Help me, I spilled water on my Mac!

I don’t think I need to tell you that giving your computer a bath isn’t a good idea, but I can tell you what you should do if that happens, and what to do before your computer gets wet. But be sure to act quickly! The water itself isn’t always the direct problem, it’s the corrosion that can rear its ugly head months or years later. So the trick is to dry the computer as quickly as possible to reduce the amount of corrosion. In my experience, about half of the time a doused computer will at least partially revive, even if it takes a week or two.

Any sort of liquid can be disastrous, but acidic beverages such as tea, coffee, juice, wine, or beer can be even worse for your electronics.

What to do immediately

  1. Unplug everything from the computer.
  2. Do NOT try to turn your computer on or plug it into power until it has fully dried out, which can take 2 to 3 days. Water + electricity = bad.
  3. Dab up water with something absorbent like a paper towel. Use the corners to get into the keyboard and wick the water out.
  4. If possible remove the bottom panel from your MacBook so that that air can more easily circulate. Starting in about 2012 MacBooks use a proprietary screwdriver, so if you don’t have one of these lying around or you don’t know someone with one, you may have to do the best you can by ventilating through the keyboard. If I’m available I might be able to meet with you and open the computer for maximum airflow.
  5. With the lid open, set the computer on the side (see the photo below), leaving the computer in front of a fan for at least two to three days. Don’t use an air conditioner because that can cause condensation. Don’t use a heater or hairdryer because heat and static can damage the electronics.
  6. Keep waiting. Many computers recover from water damage in 2 to 3 days. But sometimes I’ve seen it take as long as two weeks.

Days? I need to get to my files now!

There is a good chance that I am able to remove the drive from your computer and get access to your files in a pinch, assuming it is one with the older style USB ports. Occasionally I may also have a loaner computer as well. If you have been using cloud storage such as Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, or iCloud Drive, you may be able to access your files through another computer without my help.

Unfortunately, if you have a computer with the new USB-C ports our options to recover your data are extremely limited. Not because of the ports themselves, but because those ports came out at the same time that Apple redesigned many of their computers so the storage is no longer removable.

What to do next

After waiting several days and you’re sure the computer is fully dry, try turning the computer on. If it works, great! But remember that since your computer has been exposed to water, corrosion is likely to shorten the lifespan of your computer. You should have been anyway, but now it’s even more important to make sure that you back up with Time Machine regularly.

If you are unable to get the computer working we can try to recover your data. Book an appointment with me (or another local Mac support company if you’re not in San Francisco) and I would be happy to attempt an extraction of the data and restore it to an external hard drive or directly to a new Mac. It would be helpful to let me know the exact model or better yet serial number of the computer ahead of time.

Unfortunately for most notebook models beginning in late 2015 (models with the new USB-C ports), the drives are no longer removable, so if the computer doesn’t turn on there is nothing I am able to do. In some cases, Apple might be able to use some proprietary tools to extract your data. Book an appointment with them. This is why maintaining a Time Machine backup is extremely important.

Maybe you have insurance

It’s worth considering what insurance might cover your damaged computer. Depending on how you are covered, you might be advised by the insurer to handle the situation in a particular way.

If you have AppleCare+, you might be able to get your computer replaced at the cost of the $299 deductible. AppleCare+ covers water damage from spills but not from submersion. If you aren’t sure if your computer is still under AppleCare+ you can look it up. Then contact Apple to schedule an appointment.

If you purchased your computer with a good credit card in you might be at least partially covered by purchase protection or an extended warranty. Contact your issuing bank to find out what they might be able to do.

Traditional insurance such as homeowners, renters, flood, or business insurance might help out depending on the circumstances of the water damage and your specific policy, but given the high deductible these often have this might only be a viable option if you have an extremely expensive computer or if you have water damage to more than just your computer. Generally, insurance will not cover accidental damage if you knock a glass of water on your computer, but they might if it was caused by a leaking pipe or a flood.

Before you spill water on your computer

If you’re finding this article now you’re probably already at the point where you’ve got a problem. But in the future, these tips will help you to avoid or at least more gracefully recover from water and liquid damage:

  • Always keep a backup of your computer. I highly recommend Time Machine. This works with any USB hard drive. Just plug it in, configure it in System Preferences, and any time your backup drive is connected your computer will back itself up. You can’t leave it plugged in too much since it will just back up as you work. If you unexpectedly damage your computer this can be plugged into a new Mac and within a few hours, you’ll be up and running with the same files, software, and settings. But of course only since you last backed up your computer. If you only back up once a month you might lose the past month’s work. Cloud backups can be useful but they aren’t as easy to recover and they don’t back up your software and settings.
  • Always try to purchase valuable items with a good credit card. Purchase Protection and the Extended Warranty are huge perks that few people take advantage of. Depending on your terms you can sometimes get 1 to 2 years added to the warranty, which usually includes the manufacturer’s extended warranty such as the 3-year AppleCare+. So best-case scenario you might be covered for 5 years total. If you rotate cards for sign-on bonuses be aware that canceling a card also cancels the protections for purchases on that card.
  • A keyboard cover such as those from UPPERCASE can help. Water can still seep in the edges or through other gaps in the computer body, but a silicone cover can reduce the amount of water that manages to make its way in, thus increasing the chances of recovery.
  • Avoid using a standard mug or glass of water where you work. I’m a fan of Contigo‘s Autoseal travel mugs and water bottles, which require you to hold a button when you drink. It’s not as arduous as it sounds; the button is placed where you would naturally put your thumb when you grip the bottle. As long as you have no trouble with your grip these should work well.