Introduction: Clean Your Sticky Laptop Keyboard

Picture of Clean Your Sticky Laptop Keyboard

So your laptop keys stick for one reason or another. Perhaps you spilled a drink on it, or you just like to eat and surf the web at the same time.

I had the misfortune of spilling some Mountain Dew on my keyboard about two years ago, and this method has kept my keys working smoothly  ever since.  Cleaning your laptop is simple, but time consuming.  Take your time and don't try to force anything and you should have a perfectly functioning keyboard once more!

Click the "i" in the upper left hand corner of any picture to view the full resolution file.
56k beware, most of these files are 4-5 MB.

For any sticky situation, following these steps will make your keyboard work and feel like new!

Step 1: Shut Down... Fast!

Picture of Shut Down... Fast!

If you just spilled something on your keyboard, shut your computer down as fast as possible!

Your first order of business is to shut down your computer and remove the battery - as quickly as possible if you spilled liquid on it. Force shut down your computer by holding the power button until it turns off. Any data loss during this process should be minimal and less costly than any shorted-out hardware.

Step 2: Gather Materials

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To give your laptop a thorough cleaning, you will need:

- A cup or container large enough to hold all the keys on your keyboard
- Rubbing alcohol
- Cotton swabs (Q-Tips)
- Dish soap (without bleach) or some other mild detergent
- Paper towels
- Flathead screwdriver
- Towel

Most of these supplies are probably already sitting around your house or apartment, but I doubt you'll spend over $10 if for some reason you need to purchase everything.

Step 3: Initial Wipedown

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Soak up as much of any spilled liquid as you can with a paper towel or rag.  Make sure to get all surfaces of your computer, including the screen. 

It's quite possible that you splashed liquid into every deep dark crevice of your computer during your spill.  Use your cotton swabs if necessary, but don't worry about getting in between the keys, we'll get to that soon.

Step 4: Remove Keys

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Before you start removing keys, take a high resolution picture of your key layout.  Alternatively you can draw the layout or use a friend or family member's computer as a reference.  The layout of certain keys can differ slightly among computer brands and models.

Your keys were basically snapped onto your keyboard at the factory... and therefore can be unsnapped.

Grab onto a corner of a key and firmly lift up.  You may be required to pry on more than one corner at a time to unsnap each key.  If a key (especially larger ones) prove difficult, wiggle a flathead screwdriver underneath the key and rotate the blade in several places to "persuade" it to let go.

If you spilled liquid on your keyboard, it will probably be necessary to remove the key carriers as well.  My carriers are white and rotate to allow the keys to move up and down.  These snap off similar to the keys, but yours may differ slightly.

This process will take some time, be patient and don't rush this part... that's a sure way to break something important.

Step 5: Clean Keys

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The next step is to give your keys a soak in some dish soap (or other mild detergent) and warm water.  Fill your cup or container and drop in your keys.

I let my keys soak for about an hour.

Some of your larger keys may have one or several metal guide bars on their underside.  These bars slide into slots on your keyboard, so make sure not to bend the bars or their slots on your computer.

Step 6: Clean Keyboard

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As you can see, I did not remove every key on my computer since only a few of them were sticking.

Dip your cotton swab into the rubbing alcohol and begin to clean around each key post.  Remember if any liquid made its way under your keys to remove the key carriers as well and soak them with the keys.

I found that some areas of the keyboard chewed up the cotton swabs fairly quickly.  If this happens, remember to remove any cotton snagged off the swab before replacing your keys.

Flip your computer upside-down on a towel and give it about an hour to completely dry.  If you are cleaning up from a liquid spill, let it dry at least overnight in case any liquid made it past your keyboard and into your computer case.

Step 7: Clean Keys... Again

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Once your keys are done soaking, lay them out and pat them down with a paper towel or clean rag.  Allow them time to completely dry, usually an hour or two.

