How I fixed trackpad, keyboard after water spill on Macbook Air

posted in: Apple Products | 14
MacBook Air with not working keyboard and trackpad

In this post I explain how I fixed the trackpad and keyboard after water spill on a MacBook Air. The trackpad and keyboard stopped working completely after a very minor spill somewhere in the area of the spacebar.

Everything else in this MacBook Air kept working fine like the water damage has never happened. An external keyboard and mouse connected via one of the USB ports also functioned properly.

First of all, I removed the bottom cover to do visual inspection of the internal laptop components. For removing the bottom cover you will need a special P5 Pentalobe screwdriver.

Two screws I marked with green circles are longer than other eight screws.

Remove bottom cover

After removing the bottom cover I disconnected and removed the battery to take a closer look at the trackpad area. For removing the battery you will need a T5 Torx screwdriver.

Again, three screws I marked with green circles are longer than two other screws. Pay attention during the reassembly process.

I didn’t find any water damage on the logic board. No signs of oxidation or corrosion.

Remove MacBook Air battery

In order to troubleshoot a problem like that you have to understand how the signal goes from the keyboard and trackpad into the logic board.

In a Macbook Air the keyboard is not connected directly into the logic board. A signal from the keyboard travels into the trackpad (red arrow), after that it travels through the trackpad circuit board (green arrow) and eventually goes into the logic board though the trackpad cable (yellow arrow).

  • If the trackpad still works, but the keyboard doesn’t, it’s either bad keyboard which has to be replaced or there is a failure in the chain somewhere between the red arrow and green arrow.
  • If the trackpad acting weird (the pointer moves on its own, moves erratically, clicks by itself) but the keyboard still works, most likely it’s just a bad trackpad and replacing it with a new one will fix the issue.
  • If both stopped working at the same time (like in my case), you’ll have to take a closer look at the cables and connectors in the red-green-yellow chain.
How the signal goes from the keyboard and trackpad into the logic board

There are three connections in this chain:

  • Red rectangular- connection between the keyboard cable and the trackpad circuit board.
  • Green rectangular – connection between the circuit board and the cable.
  • Yellow rectangular – connection between the trackpad cable and the logic board.
How the trackpad and keyboard connected to the logic board

My troubleshooting steps

STEP 1.

I disconnected the trackpad cable from the logic board. In order to release the cable you’ll have to unlock the connector by lifting up the locking tab (red arrow) and after that pull the cable out.

Be very gentle because it’s a fragile connector. The locking tab can be easily damaged if you apply too much force.

After that I looked very closely into the connector and found some evidence of the water damage inside. There was some light blue residue on the golden connectors. You’ll see on the last picture what it did to the cable.

Disconnect the trackpad cable from the logic board

I very carefully cleaned up the bluish residue on the connector pins using a soft toothbrush and 99% isopropyl alcohol.

Clean up the connector with alcohol

STEP 2.

I disconnected the cable from the trackpad and inspected the connector. I didn’t find any water damage in there.

If the see any water damage on this connector, it’s necessary to replace the trackpad.
New trackpads for MacBook Air available here: https://ebay.to/31IT3ch

Disconnect cable from the trackpad

STEP 3.

I removed the trackpad cable and set it aside for later.

Remove the trackpad cable

STEP 4.

The last connector to inspect was for the keyboard cable. Releasing this cable can be a little bit tricky because the connector is hidden under the cable.

The keyboard cable connector hidden under the cable

Again, unlock the connector first (red arrow) and pull the cable out. I didn’t find any damage inside this connector either.

Disconnect the keyboard cable

STEP 5.

After inspecting all the connectors, I moved to the cables. The keyboard cable looked clean and undamaged.

Inspec the keyboard cable for water damage

STEP 6.

Now it’s time for the trackpad cable.

Inspect the trackpad cable for water damage

The end that connects to the trackpad looked great. All golden traces were intact and undamaged.

One end of the trackpad cable undamaged

The end that goes into the logic board, on the other hand, didn’t look healthy! You’ll have to use a microscope or magnifying glass to insect those traces.

As you see, in my case two traces on this end of the cable were corroded and burned.

In MacBook Air laptops this cable is a very common point of failure. There is some voltage running through the connectors and when liquid gets inside, the cable traces get damaged very easily.

I was able to fix the trackpad and keyboard issue in my water damaged MacBook Air simply by cleaning up one of the connectors and replacing a $7 cable.

New trackpad cables for MacBook Air available here: https://ebay.to/2Hiqh8E

The second end of trackpad cable damaged by water

14 Responses

  1. Gina

    Fabulously detailed tutorial. Cables and connectors were all great. Unfortunately, the computer was toast.

