Data Doctors: Tips for cleaning a sticky keyboard

Q: The keys on my keyboard are getting harder to press. Can silicone spray be safely used to loosen them?

A: The longer you’ve had your keyboard, the more likely you’ll experience issues with sticky keys.

The most common cause of sticky keys is the buildup of dust, dirt and debris over time.

If you routinely eat while working at your computer, you’ll accelerate the collection of debris, as small crumbs make their way under your keys.

If you’ve ever spilled or splashed any liquids that contain sugars, the evaporated remains will absolutely cause problems.

Silicon Spray

While this approach is a great solution for many sticking items in your home, when it comes to a keyboard, it should be avoided.

The sticking in your keyboard isn’t from the friction of surfaces, it’s generally debris. Using silicon spray would leave a residue that would attract more dust and debris over time and make things worse.

Desktop Computers

Before you attempt any cleaning efforts, make sure to unplug the keyboard first. Start by turning the keyboard upside down and give it a good shake. If you see lots of debris falling out, grab a can of compressed air to really get it cleaned out.

Hold the keyboard on its side and generously spray between all the keys.

Caution! Keep the compressed air can upright when spraying to prevent the compressed liquid from spraying out.

Run a hand across all the keys afterward while it’s still on its side to encourage any remaining debris to move out.

Another great cleaning tool is either a paintbrush or a soft toothbrush that can get to the debris under the keys.

If specific keys are problematic, you can gently pry them off with a blunt object (like a letter opener or tweezers) to deep clean the mechanism underneath with a cotton swab and rubbing alcohol.

Don’t push the tool too far under the key as this could damage the base or the contacting mechanism. Once it’s dried, firmly push the key back on to reconnect it.

If you have a specialized keyboard, this approach may not be recommended unless you research it first.

The great thing about desktop keyboards is that they are very inexpensive to replace, so if nothing seems to be working, replace it altogether.

Laptop Computers

Unlike desktop computers, the keyboard on a laptop is proprietary, so replacing it can be very expensive.

Be sure to turn off your laptop before any cleaning procedures. Place the laptop on its side with the screen and keyboard at a 90-degree angle when spraying with compressed air.

Since every laptop is designed differently, the individual keys may not be removable and should not be attempted without doing research on your specific model.

The best way to know what’s possible on your laptop would be to search online “how to remove keys from (brand/model number) laptop keyboard.”

Preventive Maintenance

One way to keep dust and debris from building up is by routinely clearing the keys before you experience issues.

You can purchase a keyboard vacuum for less than $20 or just turn it upside down and shake out the debris at least once a month.

Ken Colburn is founder and CEO of Data Doctors Computer Services. Ask any tech question on Facebook or Twitter.

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