Although it may not be necessary, I recommend going over the backs of your keys and your key carriers with rubbing alcohol the same way you cleaned your keyboard.  Remove any guide bars and clean under these as well.  Replace the guide bars when you are finished.

Step 8: Reattach Everything

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You're almost done!

After allowing time four your computer and keys to completely dry, reattach everything in reverse order that you removed it.  Key carriers, keys, and battery.  Test each key for function after you attach it.  If a key still appears to stick a little, repeat steps 5-7 as needed.

Refer to the picture or drawing you made in step 4 when reattaching your keys.  The keys and carriers just snap back into place, but make sure everything is aligned before applying any real pressure.  Again, take your time and don't rush this part, you can still snap part of a key or try to force a key into the wrong place.

Boot up your computer and test out your keys on a word processing program.  Make sure the letter you press on your keyboard is what shows up on your screen, it's very easy to switch two keys even if you were paying very close attention to their placement.

Step 9: Done!

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Now you're done!  Enjoy your revitalized keyboard! 

If for any reason a key starts to stick again, repeat this process until it functions smoothly.

Thanks for looking.


gavattackhome (author)2017-11-28

I only had one key stick but when I was trying to put it back together, the piece that goes inside the outer piece wont go back in right. I am using an older Toshiba Satellite from (I think) the year 2015. I am working on the X key (Yes, I had to press that key without its cover on). Can someone help?

I just found out that the piece that is not going in is the key retainer. Also, my Toshiba's model is Toshiba Satellite C55-B.

ClintH16 (author)2016-07-23

If I have to thank you for one thing, it's the reminder to take a photo of the key layout first. I was going to be a bit gung ho but took the advice and man it saved me time during re-assembly. As a nerd, you think you know the layout, but you don't.

I went about the rest of it a different way though. Pretty manly. I just used an old toothbrush, and a heaps of WD-40. Slathered everything in it. Took off all the keys, took out the rubber sheet, scrubbed every part with the toothbrush and WD-40. Smelt bad at first but a quick wipe down with a paper towel, and then after assembly, a final wipe down with a wet wipe and a dry paper towel and the smell is practically gone and the thing is really clean. And hell yeah, no more sticky keys, no way. As a bonus, typing sounds really quiet.

ClintH16 (author)ClintH162016-07-27

Ok actually the WD-40 smell is still vaguely there a week later. Not strong but noticeable. But it probably should continue to fade. So keep that in mind if you're trying my version. I still think my keys move smoother than they would have if I didn't use WD-40. But next time I'll try detergent and a brush, as the article states.

Nathank65 (author)ClintH162016-10-10

WD40 make a contact cleaner, less odorous and more suited to cleaning electrical parts.

LizardQ (author)2016-09-21

My key retainer broke thanks a ton

MichelleH217 (author)2016-09-16

The keys move up and down but some don't respond or show up as something else. Will these steps help with that or am I screwed? Laptop itself still works just keyboard seems to be misfunctioned a little.

Roar85Gaming (author)2016-08-15

Using this method permanently damaged my keys.
I have an Alienware 15. I do not recommend prying off keys like he suggests.

SteveB253 (author)Roar85Gaming2016-08-30

Odd. Prying of the keys is not something dangerous to do when doing it carefully, they snapped them in place in the factory.

hppy2b (author)2016-01-07

last time i cleaned the keys on my laptop the black rubber underneath that ,that made the keys work ,bounced off and then i couldnt find them .. what do i do then?

BrandonD51 (author)hppy2b2016-03-09

make sure you start with a clean designated work space , with a white towel underneath the laptop. Any parts that fall are easily seen..

KhajaM2 (author)2015-09-21

can we do this to hp pavillion g6 too ?

laptop_keys (author)2015-07-06

Wow!! Great post on cleaning of laptop keyboard. Thanks a lot for sharing..

