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What To Do – And What Not To Do – If Liquid Spills on Your Laptop

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It's not the end of the world, but it might be the end of your laptop. Here's how to handle a spill.

It’s been a bit of a rough month at Carolyn Castiglia headquarters. First I had to scrimp to pay my cable bill so that I could once again work from home instead of dragging my child to Starbucks in the evenings just to get a blog post finished. Then I got sick with some kind of virus which gave me a 103 degree fever (don’t worry – I tweeted the whole thing if you want to review all the nail-biting excitement). Of course the kid got sick, too, and her fever spiked to 104 one day. We’re both feeling better now, although with lingering fatigue, coughs and congestion.

But that’s not the worst of what has plagued us this month. The worst bit is that my daughter spilled water on my laptop, and now it’s broken. It was a total accident – she’s only 6 – and being the precocious little thing she is, she took it upon herself to simply clean the spill up without telling me that it happened. By the time I figured it out (the couch around the laptop was wet), I looked and saw that the laptop was dry, that it hadn’t shorted out and everything seemed fine. So I did nothing. Big mistake.

Here’s what you should do if you or someone you love spills liquid on your laptop:

1. Flip the laptop upside down and drain any liquid from the keys. Then grab a paper towel or cloth and sop up any remaining liquid.

2. Unplug the power cord, pull out the battery and remove any external devices. This is essential – you must remove the battery right away even if your machine looks fine. Take it from me. This is where I screwed up. I left the machine out and on overnight, assuming the spill was minimal and all moisture had been soaked up by my 6-year-old child and her toilet paper save. Dumb, dumb, dumb. I woke up to a machine that was typing on its own the next morning. The L and O keys were stuck for some reason. My computer was literally lllllllllllllooooooooooooooollllllllllllling at me.

3. Flip the laptop upside down to dry. DO NOT USE COMPRESSED AIR OR A HAIR DRYER in an effort to dry the machine. Compressed air can make the problem worse (or so I was informed by a member of the Geek Squad – only *after* I tried it) and heat from a hair dryer can melt the plastic components of your machine. You’ll need to leave it off and in “drying” mode for 5 – count ‘em – 5 days. If what was spilled was something other than water – like coffee, soda or wine – see WikiHow for more info about removing residue.

4. Do NOT try to soak up any moisture using rice. Yes, it works for cell phones, but according to a friend who stuck her wet laptop in a bin of rice, “got rice in my computer and it sounded like a rain maker!” It cost her $800 to fix her brand new laptop. Which brings me to my next point…

5. Know your warranty status! Call the manufacturer about it. If you’ve got a spill on your hands and you are out of warranty, you’re not going to get a replacement laptop sent to you for free, but the company will probably try to cut you a deal in helping you get it fixed. It’s going to be a lengthy and costly process – you’ll have to ship the laptop – they’ll have to fix it and ship it back – so you may want to use a more local option, like a repair shop or the Geek Squad at Best Buy.

6. Go to Best Buy and buy a new laptop. If you need a new laptop anyway and the spill is really just your final excuse to upgrade, then get a new laptop from wherever you want. But if you get a new laptop at Best Buy, you have 14 days to return it, no questions asked. That way, if your laptop dries out after five days and seems to be in working order, you can return the new laptop and get your money back.

I’m hoping my laptop will dry out and that I’ll be able to return this new laptop I’m working on, but I guarantee you that after 5 days of working on this machine I’m going to want it to be mine forever, even though I can’t afford it. It’s got a big, beautiful screen, and I like the way the keyboard is laid out. Plus the webcam has face recognition – whatever that means. Don’t all webcams recognize your face? It doesn’t matter. It’s got DVD SuperMulti. I don’t know what that is, but I like the sound of it. Most importantly, this laptop is dry.

One final note: DON’T freak out too horribly on your kid, your loved one or yourself for spilling on your laptop. Accidents happen, and this is why companies like Geek Squad offer accident protection. You may want to consider adding it the next time you buy an expensive piece of equipment. And think about adding on to your one-year warranty, too. In the end, we have to realize our most expensive pieces of technology are also the most vulnerable items in a work-from-home environment. Do you have rules in place to try to protect your valuable equipment from the tyranny of your children and your caffeine/wine habit?

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Carolyn Castiglia is a comedian and blogger. You can check out the rest of her web presence here. She lives in Brooklyn with her 6-year-old daughter and their wet laptop.

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