My wife spilled coffee on my keyboard: Is my computer fried?
January 2, 2009 2:51 AM   Subscribe

My wife spilled coffee on my keyboard: Is my computer fried?

Half a cup of coffee was spilled on my laptop. Here were my actions:

1. Shut power off immediately.
2. turned laptop upside down to drain coffee.
3. Took apart laptop, removed keyboard.
4. Rinsed out keyboard with hot, hot water and alcohol.
5. Ordered a new keyboard, rush shipping.
6. Let keyboard dry overnight.
7. Reassembled laptop.

Okay, and now for the results:

1. Laptop boots perfectly, Fingerprint scanner and touchpad work perfectly. Log into Vista perfectly.

2. Laptop detects a Windows Key, Control Key, or one of any other keys on the left side keypress. So I can't do ANYTHING that involves typing.

Basically, that's it.

My computer: Dell XPS 1330

1. The Dell XPS 1330 has a clear plastic adhesive membrane underneath the keyboard, as far as I know, no coffee went INTO the actual chassis (mobo). There was a little coffee (VERY LITTLE) on the very side of the keyboard well, but it didn't look like it went inside. I cleaned it up.

So: is it a lost cause?
posted by Master Gunner to Computers & Internet (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Whoops. Almost forgot: This happened last night, so I obviously haven't installed the new keyboard yet. I am in Germany, so it will take about a week to get to me.
posted by Master Gunner at 2:54 AM on January 2, 2009

Sorry, I can only tell you experience with independent PS2/USB type keyboards: no matter what the manufacturer tells you, a good splash of a beverage in the keys usually means replacing the keyboard. As for a laptop...I dunno.
posted by telstar at 2:56 AM on January 2, 2009

Yeah, I'd try an external keyboard and unplug the damaged keyboard. I spilled very little beer on my MacBook and fried the keyboard. Computer eventually refused to even boot, but a new keyboard restored everything.
posted by Science! at 3:19 AM on January 2, 2009

Sounds like it'll be fine with a new keyboard. If you want it faster/cheaper, you might be able to get away with disabling the offending key with this utility.
posted by alexei at 3:55 AM on January 2, 2009

heh, I had a Dell Latitude laptop about 10 years ago & a friend bumped into my table at a cafe and managed to knock half my cup of coffee on the side of it. What happened was, at first I thought the whole thing was irreparably damaged, I seem to recall at first there were a couple things not working, a few keys seemed to be busted.. But eventually, they started working again, I think I pressed them over and over to try and un-stick them, which mostly solved it. Eventually the only problem was, the backspace key never worked properly and I had to train myself to hold shift + back arrow and then use the delete key instead. Nothing else ever went wrong with it though.

Is one of the keys stuck somehow or a sensor underneath? if everything else works I'm sure you can get around it with new keyboard, external keyboard etc. (Can you borrow an external keyboard briefly & use that to install the Windows utility for disabling the keys that don't work, and then just try typing with your current keyboard?) I highly doubt it's a lost cause but also wouldn't hurt to backup all your data in case, just to state the obvious :)
posted by citron at 4:47 AM on January 2, 2009

The new keyboard should straighten it out, especially if the coffee didn't make it below the keyboard. Did you find coffee inside the motherboard?

Never hurts to do a backup, though I'll be the hard drive is undamaged.
posted by JuiceBoxHero at 5:16 AM on January 2, 2009

in my experience with caffeinated laptops, the keyboard is likely gone; your laptop should be fine otherwise because of the "coffee protector" that you found under the actual keyboard (I'm fairly sure is called something like that by the designers) but, in the keyboard part, underneath the key mechanisms there's a sandwich of plastics and conductive layers that do the actual job of closing the electrical contacts when pressed upon by the keys; coffee (or any other liquid, actually) usually seeps between those layers borking the contacts and is virtually impossible to remove, unless you take apart those layers, clean them and put them back together (which is not meant to be done by design/manufacture)

Use an external keyboard and you should be ok until your replacement arrives. Disconnect the old keyboard if you're not using it.
posted by _dario at 5:33 AM on January 2, 2009

I'd recommend sticking the keyboard in a dishwasher by itself, provided the dishwasher has a dry cycle. You can't make it much worse, and may be able to clear out any of the stuff that's sticking those keys.
posted by odinsdream at 7:20 AM on January 2, 2009


1. Keys weren't physically "sticking". They were just being detected as keypresses. Physically, the key travel is just fine.

