Lessons learned from a beverage spill on a MacBook Pro


My cat, adorable little creature that he is, got a little too much “me me me pet me” one day and knocked over an almost full adult beverage. The beverage was naturally right in the middle of a triangle with my iPad, iPhone, and MacBook Pro at each point. Everything got a little damp. Not too wet to stop working, or so I thought, as everything continued to function just fine.

But I got to work the next day and noticed that the MagSafe light on my 2011 MacBook Pro wasn’t working. The laptop would get power through the MagSafe port, but would not charge the battery even after trying several adapters. I’d had problems with that port before, and I figured it had finally died on me. Later that day, I had a few OS X crashes and decided to re-run setup. This generated an error message that the SSD disk was damaged and could not be repaired. Clearly the liquid had done more damage than I thought.

I uttered a few words that can’t be printed here.


The perpetrator of the crime

Dropbox and iCloud to the rescue

When I got home that night, I replaced the failed SSD drive with another drive and reinstalled OS X. At this point, I was resigned that a visit to the Apple Store was in my future, so I also got my old 2009 MacBook Pro ready to fill in.

I’ve never been particularly good about personal backups, but I do store a lot of important documents in the cloud. While not as good as a backup that allows me to go back through document versions, it’s good enough for when the drive fails. My Dropbox and iCloud data immediately synced back to my laptop. Using a hard drive enclosure I borrowed from a friend, I as also able to get the few things I wasn’t able to restore, like my iPhoto library. I was also able to repartition that drive, so the problem was something software related; not physical damage.

While I thought I had checked off the box to automatically put iPhoto images into iCloud, I apparently hadn’t: only a few items showed up in my PhotoStream. However, I don’t consider my iPhoto library very critical, so if it was lost I would not have been upset.

Screen Shot 2014-02-07 at 7.52.02 AM

The Apple Store visit

I scheduled a visit to the Apple Store in Natick, Mass., for both my iPad and MacBook (the iPad needed a warranty repair to fix a flaky home button that I’d been putting off). After a few tests they concluded that the MagSafe board was bad, and that since the part was only $10.23, they’d waive the labor.

Clearly I’d dodged a major bullet. Two days later they called to say that while they fixed the problem, they found water damage (I was shocked, SHOCKED to learn that) and the camera was busted. If I wanted to repair that, it would require a display replacement. I’ve never fully trusted that the camera can’t be turned on without my knowledge, so this was a blessing in disguise.

After tax, my beer spill cost me $11.83. That I was truly shocked at.

What I learned

Aside from learning I need to keep my cat and my beverage far apart, the exercise provided some valuable reminders.

I need to be a little better about backups. I had a Time Capsule that gave me nothing but problems until it finally died, so I don’t want to try another one again. In the short term, I’m going to grab an external 2TB drive and set up a Time Machine while I re-explore using something like CrashPlan. I’m also going to go back to a Pro account for Dropbox so I can store more than 2GB of data. At the same time, I’m also going to set up a Hazel rule to duplicate truly critical files between two cloud services. I’m also making sure all my iPhoto imports go to iCloud as well.

Apple Care Plus has also proven its worth to me. While my MacBook would not have been covered by AppleCare due to the liquid damage, my iPad and iPhone would have been. I already had the extra coverage on my iPad, and needed it since it was out of the normal warranty period. However, the fact that AppleCare Plus also covers “I’m a clumsy idiot” moments for an extra fee, it’s worth it.

The big lesson —  surprise — is that I got very lucky. This problem could have been a lot, lot worse. Last month I wrote about how 2014 was going to be the year of the iPad for me, and I thought the days of using my iPad as my sole mobile computer were imminent. Until I could afford to get an iMac, at the worse case I was going to just keep my MacBook plugged in and use my iPad when out and about.

Given almost all my mobile needs can be met with the iPad, the iMac is my desktop computer of the future. So, I’ll be focus more over the next few months about rounding out my mobile needs on the iPad.



My cat loves beer, especially dark ones. Not that I give it to him on purpose, of course. But if that had been him, he’d have licked it up so quick, there’d have been no damage!

Lots of good advice in the comments. Auto-backups are the only way, unless your data just isn’t very important to you. Dropbox is still great, though, for its ability to make files instantly available on any web-connected device, and for sharing large files with others. So as long as you need it for those purposes, it might as well be an extra backup, as well.

