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Few things can give you that sinking feeling like spilling water on your beloved MacBook Pro.
Not only is your Mac expensive, but you rely on it for school or work or leisure. So the suddenness of the spill might leave you panicking that your laptop could be ruined in an instant.
But what if the computer is still running?
Should you be worried?
I’m Andrew Gilmore, a former Apple Macintosh Certified Technician. In my fifteen years in Information Technology, I’ve seen it all–including water damaged computers.
In this article, we’ll discuss the 13 steps you should take immediately after your MacBook Pro comes into contact with water.
Let’s dive in (without bringing your MacBook Pro underwater).
1. Turn Off the MacBook Pro
Time is critical when you spill water on your MacBook, even if the laptop appears to be functioning properly.
The first thing you should do is turn off the computer immediately. Locate the power button (in the top right corner of your keyboard) and press and hold it until the MacBook Pro shuts off.
Your biggest risk of permanent damage to the computer is leaving electrical current running through a wet logic board. Such is a recipe for fried circuits.
Depending on the amount and location of the water, there’s a possibility that the power button will no longer function. If this is the case, unplug the computer from the AC charger if present and close the lid.
Doing so will put the MacBook into a sleep state, which is the next best thing to turning it off.
2. Unplug the AC Adapter
If your MacBook Pro was plugged into the charger at the time of the accident, unplug the charger first from the wall, then from your Mac if you haven’t done so already.
If the spill was anywhere near the AC outlet, take extreme caution when removing the adapter from the wall since there is a risk of electric shock. If the amount of water is excessive, remove the charger from the MacBook first.
Use rubber gloves when removing the charger from the wall if necessary to prevent conduction.
3. Unplug Installed Peripherals
Remove anything physically plugged into the MacBook Pro.
Disconnect any adapters, iOS devices, printers, and keyboards.
4. Remove the Mac from the Water Source
Lift and remove the Mac from the site of the spill to separate the computer from any liquid that might have pooled on your desk or tablet where the Mac was sitting.
If you dropped the computer in water like a bath or hot tub, obviously this is your first step.
While moving the MacBook Pro, take care to leave the laptop in the upright position (with the keyboard parallel to the floor). Resist the temptation to tilt, shake, or flip over the Mac to drain excess water.
We will flip over the Mac in step 6, but doing so at this stage could actually introduce more water to the internal components. Just leave the computer upright for now.
5. Towel Dry Visible Moisture
Using a towel or paper towels, absorb any visible moisture pooled on the device.
Check the IO ports and crevices between the keyboard keys. Pay special attention to any fan openings, since these holes lead directly to the logic board.
Be careful not to press the power button while drying the MacBook. Turning on the computer while wet could have fatal consequences.
If you do accidentally turn on the Mac, press and hold the power button to force shutdown the computer.
6. Turn the MacBook Upside Down
Once all visible external moisture is removed, flip the MacBook upside down to allow any internal fluid to drain out.
Lay a dry towel on the edge of a desk, open the laptop to a 90-degree angle, and rest the screen on the towel with the keyboard hanging off the edge.
Of course, ensure that the MacBook Pro is properly balanced so that the computer won’t come crashing down to the ground. The last thing you want is even more damage to occur.
Achieving proper balance might require adjusting the angle of the display or placing some weight on the top case to keep the laptop in place. Don’t add much weight or you’ll risk cracking the display.
If you had to close your MacBook lid in step 1 because the power button would not work, opening the case in this step might wake the computer up again. If that happens, place a thin towel or paper towel between the keyboard and screen, and close the lid again. Then place the Macbook Pro on a table upside down (with the Apple logo on the bottom).
You may have heard of the tent method, in which you open the laptop’s lid at a 45-degree angle and rest both the top edge of the screen and bottom edge of the MacBook (below the keyboard) on a table.
This method can work, but the risk is that water will make its way into the display and cause streaks or watermarks.
7. Blow Cool Air on the Device
Use some type of fan to blow cool air towards the MacBook. Doing so will encourage the dehumidification process.
8. Wait for the Computer to Dry
Allow the MacBook Pro to rest until dry. How long should you wait?
The answer depends on a variety of factors including how much water came in contact with the computer and the humidity levels of your climate, among others.
The general consensus is 24-48 hours. I’d wait at least two full days unless the spillage was minimal.
