My “e” key doesn’t “e”, and other keyboard tips
There seems to be some weird alignment of the planets that is causing a spate of keyboard problems recently — accounting for about a third of my support calls this week. So today I’m going to tell you some basic keyboard maintenance and repair techniques, just in case your “e” key decides to start rebelling too.
Tip of the day: Cleanliness is the “key” to happy keyboards. Aside from your hard drive, your ‘input devices’ are the most (physically) hard-working things on your computer. And unlike the platters, motors, and read/write heads inside your HD, keyboards do all of their work by getting touched by oily, sweaty, dirty, jelly-covered human hands. And they get sneezed on too.
Yes, we humans (even the cleanest of us) manage to do rude things to our keyboards. Smokers drop ashes, and nibblers drop crumbs. We give them Diet Coke baths. We spit on them when we cough, or laugh too hard at YouTube videos. And some of us take our laptops to the beach.
Almost two-thirds of the keyboard-related calls I took at Aplus Computer Aid were concerning laptops, and all but one was cured by cleaning (the sole exception required replacement, it was age related). Laptops, for various reasons, require more frequent cleaning than desktop models. The first thing to do when you have a quirky and misbehaving keyboard is blow the collected dust and debris out from under the keys.
Tip your laptop or desk keyboard on its side, so that gravity can help us. Then use a can of compressed air (like DustOff), or blow through a straw, along all the gaps and depressions around the edges of the keys. Start at the top and work your way down, vary your angles a few times. Now turn your laptop/keyboard upside-down and give it a a couple of gentle taps. Then lay it flat in its normal position and repeat a quick gaps blow. It may surprise you how much stuff has collected under your keys.
Next we go after the more stubborn dirt and oils with a vacuum. A canister vacuum with a brush attachment is the best tool here. If you don’t have a vacuum cleaner that has a hose with a brush, you can try a paint brush (or a basting brush), and brush out as much as you can that way. I have also used a bent piece of insulated wire to go ‘fishing’ under misbehaving keys. It was this method that recently cured a “stuck” key (it wouldn’t depress) on a laptop — fishing around under there produced a grain of uncooked rice. (The laptop’s owner was baffled by this discovery…)
In some cases, you may need to pop the keycaps (or keys) off. This is a somewhat tricky undertaking, usually accomplished with gentle prying pressure with a small screwdriver. Each manufacturer and type of keyboard has its own methodology for keycap removal, and I strongly advise you to look at the manufacturer’s documentation before you start removing caps. (If your laptop is still under warranty, removing keycaps may void your support — look before you leap.) With the keycap off, use a Q-tip and isopropyl alcohol (or water with a smidgeon of liquid dishsoap) to clean the exposed area. Use gentle pressure to ‘snap’ the keycaps back into place. As a final step, use a lint-free cloth moistened with water and mild dishsoap to gently wipe the tops of the keys to remove finger oils and grime.
For more advanced techniques, see also Troubleshooting Problem Keyboards & Mice
For really problematic desktop keyboards there is one more thing to try before going out and purchasing a replacement: soak the keyboard overnight in your bathtub, occasionally swirling the water a little to create current-motion (not much, just a little). Hard to reach oils and other grime will loosen and float away. Let the keyboard air-dry thoroughly (another 24 hours) before plugging it back in.
If all of these methods fail to produce results, good desktop keyboards can be found for as little as $10. Most, if not all, laptops can have the keyboard unit replaced as well: the manufacturer being the source for these parts.
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Copyright © 2007 Tech Paul. All rights reserved.
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