks, including wine and coffee. Tannins give these drinks a slightly bitter taste. Because tannic acid is a conductor, when tea lands on your computer, it can lead to short circuits and burnt out components.

Unless you have a rugged laptop that is water-resistant or waterproof, try to avoid drinking tea at your computer. Spilled tea on laptops can be a huge source of the very stress and frustration that tea is usually so good at calming.


This one isn’t technically a drink! Whether you’re on vacation or if you work on a boat in the ocean, you’ll want to avoid getting salt water on your computer. Salt is a great conductor and can be extremely corrosive, which is why metals that come in contact with salt can rust. Sodium chloride works to break down surfaces and any liquid will seep into your computer, causing all sorts of problems.


Even though most beers don’t actually taste sweet, sugar is an essential ingredient in beer, and it’s no different from other spilled drinks on laptops in that it can cause a lot of damage. Sugar aids in the fermentation process, giving beer its alcohol content. So just like sugary cocktails, drinking beer should only be for times when you are not working on your computer.


Spilled wine on laptops? It happens more often than you might think. A glass of wine and browsing the internet sounds like a relaxing idea, until you reach over and tip the glass onto your laptop’s keyboard. Because of certain ingredients, wine is actually one of the more damaging liquids when it comes to spilling drinks on a laptop. Wine contains sugar, ethyl alcohol, yeast, sulfite preservatives, grape parts, and acetaldehyde, which is what gives wine its aroma. The combination of these ingredients, mixed with your laptop, is a recipe for disaster.

If you regularly drink wine while working on your laptop, try to stick with whites, as they tend to cause slightly less damage. That said, spilled wine on laptops is best avoided entirely.


Soft drinks are some of the worst beverages when it comes to spilled drinks on laptops. Whether they’re diet or regular, these are highly corrosive liquids as they contain sugar and acids, making them dangerous for your laptop.

If you need a boost of energy and want to get in some caffeine, take a break outside and put away your laptop first.


On its own, water is the least problematic liquid when it comes to a spilled drink on a laptop. However, it’s not harmless. Everything except distilled water contains minerals that can cause damage to your computer.

Mineral water has even more minerals, as does sparkling water. These aren’t as bad as spilled wine on a laptop or spilled tea on a laptop, to say nothing of spilled soda or juice, but they can still destroy your machine.


Not surprisingly, the most common spilled drink on laptops that damages or kills them entirely is coffee. Coffee contains a variety of ingredients that can be harmful to your laptop, including caffeine, cafestol, caffeic acid, and a variety of additives, such as creams and sugars. If you do have to drink coffee while working, make sure there is as little sugar as possible.

Spilled Drink on Laptops: What to Do When You Spill

You need to treat a spill like a property emergency. Many times, the liquid won’t penetrate and your computer will be fine. But it has the potential to destroy your laptop entirely. The thing is, you probably won’t be able to tell if the liquid penetrated or not. And if it does penetrate, you could be facing a total hardware loss. So drop whatever you were doing, and take these steps:

Act Quickly

A spilled drink on laptops is a “high-speed” emergency. You don’t have time to run and get towels. The worst damage can potentially be instantaneous, but, if it isn’t, you may only have a few seconds to react. The faster you can resolve the emergency, the better your odds of protecting your laptop.

Disconnect All Power Sources

Electric current is the biggest enemy in this scenario. A spilled drink on laptops can cause several types of harm, but the most immediate one, and the one that’s most dangerous to your computer, is the possibility of a short circuit that destroys computer components.

So the very first thing you want to do is turn the computer off. Don’t save your work. Don’t use the normal shutdown routine. Instead, unplug the computer, flip it upside down, and remove the laptop battery. Do this immediately, as fast as you can.

If you know what you are doing, at this stage you should also quickly towel-dry any visible liquid, open up the computer, and remove the CMOS battery from the mainboard. If you don’t know how to do that, or if you fear that opening the computer at this point would allow further penetration of liquid into the interior, then ignore this step and continue.

Tip: What If You Spilled Something Other Than Water?

If you spilled something other than water, such as:

  • Spilled soda on laptop
  • Spilled juice on laptop
  • Spilled wine on laptop
  • Spilled tea on laptop
  • Spilled coffee on laptop
  • Spilled milk on laptop

The next steps are the same pretty much no matter what you spilled. Anything other than water is going to leave residue when it dries, but we’ll get to that later.

