This post is for those of us who’ve had the unfortunate experience of spilling beer on their laptop. It may seem like the end of the world but it is possible to recover from this with a little bit of patience – and probably more of your favorite brew on hand.
If you spilled beer on your laptop keyboard, turn your laptop off immediately. Flip it over to prevent the beer from getting into the electronics, using a towel to soak up the beer. Wipe the laptop down with isopropyl alcohol, then remove the back cover and allow it to dry completely. Once you’ve confirmed the laptop still works, clean the keys.
Read on to learn exactly how to deal with spilled beer on a laptop keyboard.
What to do when you spill beer on your laptop
Some of you may remember when laptops first came out. They were bulky, the battery lasted about two hours before you had to desperately hunt for a wall outlet, and they generally had keys that were very similar to the keyboard used for a desktop PC.
Modern laptops aren’t like that anymore. Their keyboards have been replaced with chiclet keys which are flatter, quieter, and softer in feel. These are called membrane-type keyboards.
Once used mainly for industrial applications, laptop manufacturers soon realized their advantage in weight savings and protection against the environment. The key lies in its name – the membrane also helps protect the rest of the hardware inside the laptop. It isn’t complete protection, especially against liquids, but certainly better than older keyboards.
If you have spilled beer on your laptop keyboard, follow these steps to get it clean and (hopefully) get it working again:
- Turn the laptop off immediately
- Flip the laptop over
- Use a towel to soak up excess beer
- Wipe down the laptop with 70% or higher isopropyl alcohol
- Remove the back cover of the laptop and blow air down into the body
- Allow the laptop to dry for at least 2 hours
- Turn on the laptop and check for damage
- Remove and clean underneath sticky keys
- Monitor for additional damage over time
Turn the laptop off immediately
If you spilled beer (or any liquid) into your laptop keyboard, turn your computer off immediately.
Yes, immediately. Don’t worry about saving any work. Hit the power button and shut everything down.
You want to make sure you’ve stopped any electrical current flowing from the battery to the motherboard and any peripheral devices.
It may suck but your immediate choice is to start your work all over again or replace the entire laptop because you’ve fried the electronics.
Flip the laptop over to help prevent beer from going inside the laptop
Gravity is your friend here.
You should be able to push the screen back enough so that the laptop is as flat as possible.
If for some reason that you can’t, place the screen at a 90-degree angle and hang it over the edge of a table while the keyboard remains flat. You’ll need to hold it there to make sure it doesn’t drop.
Since the laptop is upside down, now would be a good time to remove the battery. This is typically the first step in removing the back cover anyway, which you’ll probably need to do to access the keyboard.
Use a towel to soak up excess beer from the laptop
Place a towel under the keyboard and allow it to soak the beer that will start draining out.
Resist the temptation to press the laptop down towards the towel or the towel towards the keyboard. You may end up squeezing the beer further into the laptop body.
Wipe down the laptop with 70% or higher isopropyl alcohol
Once you feel like almost all of the liquid has drained out, you can try and use rubbing alcohol to try and draw out more of the spilled beer.
Be warned that the alcohol might discolor your keys! If you don’t want to risk this, skip this step and I’ll show you another way to dry out the rest of the beer.
What you’ll need is a bottle of 70% isopropyl alcohol, which you can buy at any local pharmacy. You should also get cotton pads which are sturdier than cotton balls.
You will be applying alcohol repeatedly and cotton balls tend to leave their fibers behind. A cotton rag or old t-shirt would probably work just as well.
Isopropyl alcohol evaporates at room temperature. By applying it to the keyboard, the evaporation will cause it to draw out more of the beer in its liquid state.
Because alcohol evaporates at such a low temperature, it doesn’t take long to completely disappear. In order to keep drawing the liquid out, you will probably need to apply it several times until you feel reasonably sure that the beer has completely dried out.
Remove the back cover of the laptop and blow air down into the body
Take a look at the image below. I’ve removed the rear shell of the laptop and turned it upside down again.
Use a blow dryer (heat off) and blow it down. The positive air pressure will drive the remaining liquid downwards towards the surface of the keyboard.
Any source of air will do, even a ceiling fan – but that would obviously take more time. Note that the only thing I forgot to do before taking the picture is to open up the screen and set it flat again.
Allow the laptop to dry for at least 2 hours
If you didn’t use the alcohol trick or blow air into the opened back of the laptop, it will probably take about two hours for the beer to dry out.
Again, this is just a general guideline and depends on the amount spilled.
Hopefully, you’ve kept it turned upside down on top of a towel like in the earlier image. Peek under there and thoroughly check the spaces between the keys. A flashlight might help as the light will bounce off any liquid.
If you feel reasonably safe that it’s dry, you can go ahead and check to make sure the laptop is still functional.
Replace the back cover temporarily. If you had to undo a bunch of screws for the cover, put enough back on to keep it in place for now.
Flip the laptop right side up.
You can either reattach the battery or plug in the power supply. Some laptops only require a wall connection to power up.
Turn on the laptop to check for damage
Before you turn on the laptop, think carefully about what the normal process should be when you boot up. You need to be ready to note anything out of the ordinary before you hit the power switch.
Go ahead and power up the laptop.
If everything goes as planned, the only thing you might see is a message that the laptop wasn’t shut down properly.
This can happen if you turn it off by the power switch instead of using the menu on the user desktop.
Make sure your network is showing up normally and you may want to check other peripherals like your camera and Bluetooth devices (if any).
I would also take this time to back up any immediate critical files that you don’t want to risk losing. If you had something you were working on, copy it to the cloud or a thumb drive for now.
I am not suggesting you back up your entire drive (hence the immediate description). That kind of work takes a lot of processing time and we are still assessing your laptop for damage.
Grabbing a couple of files should be ok and you should take this opportunity to think about a comprehensive backup routine.
Power down normally if there are no problems observed.
If something does not work or doesn’t behave normally, you may need to have a qualified technician look at it. Hardware damage is beyond the scope of this article.
Remove and clean underneath sticky keys
Unplug the laptop from any power sources and remove the back cover. To access the keyboard, there are generally screws you need to undo so that it can be released.
In the case of our demo laptop (an old HP Elitebook), there were 3 screws that needed to be loosened. Once they were undone, I flipped the laptop over and removed the trim surrounding the keys.
The trim is snapped in place but it required a really small screwdriver and a pick in order to work it loose. The pick was made of polymer so it didn’t scratch the surface.
Once I was able to remove the trim surrounding the keyboard, I had clear access to the membrane. This would allow me to clean out any residue stuck underneath the trim and on the keys and membrane.
I could also lift out the entire keyboard in case any beer made it past the membrane. It’s always a good idea to check anyway.
You don’t need to get fancy with a cleaning solution. Water in a cup with a couple of drops of dish soap will be fine. Use a cotton swab to apply and make sure it’s not dripping wet.
Monitor for additional damage over time
With a little bit of luck, you’ve prevented any kind of permanent damage to your machine.
We’ve confirmed that it is working normally, so now would be an excellent time to back up everything you think is important.
Continue to keep an eye on your machine and be on the lookout for any behavior out of the ordinary.
Recommending a backup process is beyond the scope of this article but there are plenty of products of varying costs to meet your needs.
The key thing to keep in mind is that you may not be completely out of the woods but you’ve taken timely action to mitigate damage and prevent loss of your files.
So grab another brew in celebration – just try and keep it from ending up on your keyboard.