2. After a few more hours (since I posted this), the CTRL, Windows, Z, X, and C keys are non-functional. (but an improvement: they are not being detected as keypresses).

3. AFAIK, when the computer boots, it goes into a POST (Power On Self Test). This should happen before the USB drivers are loaded into the system. If I physically disconnect the laptop keyboard and just have the USB keyboard connected... won't it fail the POST?

(To be 100% honest, I cringe at having to re-disassemble the laptop to disconnect the keyboard).
posted by Master Gunner at 7:43 AM on January 2, 2009

Most of the time, keyboards are fine with liquid spilled on them, just stick them on a radiator to try for a while. I used to work in IT support and we'd just stick "broken" keyboards in the cupboard - they normally worked when we suddenly needed a spare keyboard.

However, if the drink was "sugared" in any way, then it may be screwed. Sugar is the keyboard killer, so I hope you like your coffee unsweetened!
posted by BigCalm at 8:00 AM on January 2, 2009

I would take off the keyboard (as opposed to have a shorted component plugged in and powered up) until the replacement arrives. be calm and have the right tools to hand , be very gentle with the keyboard connector as you dont want to mash the terminal on the motherboard that would really screw everything up .. try the usb keyboard as others have suggested - it will not fail post. hopefully everything will work fine.

This happened to me on boxing day (lenovo X61,OJ,water + 3 days drying , never regained functionality) but the new keyboard snapped in just fine and all's well ! keep the old keyboard for replacement keys and... good luck .
posted by panini at 8:15 AM on January 2, 2009

Instead of near the radiator, try sticking it in the fridge (NOT the freezer!) for a day or two. The dry circulating cool air should help. (This saved my laptop last month).
posted by iamkimiam at 9:30 AM on January 2, 2009

Unless you've pulled the whole thing apart to see whether or not any liquid made it to the motherboard, it can be difficult to tell whether it's just the keyboard or not. I'd say try it with an external keyboard and see if that works. If not, try it with an external keyboard after disconnecting the built-in keyboard. If it works fine that way, then you should be alright. If not, then it's probably fried.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 9:35 AM on January 2, 2009

If I physically disconnect the laptop keyboard and just have the USB keyboard connected... won't it fail the POST?

No. Your BIOS has USB drivers for the keyboard.

I suggest you stop messing around with it and just wait for the replacement keyboard. Its pretty clear that the original cannot be saved.
posted by damn dirty ape at 12:46 PM on January 2, 2009

I agree with the sugared liquid thing....if the coffee had no sugar (and preferably no milk, either) you should be alright eventually.

On a side note, I work with an audio engineer who learned to like black coffee just because of this.
posted by nevercalm at 2:03 PM on January 2, 2009

(To be 100% honest, I cringe at having to re-disassemble the laptop to disconnect the keyboard).

It is remarkably easy to change out the keyboard on most modern laptops. I learned that about my laptop the hard way: I spent about an hour unscrewing everything in site, then when it came to the last two screws I noticed three little keyboard symbols and an arrow etched into the bottom cover. And, as should have been obvious, all I really had to do was unscrew those three screws and the keyboard came loose. On another laptop I played around with recently, the keyboard was just wedged in with friction -- no fasteners to release at all!

Presuming that your machine is actually an XPS M1330, you can find the service manual here. Ebay is a great source for a cheap replacement keyboard.
posted by Chuckles at 6:27 PM on January 2, 2009

If I physically disconnect the laptop keyboard and just have the USB keyboard connected... won't it fail the POST?

When I had my aformentioned laptop keyboard problem, disconnecting the keyboard and using a USB unit worked about half the time. Somehow, the faulty keyboard managed to mess up the keymappings for a USB keyboard, even after a complete BIOS reset on some occasions (other times a BIOS reset was enough to get the USB keyboard working properly -- I removed and reattached the faulty keyboard several times, hoping it might come back to life). Yes, I know exactly how crazy that sounds, but it is what I recall.
posted by Chuckles at 6:30 PM on January 2, 2009

Seconding Chuckles. The keyboard is often very easy to replace. Sometimes it involves bending the screen all the way backwards and prying off the plastic section between the function keys and the screen hinges. This is often not obvious, and feels like you're about to break something.

Models vary, of course, but just keep in mind that if it's taking you a long time you're probably doing it wrong.
posted by odinsdream at 7:33 AM on January 4, 2009

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