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Spilled water on a MacBook Air or MacBook Pro, what to do now?

You spilled water on a MacBook Air/Pro and it turned off almost instantly.  What to do now? Follow the instructions of this guide to minimize the liquid damage and increase the survival chance of your water damaged MacBook. This guide is written by the technicians and engineers who perform MacBook water damage repair hundreds of times every year. It not only tells you what to do if you spilled water on MacBooks but also explains the reasons behind each step. It provides a comprehensive view deep inside the engineering design of Apple MacBooks. 

 

1. Switch OFF the water-damaged MacBook immediately.

This is the first thing you must do if you spilled water on your Macbook Air or Pro. Hold down the power button for at least five seconds until the power is off and then release the button. Do not touch the button again; otherwise, you may accidentally turn it on again.  Forget about any unsaved documents, the sooner you cut off the power, the safer your  MacBook will be as well as your priceless data in it.

spilled water on macbook - force shut down the macbook
spilled a cup of coffee on a macbook pro

If the water-damaged MacBook cannot be turned off by holding the power button, it means the MacBook keyboard has already stopped functioning. The keyboard cannot send the software-level  “Force Shutdown" command to the MacBook logic board. Don't panic, you still have other methods to shut down the Mac laptop.

Quickly use tissues to absorb the liquid that you can see on the surface of the MacBook keyboard, touchpad and screen,  then close the lid straight away. By doing so you effectively activate the hardware-level sleep sensor. When the logic board detects the sleep sensor signal, it will cut off the power to the CPU, screen, SSD drive and most of supporting circuits.

The MacBook then enters into shallow sleep mode. In the shallow sleep mode, the memory chips are still receiving power. This design enables the laptop to be wakeup fast in normal use. Keep the lid closed for a while the MacBook will automatically enter into deep sleep mode. In deep sleep mode,  the logic board cuts off the power to the memory chips. Your CPU, screen,  SSD drive and RAM are all at safe hand now. Never open the lid to wake up (power-up) the laptop again.

If the screen is still on (you can see the light) even you close the lid, your MacBook's logic board is failing and out of control. But most of the time the damage is minor. Now if you can quickly unplug the charger and disconnect the battery from the logic board, your MacBook still has a good chance of survival.

 

2. Unplug the charger if it's still connected to the water-damaged MacBook.

This step is less critical than the first one. Unplugging the charger alone will NOT cut off the power to the CPU and other important components. The internal battery is still powering the Mac laptop at full speed if you did not shut down the laptop by holding the power button. By unplugging the charger, you turn off the charging circuit of the logic board. Even though water damage to the charging circuit is nearly 100% repairable, the circuit's higher voltage ( 14.5V for MacBook Air, 20V for MacBook Pro Retina ) is still a great threat. So unplug the charger now. If you can come up to this point, you have turned off 99% of the MacBook logic board circuits. The only remaining “ON" circuit is the “standby" circuit and it is much less destructive in a liquid damaged Mac laptop.

The MagSafe charger outputs 14.5V for MacBook Air and 16.5-20V for MacBook Pro, it is misleading that you could get an electric shock by touching the laptop. In fact, the MagSafe charger will automatically shut down output if over-current or leakage-current is detected.

In an extremely rare case, if the MagSafe charger is also submerged in the liquid, the danger is from the charger's input power cord (240V AC in Australia and 110V AC in the United States), not the output (20V or less) of the charge. So in this case, it is still safe to touch the water-damaged MacBook, but not the charger. You need to unplug the power cord from the mains socket.

 

3. Prevent water from dripping into the vent holes and unplug any peripherals.

Do not move the MacBook. You should try to block the water from dropping into the vent holes located between the keyboard and the screen. The vent holes are designed for transferring heat out of the logic board to the open air. Protecting the logic board is the most crucial step minimising damage from spilled water on a MacBook. 

There is nothing between the vent holes and the logic board as shown in the picture below. If you can prevent water from reaching the vent holes, you minimise the damage. Unplug any connected external USB drive and any other adopters. Use a towel or tissues to absorb the remaining water on the Macbook keyboard, touchpad and screen as quick as possible.

