Keeping Coffee Off the Keys

If you're lucky, a lid on your beverage can help stem the tide, but if liquid spills out, turn off the laptop immediately.

Q. For future reference, are there any measures that can be taken to resurrect a laptop after a serious coffee spill into the keyboard?

A. Coffee is a common accessory to life with a laptop, but accidentally dumping the cup into the keyboard often proves fatal to the computer. The acidic properties of the coffee itself — and milk proteins, sugar or artificial sweeteners, caramel sauce, chocolate syrup and any other flavorful additions to the brew — can seep between the keys to short out circuits or corrode the components.

If you do flood the laptop with a latte or another other beverage, turn off the computer immediately and unplug its power cord — and any other hardware attached to it, like external drives. If your model has a removable battery, take it out. Tilt the computer to drain any excess liquid from is innards. Mop up as much of the spill as you can with a towel or other absorbent material, preferably by blotting instead of wiping (and potentially pushing liquiddeeper into the machine).

You may be able to revive the laptop by letting it drain and dry upside down overnight if water or small amounts of non-sugary liquids were spilled onto it. If significant amounts of a complex coffee creation, juice, soda, cocktails or other alcohol were the culprit, consider taking the machine to a computer repair shop as soon as possible for a professional cleaning and consultation. (The laptop may need to be taken apart and wiped down to remove sticky residue and then reassembled, possibly with replacement parts.)

Shielding the computer from potential spills in the first place is a good habit, even though this can be hard to do in practice. Plastic overlays from an office-supply store that cover the laptop’s keyboard and upper surface provide inexpensive protection from liquids, dust and debris.

If you do not like typing through a plastic barrier, at least keep the lid on the takeout beverage cup or use a leakproof, self-sealing travel mug, like containers made by Contigo and Zojirushi. And a when it comes time to upgrade to a new laptop and you are shopping around, consider a model with a spill-resistant keyboard, like an HP ProBook or Lenovo ThinkPad.

And no matter what you’re drinking, always keep your computer and important files backed up.


Personal Tech invites questions about computer-based technology to techtip@nytimes.com. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually.

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