Accidentally spilling water, coffee, tea, beer or any other liquid on your laptop is not a nice feeling. But don’t fret your data might still be recoverable.
The liquid itself doesn’t do the damage...
Here is an interesting fact: it isn’t the liquid itself that damages the
electronics, it is the salts and minerals in the liquid (known as dissolved
electrolytes) that damage the circuit. These “impurities” in the liquid –
especially those minerals, which are very good conductors – can create
deposits on the disk’s PCB and cause a short-circuit. This can result in
an unpredictable mode of operation when the device is powered up. For example, if you spill deionized water (which has been treated to remove all ions) directly in the printed circuit board (PCB) of an electronic device, no ionic reaction will occur and you can just dry the device. In fact, during the production process of the components, many manufacturers themselves use deionised water to remove flux and other residues that have been left during the soldering process.
How can liquid damage a disk’s PCB?
Water (or liquids in general) can damage PCB components in three
Corrosion is the natural degradation of metals caused by a
chemical reaction with the environment. For example, the
interaction of water and oxygen with the metals in the PCB creates
iron oxide (in other words, rust). This reaction typically occurs after
a prolonged interaction period. These mineral deposits on the PCB
can corrode metal (pins and tracks), increasing the probability of a
short circuit. This explains why a user can spill liquid on a laptop
with no immediate effect, only for the system’s motherboard or disk
to fail two months later.
IC package: the majority of integrated circuits (ICs) used on a
solid-state disk PCB have a humidity tolerance. Most of them are
sealed to some extent, but if water infiltrates them, this can cause
an internal short circuit. Moreover, the extraction of this moisture
from an IC can be extremely difficult.
Shorting of components, vias and tracks: impurities in the water
can make it conductive, and once it starts to interact with the disk’s
PCB, current flows can become very erratic. For example, the
current might take the shortest path through the water back to the
power source. This can result in a damaged PSU (power supply
unit) and damaged components due to over-voltage.
Some components are more susceptible to liquid damage than others,
including devices that use micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS).
MEMS are the integration of mechanical elements, sensors, actuators
and electronics in a common circuit with micro-fabrication technology as
accelerometers, optical devices, and piezoelectrics. These are typically
found on electro-mechanical hard disks (HDDs).
What to do if you’ve spilt water, tea, coffee, beer etc. on your laptop?
Successful repair of a water or liquid damaged SSD drive depends
on several factors, including the amount of time the liquid stays in
contact with the PCB, whether the device was powered on at the time of
the spill and the remedial actions the user took after the incident
Saving your SSD from water damage – what to do if you have spilt
water, beer, coffee, tea or any other liquid on your laptop
1) Don’t panic, keep calm, be safe: prioritise your safety.
Acting in a calm and collected manner reduces the chance of
incurring collateral damage.
2) In certain cases of accidental liquid spillage, try not to
move your laptop. This can result in the liquid getting agitated
and penetrating deeper into the circuitry of your system.
3) Turn off the device and remove its power source. This can be
done by either disconnecting from its power source or
removing all the batteries, including the CMOS battery. This is
important because voltage flowing through the device will
greatly accelerate the level of corrosion damage incurred by a
4) Try to mop up excess water around the keyboard and
laptop base. Take some paper towels or a clean rag and try
to dry up as much of the spill as you can.
5) If your SSD bay (PCIe or S-ATA) is easily accessible and
you have the tools to open your laptop, try to dry up the
excess liquid from around the SSD with a non-static cloth.
Then remove the SSD from the computer.
6) Clean the SSD with isopropyl alcohol or deionised water
with a soft brush. Make sure that all residues are removed
from the PCB components, such as resistors and diodes, and the vias and tracks. If you have access to a spread-spectrum
ultra-sonic bath, use it.
7) Always leave plenty of time to allow your SSD to dry out
properly. Avoid the temptation to switch it on to “see if it
works”. A hot-air gun at set 100C can accelerate the drying
process. Failing that, place the disk in sachets of silica gel
8) If the device, such as a laptop or hard disk, does successfully
turn on, backup the data as soon as possible. Electronics
which have been in contact with liquids cannot always be
For advanced users only: some completely counterintuitive
advice on liquid damaged SSDs.
The following advice may seem counterintuitive, but in certain
cases, it is safer to not completely dry your liquid damaged SSD! Yes,
keep the SSD moist until you send it to a recovery specialist. As
previously stated, the water/liquid itself will not damage the device, it is
the mineral content of the liquid that causes the damage. So, if you do
not dry the SSD properly, the minerals residue can dry and corrode the
PCB tracks, vias and components (capacitors, diodes etc.). This
explains why black box flight recorders recovered from a downed aircraft are kept bathed in a container of water by the salvage team. We are not suggesting that you keep your water-damaged disk submerged in a container of water but there are a number of steps you can take to prevent mineral damage.
Cover the SSD with a damp paper towel, cloth or tissue and
put it inside an airtight plastic container or bag. Preserving the
SSD in this manner will keep the device moist, minimise damage
and maximise your chances of a successful data recovery
Clean the SSD’s PCB with isopropyl alcohol or deionised
water to remove any excess minerals, especially if the liquid that’s
come into contact with the SSD has a large number of salts.
Drive Rescue Data Recovery Dublin offer a full data recovery service for liquid damaged hard disks and laptops. We recover data from systems such as MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, HP laptops (EliteBook), Dell (Latitude, Inspiron) and Lenovo (Thinkpad, YogaBook and Ideapad) and Asus (Zenbook and VivoBook) Call us on 1890 571 571. Click here for more on water damaged data recovery.