Our data shows that in about 80% of MacBook liquid damage cases, water had reached to the logic board from the vent holes. This is why blocking the water from the vent holes is first priority. Water also can enter from the gaps of the touchpad, USB ports, charging port, Thunderbolt port and HDMI port. Since these gaps are very small, the water entered is limited.

The MacBook keyboard has an air-tight mechanism with two layers of plastic sheets. The backlight layer of the keyboard also provides extra protection by sealing the keyboard from underneath. It is almost impossible for the water entering directly from the MacBook keyboard to the logic board. A silicone keyboard cover will protect the keyboard, but not the dedicated Apple Mac logic board. The silicone cover may help to quickly distribute water to the vent holes or the touchpad gaps, resulting in more damage.

 

 

 

4. Remove the battery from the water-damaged MacBook

 

Turn over the MacBook, you may use a pentagon screwdriver to open the back case cover, or a Phillip screwdriver to open the older models. Use your fingernail or a plastic stick to remove the battery connector from the logic board. 

Never use a metal screwdriver. Otherwise, you may short circuit the battery or even worse, destroy the SMC (System Management Controller) by sending the 12V battery power directly to it. How important is the SMC?  Well, you can buy a new CPU from Intel, but you cannot buy any new SMC from Apple! You will have to wait for a donor SMC from a dead Mac of the exact same model and same year.

spilled water macbook - disconnect the battery

There is no immediate threat to your MacBook if you are at this point. You have turned off ALL the circuits on your dedicated logic board. Time to seek a professional MacBook water damage repair service now.

IT-Tech Online has saved hundreds of liquid-damaged MacBooks every year. If you have a liquid-damage Mac laptop, contact us now or use our mail-in service in Australia.

5. Drain the MacBook while waiting for professional MacBook water damage repair.

There are two methods of draining a water damage MacBook.

The first method is to place the MacBook in the “tent" position. If your Mac laptop is a pre-2018 MacBook Air or a Pre-2013 MacBook Pro with a non-retina screen, this method will work for you. This method is easy and effective on those older MacBook models as the screens are watertight. There is a front aluminium frame ( in MacBook Air ) or a front protective glass ( in MacBook Pro with a non-retina screen) to prevent the water from entering into inside the screen.

However, if you have a MacBook with retina screen, don't use the “tent" method.  In order to make the new retina screens thinner, lighter and maximise the viewable section, Apple got rid of the bulky aluminium frame and protective glass. The new retina screens are NOT water-resistant. If you put this type of screen in “tent" position,  you may help to distribute the water from the bottom edge to the optical (reflective) film inside the screen. The affected screen may still be functional, but the watermarks on the background heavily affect the image quality as shown in the photo below. We have seen this done more frequently to water-damaged MacBooks with retina screen, particularly the latest touch bar model. A new retina screen costs between $500 to $1200. So if you have a retina screen, don't use the “tent" method.

The second method we discuss below can be used for all type of MacBook screens. It will guaranty the water not getting into inside the screen.

Open MacBook lid at an angle of 90 degrees. Place it on the edge of a benchtop with the MacBook screen facing down to the bench and keyboard section hanging over the edge as shown in the photo below. Since the screen lays flat on the table, the water will not move into inside the screen and will be dried up quicker. Protect the screen by putting a kitchen paper towel under the MacBook screen panel and prevent the MacBook from falling over the benchtop.

All mac laptops follow this design layout: the logic board is under the keyboard and the battery is under the touchpad. The gravity will pull the remaining water from the keyboard towards the touchpad section, and finally off the MacBook case. Any water that has already got into the logic board will also be pulled into a less vulnerable section. With the bottom cover removed, the water damage MacBook should be dried after 24 hours.

Warning: If you spilled water on MacBook Air 2018 or MacBook Pro 2016 onwards models, do not open the lid. Once you open the lid, the MacBook will automatically power up again unless you have already disconnected the battery from the logic board. This “automatically powering up" is the new feature of the latest MacBook design.  Follow the same procedure to shut down the laptop if you accidentally open it. Disconnecting the internal battery from these new MacBook models is a bit complicated and is beyond the ability of a non-technical person. If you are in this situation,  the best thing you can do is just letting the MacBook lie flat with the lid closed and getting it serviced as soon as possible.