Clark E

I had a similar story that happened to me and my macbook pro. My dog knocked over a cup of water mixed with emergen-c. The laptop turned off immediately and I then took out the battery. Next I took a very soft towel to sop up the water on the motherboard. I used a blow dryer on a cool setting to completely dry up the remains. After 30 minutes I plugged it in and was good to go. It happened back in the fall of 2010 and I still use the laptop to this day.

Ron Larson

I use a local time machine (which is a firewire 800 attached external HDD).

For serious disasters, I use Amazon Glacier Services with the ARQ backup app on the MBP to back up to the cloud. Glacier is dirt cheap. And if I loose both my laptop data AND my local Time Machine, then I will recover from Glacier, with will take a couple of days. Since the chance of a real disaster where is loose all local data is slim, the inexpensive Glacier backup is cheap insurance.

Glacier is running me about $1.70 a month. The ARQ app cost me a one time $40 investment.

Kiss myass

So u blame your cat for your own stupidity in putting a beverage near your electronic devices? Duh!


Any backup plan that counts on you remembering to do something is a failed plan. The best solution for a Mac laptop is a Time Capsule, since you don’t have to remember to plug it in. (Early models seemed to have issues, but later ones are fine. Mine’s been going strong for 3+ years.) Time Machine backups are fantastic for migrating accounts to new Macs and/or disaster recovery.

I would also recommend an offsite backup. I use BackBlaze, which also requires no intervention on my part. It also works from other locations when I’m outside of my Time Capsule’s range.

So… Time Capsule for on-site. BackBlaze (or similar) for off-site. It’s a pretty affordable combination for total peace of mind.

Sean Hunter

“While not as good as a backup that allows me to go back through document versions, it’s good enough for when the drive fails.”

I’ve actually used that specific feature of Dropbox when I accidentally overwrote a *very* important file. Dropbox, at least, has versioning built in. You should probably correct your article.


i use chronosync for back up or true sync, its really good, i recommend it..

eddie ski

I feel for your issue however, I have much experience with this issue: accidental damage.
And I deal with it on a daily basis.
DO go back to having a Time Capsule if you use a portable around your home/apt. The newer models are far better in reliability, wifi and storage. I am referencing the “tall” model, not the square, flat one.
Understand that with something like Carbonite, Crashplan or even storing on Dropbox, it is slow and tedious. I hope you don’t have much data or slow connection.
On the cheap, setup iCal with a weekly (or even monthy) reminder to attach an inexpensive external USB drive to your portable, and let Time Machine do its job. You could buy a 4TB External USB 3.0 annually for the cost of using those online backups.
(yes, peace on mind with online is that if a catastrophe like fire or flood, tornado, etc, take out your living space…you will still need internet and time to restore).
FWIW, I run CCC that has a script feature. Weekly, I have a backup made to another HDD.
And I warn those with SSDs, you better have a daily/weekly backup. You cannot recover from a damaged SSD, like you can from a hard drive.
I’ve been cleaning and repairing (or shipping Tier 4) for Apple for over 6 years. Seen $1500 lattes, to $880 sports drinks. Oh, and forget the rice. It just makes it more difficult.
What I recommend at time of spill:
-kill power. If you can’t disconnect battery (like most newer models), get it to Apple Store ASAP. That liquid and trickle power continue to do damage
-put a paper towel or absorbant between the screen and keyboard.
-If the spill entered the ports or back vents, stand up so that area of entry is drain point.
-DO NOT ever attempt to power on after letting it dry.
-If you have a model you can open (Macbook, MacbookPro) and remove the HDD, do it. If the HDD shows damage, well, that was why you need a back up. You can always put your HDD in another model or dock to verify if not touched.
You are very lucky. But not all are. Backup, Backup, Backup. There is no excuse, not to.


Couple years out of date on the Time Capsule.

I had one, too. Apple replaced even though it was past warranty. When I wanted the newer, larger capacity model, I passed the replacement along to kin – and it’s still cranking along. As is the new one.


You’re worried that your camera can be turned on remotely but you’re not concerned at all that anyone at Dropbox can look at anything you upload to them?


I expect more from gigaom.

This article was little more than a tweet.

“cat spilled beer on macbook. magsafe board replacement $10.23 w/ applecare plus.”

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