Cleaning mud from a "submerged" Macbook Air

Bob Southwell
Bob Southwell used Ask the Experts™
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I have a 2014 Macbook Air that got submerged in a 4WD "accident" and now has dried mud through it.

I'd like to clean it up and see if I can get it working.I have an ultrasonic cleaner that I can use, but what solutions would people recommend for this kind of thing?
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Most Valuable Expert 2013
Commented:
PCB cleaning solution or isopropyl alcohol (the latter with good ventilation!)

If it wasn't submerged at any great depth the compartment below the keyboard is meant to be fairly resistant to liquids but I don't think they test their hardware like this at Apple.

Also bear in mind the polyester battery isn't designed to be replaced and is simply glued to the case.

Sounds like a great project if you have no worries about whether it works at the end or not, you'll certainly learn a lot about how everything is squashed together in the Air case.

These are my current "go to" for stripdown
https://www.ifixit.com/Device/MacBook_Air_13%22_Early_2014
David FavorFractional CTO
Distinguished Expert 2018

Commented:
If I had a situation like this...

1) If there was data I required to keep, I'd remove the disk + pack it in white rice for a few days, then insert the drive into a drive dock + make a backup.

2) For the actual machine, you have a primary consideration. Mac Air's are cheap, so you have to determine if the time you invest in attempting to revive the machine is actually worthwhile... because you may invest many hours, never getting the machine to work with any stability.

So the consideration for #2 is if it's cheaper to just buy an new Mac Air or invest hours which will be lost, whether machine revives or not.

Tip: You can purchase new Mac Air machines from Apple, then opt to use a Barclay credit card at checkout for 18 months interest free payments.
Robert RComputer Service Technician

Commented:
You maybe should have made a claim through the insurance company for the damage to property that was in the vehicle.  As mentioned that if the data on the drive is  more important than the laptop itself, then remove the drive and ensure it is dry before trying to recover data from the drive.  There are lots of devices that you can use that can connect the drive to a usb port on another computer/laptop to retrieve the data from the drive.  As far as macbook air being cheap to replace, I guess that depends upon how deep your pockets are, I would not consider them to be cheap.... Maybe cheap considering the price they used to be but that is with any electronic items they are cheaper than they used to be.   Had to voice my opinion on that.
Top Expert 2013

Commented:
i would wash it with water, and clean all contacts you find; if needed use mild soap to clean it then let it dry for several days above a mild heater
then test
i did this after recovering from a fire in our pc technical room, where lots of devices were damaged by the water - and could recover nearly everything
If it's dried already, I would start by brushing off as much loose dirt as possible, without the use of liquids first.  It it looks really bad inside, and depending on how much your personal time is worth, I would remove the M.2 SSD and move it to another system.

If the LCD screen got wet, the liquid crystals may have been washed out, and you will need to replace the screen anyway.  Then swap the SSD to another Macbook Air to recover data.  Don't waste your time trying to "fix" it unless you really have a lot of free time.

If it's not too bad, then open it up and use alcohol or PCB cleaner solution to get rid of the remaining residue.  That way you don't have to wait quite as long for drying as you would with water.  Just brush off as much of the solid dirt or clay before using any liquids.
Top Expert 2013

Commented:
remember that water also is creeping under the chips, and needs to dry there also
so my advice still is let it dry 2-3 days in a warm environment - not heat it up with a fohn for 10 minutes or such..
Bob SouthwellComputer Guru

Author

Commented:
Thank's, everyone. This is a side project just to see if I can.  I have already removed the ssd and recovered the data. The laptop has been replaced by insurance. So this is just for my own "Can I do this?" purpose.

FYI, here is a picture of the back taken off, the battery removed, and the SSD removed:

https://photos.app.goo.gl/7oCiTJWjnkp2S8cGA
Most Valuable Expert 2013

Commented:
Not as waterproof as Apple would suggest :)

Thanks and good luck, please post back how you get on.
Robert RComputer Service Technician

Commented:
since it was submerged it the muddy water probably came in through the vents that cool off the mac air. I would also remove the cmos battery before working on it. It looks like a big job, since you are dissembling it I would take it to the shower and wash off the grit, as water already hit this system I am sure water is not going to do more damage, it will be easier to wash out the sandy/dirt grit out of the system.  Once the water washed away the grit, then let it air dry, you can use isopropyl alcohol to ensure that you can remove an moisture from the system. Let air dry for a few days. I have a feeling since the system did have the battery in and the fact that the water has lots of minerals in it ie from the muddy water, it is possible it may have effected the motherboard already, even when it was not power on. But the big test will find out that is where your labor will come in to play to clean up the system and test it. Obviously it did not affect your drive if you were able to pull data from the drive.
I don't think Apple ever claimed that any Mac was waterproof.  There were no IPxx ratings attached to any Macbooks.

That's a lot of mud.  I would start by brushing off as much as possible first before submerging it in PCB cleaner or alcohol in your ultrasound cleaner.
Robert RComputer Service Technician

Commented:
the thing is that mud is gritty and brushing it off would be like taking sand paper to to the components.
The PCB, plastic, metal traces, and solder can withstand that one time.  They're not that fragile.  It takes quite a bit to break a motherboard, even flexing it will require some effort to bend it enough to break the metal traces in the pcb sandwich.  Just use a soft brush and don't brush it so hard that you'd pop off the chips.

If you're worried, then rinse it off instead.  Just get rid of most of it before submerging it in ultrasound solution, or you'd have to dump the liquid multiple times more than you need to.  You only need the ultrasound cleaning to get the stuff under the chips.

Distilled water should work as well.  PCB Cleaner is meant for cleaning off solder flux residue.  Distilled water is not as conductive as normal water, and won't leave possibly conductive mineral residue when it dries.

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