Do not shake the water damaged MacBook, particularly if the water is already in the hinge section. Doing this will only spread the water around and force the water into dedicate components such as the BGA balls of the CPU or the backlight film of the screen.

6. A word on the hairdryer and the legend of using rice.

It has been popular to use uncooked rice and hairdryers to remedy a water-damaged MacBook.  We have found rice almost every week in the liquid-damaged MacBooks sent to our store for repair!

Rice found in a liquid-damage Macbook Air

Rice found in a liquid-damage Macbook Air

There is nothing wrong with using a hairdryer or rice to dry the MacBook, even though it is very inefficient and unnecessary most of the time. The real damage of these legends lies in the idea of turning on the laptop without proper treatment after the drying process. 

The electronic bridges known as shorted circuits could be formed anywhere among the logic board circuits by a mixture of moisture, dusks, minerals and sugar. Once you turn on the laptop, these bridges start the killings, resulting in severe even fatal damages shown below.

 

There is a chance that the water did not make the way to the logic board and only the keyboard or touchpad got damaged. Spilling a small amount of water does not guarantee the water did not reach to the logic board. The only way to find out safely is to pull the logic board out from the case and inspect it under a microscope. Without inspection and proper treatment, turning on a water-damaged MacBook that has been dried is a gamble with very poor odds. This is the reason why spilled water and water damage is the number one killer of MacBooks. We never power up a reported liquid-damage MacBook directly. Instead, we will pull the logic board out and assess the damage first. This simple step has helped us increasing the success rates.

7. Types of MacBook water damage repair services currently available

If you spilled water on your MacBook, we recommend taking it to a reputable service provider. Many of them have experience with water-damaged MacBook, however, there are various types and “levels" of service they offer that you should be aware of:

Level 1: Clean the logic board. Clean or replace the keyboard, touchpad, screen, battery, and hard drive. Then assemble back to the case for testing. If the logic board is faulty, you will be informed the MacBook is not repairable. You might be asked to replace the whole logic board at a high cost if a “refurbished" logic board is available. Usually, this type of service provider will charge you an assessment fee since the cleaning work is time-consuming and the success rate is very low. The Apple authorised repairers and most third-party repairers provide this level of service.

A liquid-damaged MacBook will automatically void Apple's standard warranty. If you have purchased AppleCare+ for Mac, your Mac will be covered by Apple and a service fee will be applied. Apple does not provide data recovery services. If you need the data, you have to get a Mac data recovery service from a third-party repairer before claiming the warranty.

Level 2: Clean or replace the keyboard, touchpad, screen, battery, and hard drive. Replace the corroded chips on the logic board then clean it in an ultrasonic cleaner. A technician with micro-soldering skills can perform this task. The success rate of this service is higher than the previous one, so the repairer may or may not charge an assessment fee. A few third-party repairers can provide this service as certain degrees of skills and knowledge required.

Level 3: In addition to the above services, an engineer will perform troubleshooting the remaining faulty chips which could not be spotted by a microscope. This task requires high-level skills, knowledge,  equipment and most importantly: a comprehensive understanding of the Apple logic board design.  In addition to the Apple contractors “Depot" facilities located only in the US and China, only a handful of third-party repairers provide service at this level. We provide this service in Melbourne and accept mail-in from all over Australia. Usually, this level repairers will not charge the assessment fee as the high success rate will cover the cost of the failed one.

 

 

8. Last note: keep your MacBook away from its arch-enemy, your DRINK.

 

Spilled water on a MacBook Air or Pro is a very common Mac disaster and the most common kind of cases we deal with. If you found this guide helpful, why don’t you share it on social media with your friends and colleagues? They may need it one day.

IT-Tech Online is a top Mac repair specialist in Australia. Our services include MacBook repairs, iMac repairs and Mac mini repairs.

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