You know you shouldn’t, but you do.
You check your email every morning with the day’s first cup of coffee at your elbow, and wind down in the evening with a little facebooking and a glass of chardonnay perched nearby. Your latté and laptop share a table at Starbucks, and when you’re on an airplane, everything’s crowded together on the fold-down tray .
Sooner or later, beverages and laptops cross paths.
If it’s running normally on the battery, shut down in your usual way and remove the battery. If there’s a burning smell, smoke, or sparks, turn it off by any means possible and get that battery out.
Disconnect any other drives or devices that are connected to your laptop.
Invert the laptop to drain any excess liquid to prevent it from coming into contact with the screen. And wait.
It’s a bit of a crap shoot.
The laptop could eventually power up without skipping a beat or there could be complete ruination. If you opt to bring it in for a professional repair, just know that liquid damage is almost never covered by the warranty—even Apple Care and other extended service contracts—and they will know.
Of course nobody relishes the disruption of their activity, and there is the possible expense to repair or replace, but it could be worse (think superglue or maple syrup). And you’re not worried about your data because you back up religiously, right? Just in case (no lectures, no recriminations) you can contact a data-recovery company like DriveSavers. You’d better be desperate, because you’ll pay dearly for this service.
Still waiting. You really don’t want to power up for a good 72 hours after it’s completely disgorged the liquid. Every day or so you can give the laptop a gentle jiggle to drain any trapped fluid. Some people swear by hair dryers to speed up the process, but unless the spill was water, you run the risk of baking the liquid’s sugars and impurities right into the computer’s innards. Stick to air-drying, and resist the temptation to try it out too soon.
You’re back online and it’s all looking good. You know that nothing fried on contact, but there could still be damage that has yet to be revealed.
If you spilled water, you should be fine. Anything else—coffee, tea, soda, juice—and you’ve got potentially corrosive sugar or acid residue in there. Unless you’re totally confident in your ability to take your computer apart and swab the components with distilled water or denatured alcohol, take it to a professional for a thorough cleaning.
An ounce of prevention…. Lifehacker gives us The Best Foods (and Strategies) for Eating at Your Computer.