Clean Your Sticky Laptop Keyboard

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

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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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.

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44 Discussions

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CrystalM135

Question 4 months ago on Introduction

How do you get the big keys back up there . I had to take my space bar key off and it doesn't want to go back on correctly. I also have number 1 and 4 on my number keypad stop working. I want to clean my keys and especially fix my spacebar but I am scared it might break. I got it up there but I have to press hard.

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WildFyreful

5 months ago

Ok I recently spilled a teeny bit of sprite onto my HP Omen laptop keyboard, but thankfully it was only the caps lock and shift keys on the left hand side. They're not really stuck per say but the response (if that makes sense) isn't as good now as the other keys. Is it possible to remove keys on such a model? I'm told you can, but I'd rather be safe than sorry -- this laptop was expensive and I'd rather not break it somehow.

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meganwilliams0920

5 months ago on Step 9

I just removed all of the keys. I currently have them soaking. I have major anxiety about putting them back on though

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gavattackhome

1 year ago

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?

1 reply
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gavattackhomegavattackhome

Reply 1 year ago

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.

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ClintH16

2 years ago

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.

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ClintH16ClintH16

Reply 2 years ago

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.

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Nathank65ClintH16

Reply 2 years ago

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

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LizardQ

2 years ago

My key retainer broke thanks a ton

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MichelleH217

2 years ago

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.

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Roar85Gaming

2 years ago

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

1 reply
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SteveB253Roar85Gaming

Reply 2 years ago

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

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hppy2b

2 years ago

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?

1 reply
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BrandonD51hppy2b

Reply 2 years ago

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

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laptop_keys

3 years ago on Introduction

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

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DrennenD

3 years ago on Introduction

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

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U4Lgih_lBuM

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"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!

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