By: David Sewell, President, Sewelltech, Inc

December 07, 2015 10:04 am EST
Coffee spilled on laptop

Liquid spills are the root cause of most (60 percent) of laptop repairs. The average cost to fix a dead-on-arrival laptop computer from a liquid spill is a staggering $600 on average. The following is a list of the top 10 liquid spills that damage laptops and notebook computers and advice to their owners on what to do should they spill liquid on their computers.

#10: Nail Polish Remover (less than 1 percent of spills)

This liquid is designed to dissolve lacquer, so it easily dissolves the coating on your notebook computer’s internal logic board—faster than you can accidentally change lanes while painting your toenails.

#9: Bodily Fluids (1 percent of spills)

Yes, one woman claimed breast milk killed her laptop. Most common bodily fluids that kill laptop computers cannot be listed here—we’ll leave this up to your imagination.

#8: Hard liquor (2 percent of spills)

Hard liquor runs the gamut from pure ethyl alcohol (Grey Goose or Kettle One vodka) to syrupy, sugary goodness (brandy, White Russians, Pina Coladas, and others). The more sugar in the drink, the worse the corrosion will be to your laptop’s internal parts. The sugar, usually sucrose, dries to form a natural bridge across circuits, assuring a very sweet short circuit.

#7: Hot Tea (3 percent of spills)

The tannic acid is again an effective conductor that will bridge circuits, create shorts, and burn out components.

#6: Sea Water (5 percent of spills)

Salt water is among nature’s best conductors and one of the most corrosive liquids known to man. It’s the NaCl (sodium chloride) that works the magic. Ever wonder why most ocean-going vessels not painted faithfully look like floating buckets of rust? Dear Lord, leave your computer in your hotel room on vacation. Ocean versus laptop? Ocean wins every time.

#5: Beer (6 percent of spills)

Beer drinkers can’t seem to hold their liquor around their laptops either. Beer is part water, part sugar, part brown goo. American lagers, along with Mexican beers such as Corona or Dos Equis, are lighter than many imported brands are and as such may do less damage to laptops than other types of beers would.

#4: Wine (10 percent of spills)

It seems laptop owners drink even more wine than beer. Wine is the double-fisted Kung Fu punch of liquid spills—sugar and acid combine into a corrosion stew. Like the hard liquors mentioned above in #9, wines contain ethyl alcohol (12–20%) along with remnants of the processing, including yeast, sugar, sulfite preservatives, grape parts, and acetaldehyde. In combination, these work as both a corrosive soup and a circuit shorter.

Tip for wine lovers: If you plan to drink and surf the web, may we suggest a nice white instead of red? In our experience, a light Pinot Grigio or gentle chardonnay does slightly less damage than does a rich, tannic cabernet sauvignon.

#3: Soda (12 percent of spills)

Coke and Diet Coke drinkers seem to spill a great number of drinks on their laptops. Perhaps it’s the caffeine? Soft drinks are extra corrosive due to the sugar and acidity (dissolved CO2) of the liquid, which we are told works well in cleaning rust off of bicycle wheel rims . . .

#2: Water (20 percent of spills)

Ironically, it’s not the water that’s the problem—it’s what’s in the water. Laptop boards are often completely immersed in a liquid called “ultra-pure” to clean damage from liquid spills, including water. Tap or bottled water contains minerals, which account for its conductivity and its ability to cause corrosion, leading to the death of your laptop. You may recall from your high school chemistry days that distilled water will not conduct electricity, but add a few grains of salt or other mineral and, voila, we have a short circuit.

#1 Most Common killer of laptop computers: coffee (40 percent of all spills)

Perhaps it’s because we drink coffee to wake up and are often still clumsy in the mornings, or maybe it’s because our hands are shaking from all the caffeine. Either way, spilled coffee on laptops kills computers with its complex brew of exotic chemicals, caffeine, cafestol, caffeic acid, and myriad additives such as dairy cream, powered cream, sugar, Aspartame (Equal), saccharine, sucralose (Splenda), and more.

Expert tip: For some unknown reason, Starbucks coffee drinkers lead in incidences of spilling the black magic liquid into their laptops, followed closely by Dunkin Donuts coffee drinkers. We recommend laptop users drink their coffee black. No sugar means less corrosion.

Our advice if you’ve spilled liquid on a laptop:

Unplug the computer and remove the battery: Your computer uses electricity, even when the main power is off. The presence of that electric current accelerates the corrosive process that damages the internal circuit boards.

Don’t place your laptop in a bag of rice to try to dry it out; this method does not work. Doing so only prolongs the circuit board’s contact with corrosive materials that will exacerbate the damage. In addition, your repair tech will be forced to pick out rice chunks from the inside of the unit.

DO ship it overnight or bring it to a repair tech immediately. Having liquid spills cleaned professionally within days of their occurrence can save your computer 90 percent of the time.

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author(s). Core Compass’s Terms Of Use applies.

About the author

David Sewell is the President and owner of Sewelltech, Inc., an Apple Value Added Reseller based in Dallas, Texas. David founded Sewelltech in 1994 after graduating the Colorado Institute of Art with a degree in graphic arts and photography where his technical skills lead to being engaged to manage the computer labs. David can be contacted by phone at 214-845-8198 or through the Contact Form on Sewelltech's website.

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