9. Turn on the MacBook Pro
After a couple days of drying out, flip the MacBook Pro right side up and try turning it on.
If the device turns on, sigh with relief, but you’re not out of the woods yet. If it won’t turn on, don’t panic. Skip to step 12.
10. Back Up Your Data
Once you get logged in to your MacBook, immediately back up any data you don’t already have stored somewhere else. (You are using Time Machine and iCloud Drive, right?)
We do this for a couple of reasons.
First, just because your MacBook is functioning now, doesn’t mean it will continue working properly. Even assuming the logic board and other internal components are 100% dry, leftover minerals from the water spill can cause corrosion over time, so your Mac could die at any time.
Second, if you need to take the computer to Apple or another repair center, they likely won’t (or can’t) back up your data for you.
We’d hate to see you lose all those photos from your trip to Panama City Beach last year. (But seriously, you are using iCloud Drive, right?)
11. Run Hardware Diagnostics
Once you have everything you need backed up, it’s a good idea to run Apple hardware diagnostics on your MacBook.
On Macs with Intel processors: with the computer turned off, press and hold the D key on the keyboard while powering on the MacBook to get to the diags.
On Macs with Apple Silicon: with the computer turned off, press and hold the power button until you see startup options. Then press Command (⌘) and D on the keyboard.
If all tests pass you’re in good shape, but again future damage is still possible due to corrosion. You might still pursue service options if your MacBook is high-dollar. (See step 12 below.)
12. Submit an AppleCare+ Claim
If you have AppleCare+ coverage on your MacBook, you can file up to two accidental claims per year. At the time of writing a water spill comes with a $299 deductible plus applicable tax.
If your MacBook Pro is less than a few years old, it’s worth filing a claim, even if everything is working properly. Of course, you could always wait for something to fail and then file the claim. Just make sure your coverage won’t lapse before you have a chance to have the computer repaired.
13. Contact an Authorized Repair Center
If your MacBook Pro isn’t working properly and you don’t have AppleCare+, you will need to contact a repair shop.
In addition to Apple Stores, Apple Authorized Service Providers (AASPs) are certified to provide service to MacBooks like yours.
Since a water spill voids any warranty you have on the computer outside of AppleCare+, you don’t have to use an AASP, but these shops specialize in Apple repair so they still might be your best option.
Even if everything is working on your MacBook, it might behoove you to call a few repair shops and get an estimate on what it would cost to inspect and clean the logic board, if necessary.
But if they inspect the MacBook and tell you you need to replace the logic board, don’t agree to the repair. If everything is working, why spend the money to replace the board? I would keep using the device until it fails (if it fails). At that time you could determine whether it is worth the cost to repair the laptop.
What Not to Do
Some of your initial instincts or advice you’ve heard from other people are downright wrong. Here are some things to avoid doing after spilling water on your MacBook.
Don’t shake the computer
Water could spread even more across internal components.
Don’t use a blow dryer
You will probably do more damage than good (unless the dryer is set on the cool setting).
Don’t pack the laptop in rice
Just don’t do it. Rice will have little effect on the problem, and you’ll likely end up with some rice inside the MacBook.
Here are a couple other questions you might have regarding accidental damage to your MacBook Pro.
What if I spilled something other than water?
Spilling just about anything other than water can have devastating effects on your MacBook Pro, especially if the liquid has sugar (including lactose in dairy drinks) or if the drink was especially hot.
My advice is to follow the same basic steps above, but you will probably want to have the internal components cleaned or replaced depending on the severity of the spill.
Can you fix a MacBook with water damage?
Unless you have experience disassembling laptops or else the MacBook has little value, I would recommend having a professional work on your Mac. The website iFixit has teardown guides for most MacBook models.
The key with water damage is time. Once corrosion occurs on the internal components, it’s very difficult (if not impossible) to repair. At this point, it is usually necessary to replace the damaged parts.
But if the components can be cleaned prior to corrosion setting in, you might be able to prevent any permanent damage.
Act Quickly When Spills Occur
When water spills on your MacBook Pro, it’s important to take precautions even if everything seems to be working fine.
Shut down the computer as soon as possible, allow it to dry, and consider a professional cleaning or inspection of the components if you can find a repair service that will do so for a reasonable cost.
Have you ever spilled anything on your MacBook? What steps did you take to resolve the problem?About Andrew Gilmore