DrennenD (author)2015-05-24

Great for laptops... but what about mechanical keyboards? I've got a video for it if you need it. :)

TornuptoTube (author)2015-03-29

aso thias ias qwhadst iads hadsppqening plqeradsqerw tqerll mqe hoqw to dfizx thias

Ihaveaface (author)TornuptoTube2015-05-23

"also this is whats happening please tell me how to fix this" I have no idea how, but I just started reading that and knew!

chunksfantasm (author)2015-01-19

,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, ;l;hggy77777777777777777777777777j8880000000ffftrrrrrrzzzzzzs2f5][0411111111111111dssssssssssssgl;'][iiiiiiiiw1w4444440--

charlizer (author)2015-01-14

I spilled cider on the arrow keys of my laptop, but I'm hesitant to remove the keys for fear they won't work and I'll be in a worse fix. Is it possible to clean it without removing the keys?

ron.michel1 (author)2015-01-13

the return spring or leverage system used to lift the key is in question. you need to remove the key (prying at the top of said key down most likely) and figure out why the key is not coming back up (or falling when it just starts to type the s over and over) you might find you could use a spring, or toothpick to create a way to lift said key. but over all replace keyboard or use of external keyboard is cheap)

DavíV (author)2015-01-09

I never spilled something in my laptop's keyboard, but the letter "s" stopped all of sudden and sometimes (when I'm typing some text) my computer shows the letter "s" continuasly, until I press shift, esc or windows key.
I guess its a problem in the circuit itself, because I've installed Windows again (I was planning to do it before the problem)
Do you think that there is any solution better than buying a new keyboard?

jaldridge (author)2014-12-06

Methylated spirits is what I use, it's good because it doesn't get things too wet, due to the extreme flammability..

darraughbj (author)2014-11-29

Great post, in doing the cleaning myself I found that hydrogen peroxide is a good alternative to cleaning the sugar off if you don't have any alcohol around.

ClareK1 (author)2014-11-09


bsaul1 (author)2013-11-26

I have the same problem but I think is more advanced in my case.
My laptop ( hp DV7) totally blocks - no answer from the keyboard, mouse or anything else. The only solution is to turn it off from the button. I tried to repair it, I have reinstalled the windows, drivers, I have cleaned up the cooler. Is till have the problem on a fresh installed OS. It still blocks all the time.
If the problem is still exsit,buying a a new keyboard is the best suggestion

ASquirrelS (author)bsaul12014-11-04

either this is spam or you don't have stuff plugged in correctly.

Replacing the keyboard will NOT solve a mousepad not working. Nor will it affect anything other than the keyboard.

The.Skeldon (author)2014-09-20

All I have done is get some WD40 and stick the tube between the sticky keys an have a TINY squirt and jobs a gooden.
WD40 is not going to harm your computer.

On youtube they make a water proof PC and fill the clear case with oil as oil isn't a conductor. I recommend trying it before removing your keys.

ASquirrelS (author)The.Skeldon2014-11-04

WD40 won't harm the electronics of the computer, but it CAN dissolve some plastics. And sadly, it is a temporary fix to a permanent problem.

Silicone spray works much longer and doesn't dissolve plastics and stink like WD40 does. Not wanting to be mean here, but there are different designs for different coolant fluids with each computer. Oil is a better dialectic than air, and it conducts heat better(so it cools better too). Water is even better than oil because it has a higher specific heat and it conducts heat better too. There are lots of water cooled PC's out there. Doesn't mean water won't harm your air-cooled laptop.

Kudos on it working for you though!

anthony.stermer (author)2014-10-07

I could hug you right now.

BarbH1 (author)2014-07-26

this does not work. the keys do not click back into the slot. there are 3 pieces to each key and you don't show how they go together. so now i have to take this laptop in somewhere and get it fixed, not too happy

johnapaz made it! (author)2014-06-03

Thanks for the instructions!