Detach All Peripherals

Remove the mouse and any other loose peripherals, cables, dongles, and cords. A spilled drink on laptops can potentially damage these other components, but, even if that doesn’t happen, you’ll need to remove this stuff anyway so that you can open the laptop later. Yep, that’s right: You’ll be opening your laptop.

Keep It Upside Down

Once the power is completely out, keep the computer upside down. A spilled drink on laptops will have introduced liquid into places you won’t be able to see, but it’s a good bet that if you spilled a drink onto the top of your laptop, then turning it upside down will minimize further penetration of liquid into the interior.

Wait for the Laptop to Dry

Now you’ll play the waiting game. After the initial flurry of activity and nervousness following a spilled drink on the laptop, step away and leave the computer alone, upside down, for the rest of the day or at least a few hours. Point a fan at it if you have one. Turn off any dehumidifiers you may be running. Your goal is to dry the laptop quickly.

Open the Laptop

A spilled drink on laptops means you’ve signed up to become a computer surgeon and now it’s time for surgery. Following the owner’s manual or a reliable online resource, open up the laptop and visually inspect all the various layers.

You’ll often start by removing the RAM and hard drive, and then the keyboard tray. Most laptops are designed so that spills which seep into the keyboard are protected from reaching the rest of the laptop, as the keyboard is its own separate component with a solid back side. If the liquid you spilled is sticky, forget about trying to clean the keyboard: Order a new one. A spilled drink on laptops, if it’s sticky, is often the end of the road for a laptop keyboard because the keys will remain permanently gummed up.

Dry Visible Liquid

If you see any visible amounts of liquid, spot dry them with a dry, clean cloth towel. Do not use paper towels and do not use any kind of rubbing motion. Just place the towel onto the liquid and let capillary action soak it up.

Begin Cleaning, or Take the Computer to the Repair Shop

Now it’s time to decide whether you want to do the cleanup yourself, or take the computer to a repair shop. If the drink you spilled on your laptop is water, you should be fine: Time will evaporate any remaining water.

If you spilled nearly anything else—for instance, if you spilled wine on the laptop or spilled tea on the laptop—you will need to clean up the mess. Any stickiness, greasiness, or other residue needs to go.

To clean contaminated areas, use rubbing alcohol (not water) and a cloth towel, ideally microfiber or something without lint. Keep your rubbing actions to the absolute minimum. On the other hand, you can use the rubbing alcohol as generously as you need. It will dry completely, leaving behind no residue.

Clean everything, and let the computer dry out for another whole day.

Reassemble and Repower

It’s quite possible your laptop was destroyed in the first few seconds of a spilled drink on the laptop. Now you’re going to find out.

Reassemble the computer completely, taking care to put everything together correctly and reattach any internal components you disconnected.

Restore power and turn it on. If it works, then the odds are very good that you have averted disaster. If not...

Purchase a Rugged Laptop with a Water Resistance Feature

Many people spill drinks on their laptops, destroying the hardware and costing themselves hundreds or thousands of dollars. A water-resistant laptop design can be a great bit of foolproofing, as it makes it much harder for any kind of liquid to penetrate into the interior.

OC Rugged Laptops has great prices on a wide collection of top-quality  refurbished Panasonic Toughbooks. We refurbish them for emergency first responders, so they’re built to take a beating. In fact these military-grade devices are rated IP65, meaning they have a high degree of water resistance. Spilled drinks? Not to worry! You’ll only need to clean off the exterior of the machine.

These Toughbooks are especially useful in vehicles, where drink spills are more common. If you want a laptop for your vehicle, be sure to check out our  vehicle mounting hardware.

Spilled drinks on a laptop are supremely annoying, and that’s the best-case scenario. But they’re not the end of the world. The OC Rugged Laptops team is passionate about providing high-quality equipment that you can rely on. Whether you need a water-resistant, pressure-resistant, temperature-resistant, or drop- and shock-resistant laptop, we have what you need to get your job done without worrying about these occasional little accidents.

Contact us if you have any questions or need assistance finding a good machine for your purposes. Our customer service is second to none. We want you to get exactly the machine that meets your needs, and we offer a great amount of customization as well as several types of models.