Dear Lifehacker, Someone spilt booze all over my MacBook Pro. The keys are sticking. What can I do? Cheers, Man Always Reading Kotaku
Picture by Karl Baron
I know the feeling. Some years back, I spilt a glass of rather good port into the guts of my ThinkPad. The machine still worked fine, but for a while the keys were distinctly sticky (in both senses). Some careful cleaning and time fixed the problem — eventually, the offending liquid I hadn’t managed to remove evaporated. So you can recover.
First things first: even though it sounds like the machine is working fine, make sure you run a backup, and that you continue to use an automated backup process. (On a MacBook, Time Machine is the easiest and obvious option if you’ve got an external network drive somewhere; for a cloud-based option, check out our step-by-step guide to automated backup.) While keyboard damage won’t necessarily translate into a system-level fault, there’s no point in taking chances.
We’ve run a number of guides to keyboard cleaning over the years, including a guide to this very problem. That particular video is focused on external keyboards, but there’s a useful comment in there from a former Apple support engineer which is worth repeating:
Most keyboards nowadays are membrane construction for the contacts, and liquids can/will creep between the membranes by capillary action and spread out over a surprisingly large (but very thin) area…. altering the very sensitive electrical characteristics of the contacts – often resulting in weird keyboard behaviour and / or total failure. Because the liquid is trapped between the plastic membranes it can take ‘forever’ to evaporate naturally – even when the rest of the machine seems perfectly dry. Complete disassembly of a laptop membrane keyboard is not for the faint-hearted and is time consuming and fiddly – but we have done so on a number of occasions with some success. In instances where liquids such as ‘cola’ have been spilled and allowed to remain and ‘fester’ within the membranes, the corrosion damage is usually permanent.
So let’s be clear: fiddling with laptop keyboards can be tricky, and the device might not work afterwards. The step-by-step guide on the How-To Geek site is extremely comprehensive if you do go down that route.
An obvious point that’s worth making: you can always connect a USB keyboard to the machine and use that. Yes, that cuts down on the portability, but if all other fix methods fail (or you just want to give evaporation a chance to run its course without potentially spreading more gunk through the machine), it’s a possibility. If you want the full experience, the official Apple keyboard is $55; Windows-centric USB keyboards can be had for somewhat less depending on your tastes.
Unfortunately, one thing you can’t do is take advantage of your computer’s warranty or an AppleCare extended warranty to get the problem fixed. Apple specifically excludes liquid damage from those plans, and incorporates technology to detect liquid spills. (Since the damage is caused by the user, not the device, standard consumer law won’t help you here either). You could potentially take the device to an Apple Store to get a repair quote, but that’s definitely a last resort. Good luck! If readers want to share success stories (or dire warnings) from their own keyboard spills, the comments await.
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