Tech – for Everyone

Tech Tips and Tricks & Advice – written in plain English.

Fix Problem Keyboards*

Originally titled, “My “e” key doesn’t “e”, and other keyboard tips”, this post appeared 08/06/07. I have added a tip in this republication.

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. 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 (laptop or desktop) 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 you. 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 highest side 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 brush. 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, and the computer powered off (battery removed too, in laptops) 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 slightly moistened with water and mild dishsoap to gently wipe the tops of the keys to remove finger oils and grime.

[addenda: If you have a keyboard you dearly love, and want to keep it functioning for many more weeks and months and years, you may want to consider applying the advice above to the whole board, and not just the problem keys, and give it a real thorough cleaning.
I suggest taking a Polaroid or digital picture (or pictures) to document exact key placement to assist you in replacing the keys in their proper places. Remove all the key caps, and if possible, lay them out on a tabletop in the same pattern as they are on the board itself. Start at the bottom and work your way up.
Once all the caps are removed, really do a good job of cleaning out the recesses as described in the prior paragraph. Clean the undersides of the caps before replacing them, as well.
Sometimes, this will “resurrect” dead keyboards.]

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.

Today’s free link: I don’t want you to think that I’m a boring and all-business geek, so today’s link is the place to get started building your digital music collection … for free. The music department at download.com is an entirely free collection of music of all genres. Check it out. Have fun, and relax … it’s completely legal, and doesn’t use any of that questionable and risky “file sharing” torrents.

Copyright 2007-2010 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.jaanix post to jaanix

Share this post :

January 26, 2010 - Posted by | advice, computers, hardware, how to, keyboards and mice, tech | , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

6 Comments »

  1. TechPaul,

    Another, last resort technique that worked for me one time, was “keyboard into the dishwasher” then let dry out…

    Great article!

    Rick

    Like

    Comment by Ramblinrick | January 29, 2010 | Reply

    • Rick,
      Yes! Same principle as the tub, and it works. I confess I prefer the bathtub (or a large basin) as a dishwasher can/may be a tad too vigorous, and/or the water too hot.. if one isn’t careful with the settings.
      Thanks for the addition!

      Like

      Comment by techpaul | January 29, 2010 | Reply

  2. Hey!I have hp laptop,the password is combined with numbers,now the numbers does not work,I tried to unlock the numbers but it does not work.please help.

    Like

    Comment by manoko | June 27, 2015 | Reply

    • manoko,
      You actually want to activate NumLock to use the “number pad” numbers/keys (to the right of your Enter key), but you should be able to use the numbers that run across the top regardless. If not, you can click the lower left corner button on the login screen and try using the “Accessibility Option” Onscreen keyboard, or perhaps plugging in a USB keyboard, to log in. (See http://www.7tutorials.com/how-use-screen-keyboard)

      Once you are logged in, you can try the various repairs I have already mentioned in 3 articles and answers to previous Comments. I would start here https://techpaul.wordpress.com/2007/10/24/keyboard-troubleshooting-is-sticky-keys-on/.
      (Or, if your laptop is new and still under warranty, calling HP Support.)

      Like

      Comment by techpaul | June 28, 2015 | Reply

  3. Hi
    In my keyboard the 2 keys are not working they are working in vice versa @ key and ” keys these two keys how can we correct these keys in to their position .When i on the laptop it works good but after a couple of minutes its working in vice versa order. So how can we correct the keys.

    Like

    Comment by vani | April 25, 2016 | Reply

    • vani,
      Take the machine to a tech.

      Like

      Comment by techpaul | April 26, 2016 | Reply


Post your Comment/Question

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: