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Cleanup after a macbook/coke spill - possible?
January 20, 2010 8:23 PM   Subscribe

MacBook Pro (late-2008 model, unibody). Spilled can of Coke. Still works, but what can I do about the keyboard?

I was feverishly completing a multimedia program for a show I was working on, an hour before curtain, when I accidentally spilled Coke on the keyboard. I immediately turned it off, removed the battery, turned it upside down and waited for all the liquid to drain out. I did not have the luxury of waiting 48 hours before turning it back on, as I had to have the video done for the show that night. That was last Friday.

It has performed beautifully since then, with the exception of the keyboard. I spilled the can on the right side, so the delete, eject, return, right shift and arrow keys are pretty sticky. They still work, but it's not easy.

Has anyone done a teardown and rebuild of the unibody MacBook Pro? Is it terribly difficult? I'm reasonably comfortable with taking apart and rebuilding computers, but I've never worked on a laptop before. I was thinking that I could at least take it apart to see how bad the damage is, but the teardown instructions on are pretty daunting. How hard is it, really?

I'm well aware that if I take it to Apple, they will know right away what happened, and I will more than likely end up paying at least half of the original cost of this thing. Which is why I'd like to try to do it myself, if it's not too hard.
posted by starvingartist to Computers & Internet (11 answers total)
There is this nasty CFC-laden stuff (they might be less nasty in these CFC controlled times) that is used to clean electronics at the factory. It removes cruft, solder flux and the like from circuit boards and control circuitry like switches and keyboards. This would be ideal: just tilt the keyboard down and spray liberally from a variety of angles until the stuff that boils out runs clear.

This will work even if you can easily remove the keyboard.

Admittedly, this stuff can be hard to find, but most electronic parts places carry something like it. Don't get the stuff used to clean and lubricate potentiometers -- it will cover everything with a fine layer of grease.

If this sounds too weird or you can't get this stuff, and you can remove the keyboard, then soap and water will work fine. Just be sure to dry it out as quickly as you can. Apparently, most PC keyboards (obviously, NOT keyboards attached to laptops) can even be run through the dishwasher, though I have never done this myself.

But that super low-boiling point degreaser and cleaner stuff works wonders if you can find it.
posted by clvrmnky at 8:38 PM on January 20, 2010

I believe you have to open the case to remove the keyboard on the unibody- not an easy fix. Our local apple store sends computers in that need their cases opened, so you may want to check with them (and check the potential impact on your warranty) before opening up your case.
posted by stewiethegreat at 10:15 PM on January 20, 2010

You're in trouble, because there are likely sticky semisolid blobs of caramel goo under the keyboard now, and probably attached to circuit boards here and there.

It might "work fine" now, but I wouldn't count on it staying that way indefinitely.

Tear it down completely and clean it well before drying and reassembling... or pay a service technician to do so.
posted by rokusan at 11:54 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Maybe I didn't ask my question clearly. I know I have to open the case to get to the keyboard. I looked at the teardown instructions - there are 42 steps involved. What I want to know is, how hard is it to do that, really? My warranty is already void because I spilled Coke on it, so opening the case at this point isn't going to be any worse.
posted by starvingartist at 3:58 AM on January 21, 2010

The real question is, how comfortable are you following those 42 steps in order in both directions? It won't be impossible, but it will be tricky and take a bit of time.

Note that the advice I gave does not require a tear-down. The stuff works by spraying a solvent into the cracks and corners.
posted by clvrmnky at 5:57 AM on January 21, 2010

my brother and i recently replaced the lcd on my moms black macbook. we laid out every piece we removed on sheets of paper labeled with the step in the instructions that told us to do so. Took us a long morning start to finish to do the lcd swap. Only you can judge if this is something you are comfortable doing. The tricky part was re-routing all the wires to the same places they came from. You can take pictures as you go to refresh your memory, since when we did it the physical macbook wasnt 100% identical to the one used in the directions. We only needed a screwdriver and a spreader thingy. You shouldnt have a problem with just the keyboard, just review the instructions thoroughly (like you did) first.

On the other hand we have 4 engineering degrees between the 2 of us....
posted by kenbennedy at 6:52 AM on January 21, 2010

As someone who does quite a bit of laptop disassembly and reassembly, I can tell you that it's really not difficult, but it is time consuming. If you choose to take it apart, give yourself two to three hours at least. Don't break the project up into more than one session. And, most importantly, come up with a system for keeping track of all of your screws and where they belong. Mac notebooks tend to use a lot of different sizes that are all within a few millimeters of each other. They also tend to have small latches and hooks in difficult to find places. Also, you'll need both a set of very small screwdrivers and, most likely, a very small Torx set as well.

Also, work slowly and carefully. It takes a lot of practice before working out how much force you can safely use when pulling apart a laptop. And keep track of where various cables are plugged in -- usually it's pretty obvious, but not always. Again, it's not a difficult task, but you will have to work carefully and it will take a while.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 8:22 AM on January 21, 2010

I will more than likely end up paying at least half of the original cost of this thing.

Why do you say this? I once spilled soda in my MacBookPro and it exhibited the same symptoms you described. I took it to the Apple Store and they replaced the kb for $100.

This was of course after a long night of me taking the entire thing apart and trying to clean and re-install the kb. Which, as you might surmise, did not go so well.
posted by lholladay at 8:39 AM on January 21, 2010

If you do the teardown, and you have a digital camera, use that to document each step. It'll help you reverse the process when you put it all together again.

Also, it's helpful to have a series of discreet containers (solid icecube tray will do) for screws, etc. Leave one empty as a reminder if the part removed is large (e.g., a hard dive.)
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 9:17 AM on January 21, 2010

If you do end up doing a tear-down, I actually advise against using an ice cube tray to store the bits and pieces.

If you knock something over, you don't want it to be /all/ your little sorted parts. Just, you know, a few of the sorted parts. So you can sort them again. Dumping an entire tray of parts will make you sad.

Voice of experience here.
posted by clvrmnky at 12:51 PM on January 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

"...there are 42 steps involved. What I want to know is, how hard is it to do that, really? My warranty is already void..."

Seconding Mulp: it's quite doable if you force yourself to go very, very, very slowly and keep track of where each screw goes, since the 92 screws are a mixture of about 19 different sizes. I made those numbers up, but you get the point.

I don't use ice cube trays, myself. I use post-it notes, upside down: the screw sticks to the adhesive part and I write where the thing goes on the plain paper portion. This requires a large table. A piece of foamboard might work better: stick the screws into it.

Very, very slowly. Every little "tuck this cable behind here" and "loosen this attach point" instruction is important, and hard to recover from if you miss.

Also, after you have it apart and are cleaning it so very carefully... be sure to let it dry a very long time before reassembly.
posted by rokusan at 10:05 PM on January 21, 2010

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