How to fix a water-damaged motherboard with rubbing alcohol

I got a Macbook laptop up and running again after failing to power-up after a sugary liquid spill.

If your laptop was hit with just plain water, consider the rice trick.  Get dry uncooked rice and rest your laptop in it overnight.  Might be a good idea to find a way to keep the rice out of the holes, while still letting the moisture escape the laptop case.

This laptop was affected by sugary goo.  Sugary goo conducts electricity.  Sugary goo can make a short circuit that causes your laptop to not start.

Before the fix the power light would turn on, and CPU fan would spin, but there was no Apple sound at startup, and LCD did not light or display an image.

This method is at your own risk.  I tried in on an already-dead Macbook with a motherboard replacement costing $400-$600.  Totally worth it in my case.  The laptop was already “dead” anyway.

Let’s get started.

Unplug the laptop and remove the battery (of course).

Open the laptop’s case, setting the screws aside in a pattern on your bench that resembles the location they were removed from.  Better yet, see my article on how to use cardboard to organize your laptop screws during dis-assembly so you don’t lose them or forget which hole they go in.

After opening the laptop to access the bottom of the motherboard I saw the sticky residue of a sugary drink.  I used cotton swabs (Q-tips) and isopropyl rubbing alcohol to clean up the sticky parts.

Clean off the tops of the sticky coated ICs with the alcohol soaked swabs.

Close-up of sugary spill goo affecting the motherboard

Soak a cotton swab in alcohol to full saturation and dab next to an IC that is affected.  Press down so the alcohol mixture flows underneath the entire IC and you can see it appear between the pins on the other side.

Flip the swab over and soak up the soiled alcohol fluid.  Do this repeatedly on every affected IC.

Check every nook and cranny.  This motherboard had affected ICs as well as a sticky, contaminated charging port header-pin array.  ICs are generally sealed very well, but inductors and other components may absorb the alcohol/water to some degree.  This is bad.  Good reason to thoroughly blow it dry with your forceful breath or compressed air.

Take your time, do it right.  Try to get the alcohol/water to clean up all the sticky residue from everything.  You don’t want to take the thing apart again after the first round if there was still sugar everywhere, do you?  But remember you don’t want the alcohol water to absorb into everything and not evaporate.  So swab many times but quickly.  Don’t leave the motherboard in a puddle for a long time.

I also ran the swab gently over various resistors, etc. that would have otherwise been coated in sugar goo.  Probably a good idea to give the motherboard an overal general cleaning.

Put it all back together – at least enough to be able to try a power-on.  Mine worked first try.

Boooooooong… happy mac.

Epilogue:  Took the computer to the client and it overheated and made  a terrible burning smell.  So I took it back, removed the motherboard one more time.

Thoroughly doused motherboard in rubbing alcohol solution, flushed underneath cpu and northbridge chips.  Used cotton swabs and paper towels to wick solution out from underneath the chips.  Throughly cleaned entire motherboard this time, being very liberal with the rubbing alcohol since it was all or nothing at this point. I sprayed a lot of moisture out using compressed duster spray. Make sure to dry out the inductors as much as possible. They’re the little ferrite cube things, some of them with little windings of copper showing. They have a lot of area for water to cling to.

Paper towels to keep rice bits away from the motherboard

Dried motherboard in a bed of dry rice overnight (wrapped it in paper towels first to avoid rice bits contaminating the motherboard).

Completely covered in rice overnight

Installed again, this time tested thoroughly with Prime95 running at 100% cpu usage.  CPU heated up and was stable, no burning smell.

At this point the computer is returned to the happy client, and has been running OK for a month.


4 thoughts on “How to fix a water-damaged motherboard with rubbing alcohol

  1. I don’t remember that happening to me. I can imagine that maybe it was leftover flux or something from when the board was made that became visible when you used the alcohol. I’m not sure though.

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