Computers and coffee are usually a match made in heaven. There is always a fresh cup near my laptop, but hopefully that’s as close as they ever get. If you’ve spilt coffee on your computer, read on for some advice that could save your data.
Like any other liquid damage, the parts most vulnerable to spilt coffee are the electronics. Immediately after any liquid spillage it is crucial to switch off any power and remove any batteries from the computer. This helps protect the electronics from being shorted by the coffee. Even if the computer seems OK, this could save you from losing everything when the coffee seeps further into the machine.
If the computer comes apart easily, or has any removable parts then it would be a good idea to try and dry off as much as you can. Don’t unscrew the top cover of the hard drive, as this will introduce tiny dust particles from the air. Liquid won’t usually get inside the drive unless it was submerged for many hours.
If you were lucky, the coffee may not have dripped as far as the hard drive. In that case, the data may be accessible by attaching it to another computer. Note that attaching a liquid damaged hard drive to another computer could potentially damage the other computer too, so be very careful and look out for black smoke! If you decide to take the risk then make sure you don’t initialise or format the disk if it asks you to. That would reset the disk to an empty state! The data could still be recoverable, but it will be in worse condition.
WARNING: Don’t try to boot up the coffee-damaged computer directly, even after drying it out. It could damage the hard drive electronics and make the recovery more difficult or even impossible. Best to try and backup the data first, then worry about the computer later.
Don’t use any cleaning products to remove coffee from the hard drive as they may corrode the electronic contacts. If you need to clean it then we would use Isopropyl Alcohol (known as IPA, but not the beer!). IPA is great for cleaning electronic parts and evaporates quickly without leaving any residue.
Only Spilt Coffee?
Aside from spilt coffee we have also recovered data from hard drives damaged by salt water, spilt cola, blackcurrant, water, orange juice and even water from a toilet.