  2. JERRY J MCMURRY

    I spilled a small glass of Tullimore Dew (Irish whiskey) onto my MacBook keyboard and killed it. After reading the above article, I purchased a keyboard and installed it after finding that there was no problem with the flat cable connections. You need to cover this keyboard replacement job. It is a JOB. Around the periphery are 39 teeny screws – no problem. But distributed throughout the key area are 50 teeny rivets that hold the stainless keyboard part to the aluminum frame. These have to be pried out with a big screwdriver. Most of them come out, but some lose a little ring, leaving just a tiny post sticking up. After the whole thing is finally removed, the little posts remaining have to be pulled out with diagonal pliers. The keyboard seller provides 50+ teeny screws which miraculously thread into the unthreaded little holes to hold the keyboard in place. They just sort of self-tap into the frame. There were no instructions for all of this job; I had to figger it out for myself. Fortunately I am an old engineer. No, I did not take any pix. Wish I had. But you guys oughta cover this strange keyboard replacement job, I think. (I donated to your fund, by the way.)

    • IML Tech

      @ JERRY J MCMURRY,
      Thank you for your support! By the way, I did cover keyboard replacement a while ago in this article: https://www.insidemylaptop.com/replacing-macbook-air-keyboard-after-liquid-damage/ and linked to this guide in the article.

    • IML Tech

      Yes, the power button worked just fine. If you spilled something on the keyboard and the power button stopped working, most likely you will have to replace the keyboard.
      If your MacBook Air 2012 or newer you can turn it on this way:
      1. Disconnect the battery from the motherboard.
      2. Plug in the MagSafe adapter.
      It will take about 20 seconds to turn on assuming the motherboard is not damaged.

  3. Jan

    Thanks for tutorial, maybe I will try, but I have a slightly different problem. I spilled my macbook air (mid 2013) with a small amount of water, keyboard and trackpad now work perfectly until I log in to the system. I have an encrypted disk, and as soon as I log in and my settings are loaded, the keyboard and trackpad will either stop working or they only work very laggy. Can it be just some kind of SW protection?

    • IML Tech

      Jan, most likely the water got down to the motherboard and damaged it. If your laptop feels very laggy, most likely one of the thermal sensors located on the motherboard or I/O board got damaged. The laptop should be taken apart for liquid spill diagnostics and possible logic board cleanup. There is chance that cleaning the logic board will fix the problem.

      • Jan

        Laptop works perfectly, with external USB keyboard and mouse there is no problem. Lags
        concern only typing on the keyboard or touching the trackapad and only after logging (disk encrypted). Before that, even the keyboard and trackpad are perfectly fine…

        • IML Tech

          Jan, here’s what you can try to figure out if your problem is related to the keyboard/trackpad or motherboard. I’m not sure how technical you are but that’s what I do in cases like that.
          1. Disconnect the trackpad cable. On my picture 5 from the top it’s color-coded in yellow. Unplugging this cable will disconnect your internal keyboard and trackpad. You can unplug this cable without removing the battery.
          2. Plug in your external keyboard and mouse into the laptop.
          3. Connect the MagSafe adapter. The laptop should turn on automatically by itself without you using the power button. The power button will not work because it’s located on the keyboard which you disconnected in the step 1.
          4. Login to your account with the external keyboard connected (while internal disconnected).
          5. Test everything. If the lag is still there, this is logic board related issue. If the lag is gone, most likely you’ll need new top case with the keyboard and trackpad for your Mac. Also, make sure to take a look inside the trackpad connector and look for any liquid damage.

          • IML Tech

            If the laptop boots properly and it’s laggy only while you are using the internal keyboard/trackpad but at the same time everything works properly with the external keyboard/mouse, I think the damage is somewhere on the internal keyboard/ trackpad side, not the motherboard. Even though it’s hard to tell without disassembly. Liquid spills are very unpredictable and sometimes you can get very weird failures.

  4. Miguel

    Hi, very detailed tutorial, looks great.

    Perhaps you could help me with a problem?
    I recently spilled liquid on my MBP 13inch 2015 model, I stupidly turned it on the next day instead of drying it for longer. Both the keyboard and trackpad stopped working and there was a beeping noise. Laptop works fine with usb mouse also, not even power button on keyboard works. Repair shop is charging me loads for a whole top case replacement.

    Is there any chance to repair without replacing the top case?

    Thank you very much

    • IML Tech

      Miguel, you can buy a pre-owned top case assembly with the keyboard and touchpad for about $25 here: https://ebay.to/3buSDKR
      Step-by-step top case replacement instructions for a 13″ MacBook Air 2015 laptop are here: https://bit.ly/38nBsJd

      Most likely your keyboard/trackpad/cables are damaged and have to be replaced. I cannot give you a better advise without looking at the laptop.
      Hope it helps.

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