JoAnn77PL (author)2014-04-23

Thanks so much for this post! Several days ago (before Easter) I spilled, well actually my ferret spilled a glass of Coke on my laptop. I obviously switched it off, patted it well and dried. But alt, shift and 'n' keys were so stuck with 'sugar-free' drink underneath that it was impossible to write anything. You gave me back my laptop technically :) Although shift still doesn't work perfectly, I hope that after repeat of procedure it will be ideal back again. THANKS!

schlitzuous (author)2013-07-11

all night for me. i only attempted this AFTER ordering a replacement for $10.50. those carriers are flimsy, but only one shot across the room - i found it. maybe 10% came apart. a few seemed a little mis-shaped from removal. I had to do they whole keyboard cuz the previous owner spilled a sugary coffee all over it. I found this out after taking the keyboard out to replace the cmos battery. "What's that brown stuff? Lick finger, rub, sniff... mmm, sweet coffee!"

schlitzuous (author)2013-07-11

Step 2: Spend $10 on a new one.

SlickSqueegie (author)2012-12-26

Believe it or not, the computer shop i worked for had a dishwasher in the back. We used it for computer panels and keyboards! It worked great, they came out looking brand new in most cases...

Lightfeather (author)2012-04-13

I inherited an old, "well loved" laptop that was born back in 2003 and after ripping the thing apart to change the CMOS battery, which required the removal of nearly eight thousand screws, and cleaning up an interior spill, of which I could only assume was soda (I hope it was soda!), I was dismayed to discover all my arrow keys, the right shift, end, alt and ctrl keys were all pretty dang sticky as well. I was terrified of snapping off the keys only to find I wouldn't be able to get them back on.

Your guide was extremely helpful and I'm happy to say my keys are nearly good as new and still work! I've been having a lot of issues with random BSODs and general flibbity jibbitness while trying to beat this thing back into shape and it occurred to me that a ctrl key that may be stuck partially down while trying to install things could throw a wrench into the works.

I'm sure the machine is just gasping its last breath but I'm going to continue to do CPR until there's nothing left to be done. What's ironic is after I delicately beat this thing back into shape, I'm going to be handing it over to a five year old to play educational games on since those will run just fine on an older machine. I'm thinking she'll turn it back into poo in less than a month.

Anyhow. Thanks for the guide! Very helpful!!

awarby (author)2011-09-27

Thanks so much! I got my computer back from having the keyboard replaced(under warranty) and found that they'd wiped my whole hard drive...and then the very next night I spilled part of a drink on it....there is a slight amount of liquid damage on the screen, but mostly just sticky keys. I think I can save her...but can I save me from my klutzy self ! HA! I shall try it!

valhallasmine (author)2010-12-13

THANKS for this instructable! My "p" key was sticking, and you gave me the courage and info to just pop it off and check it out. A little "goober" is now outta the way and I can use the p key to my heart's content.

Aburame Shino (author)2010-06-10

Good Instruc-- IS THAT YOUR THUMB? Holy mackerel, that mother is freaking LONG! Is that even natural? Jesus help us all! But yeah, good Instructable. Fortunately, I've not had to use it yet, as I take extra care when nomming around the computer.

admiral001 (author)2010-03-07

Good Instructable, very thorough. If you forget to map your keyboard beforehand, you can also bring up the on screen keyboard. It also has the added benefit of lighting up the key on the screen when pushed on the keyboard for easy double checking.

babushkin (author)2010-02-28

dude thanks for this. I spilled coke on my new laptop and I used your guide to clean it up. The spacebar is still a little sticky, but otherwise, your methods worked beautifully. Took me over 6 hours from disassembling it to assembling it back lol

J-Five (author)2009-10-20

Prevention is the best method dont drink or eat at the computer.

karossii (author)2009-10-12

Pretty decent instructable. I wonder how long it will take for the 'sticky keyboard' porn jokes to commence?

Assuming my comment isn't considered one...

About This Instructable




Bio: I'm studying Industrial technology at Iowa State University.
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