return me to the time before typing made this funny noise, the noise that reminds me of how clumsy I am
March 20, 2012 1:14 PM   Subscribe

I spilled some beer on my MacBook durring an international Skype-powered drinking contest. The computer itself is totally fine, except everything to the right of my O key is sticky. I want to pull the keys off so I can clean the little mechanisms in there, but I'm not sure how to pop them off without creating more problems than I already have. Several Google searches have brought me conflicting advice on how to do this. The specific model is a Macbook4,1 Intel Core 2 Duo, the white polycarbonate one from a few years back.

Oh, and I won the drinking contest.
posted by Hoenikker to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You can't really do that with those kinds of keyboards. You can pop off the key caps, but you can't guarantee that you won't break anything while doing so. The only real solution here is to buy a new keyboard. (I found this out the hard way.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:30 PM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Chocolate Pickle is probably right in that your chances of being able to successfully disassemble, clean, and reassemble your MacBook's keyboard are not great. It's really not designed for that. I have taken apart and reassembled laptops before, and it can be done, but it's a delicate process and one which must be undertaken carefully and with the understanding that there's a good chance that it won't work quite right when you put it back together. And I've never done it on a Mac, which aren't really known for being the best in the user-serviceability department as it is.

However, that doesn't mean your keyboard is unsalvageable! There's a good chance that you can give it a good-enough cleaning without having to take anything apart. Here's what I would do:

I would get in there with some 95% ethanol (e.g. Everclear, if you don't happen to work in a laboratory) or some 90% isopropyl alcohol from the drug store. I would put it in a squirt bottle or large syringe of some kind and (with the computer's battery removed!) I would squirt it in under the keys and such to try and dissolve the gunk that has accumulated there. With the keys nice and wet I would work them all up and down a bunch of times (just kind of mash on the keyboard some) to help free them up and let the alcohol work its magic. Then I would set it aside in a well-ventilated place (far away from any flames) and wait an hour or two for all the alcohol to evaporate away. I'd say that there's an excellent chance that your keyboard would work just fine after this treatment.

Alcohol is a good solvent for electronics issues, because it's pretty good at dissolving a variety of things (especially sticky things) but it's not harsh enough to risk damaging your computer's components. (Keep it away from your screen though, it could dissolve the anti-glare coating.) Also it evaporates away quickly and cleanly, so you don't have to worry about residues or about solvent hanging around in your computer waiting to instigate a short circuit between some vital components.

No guarantee that this will work of course, and please don't blame me if your computer dissolves into a mass of plasticky goo when you try this, but it is something that I have done in the past and is what I would do if I were in your situation.

Good luck!
posted by Scientist at 2:05 PM on March 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

If liquid gets in the computer, there's a switch that is triggered. If it goes off, the warranty is instantly voided. A friend had a worse problem fixed by MicroRelay. Hundreds less than what Apple quoted him. He just raved about the service when they fixed it last week.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:06 PM on March 20, 2012

It really depends on why the keys are sticking. We had an incident with an old laptop. Most of the stickiness was actually between the keys and not actually under the keys. We took a damp cloth and wiped down the keyboard (probably damp enough that some of the water might get between the keys, but not enough to soak anything) then let things dry. After repeating this several times things got much better.

This may not work for you, but one thing is clear - use small amounts of solvent, lots of time to dry, and many repeats.
posted by NoDef at 2:27 PM on March 20, 2012

With all due respect, please do not follow Scientist's directions. Both ethanol and isopropyl are great solvents; we use IPA in the lab to clean electronic components all the time. However, if you squirt any solvent onto the keyboard of your laptop, there is an excellent chance that it will dissolve any contaminants under the key caps (the beer residue as well as any other foreign material that has worked its way in there), wick farther into the system, and deposit these contaminants onto the motherboard or other critical areas of the system before evaporating. At that point you have a corrosive event just waiting to happen.

If you can remove the keyboard, this process may work (although without knowing the keyboard in question, I can't really say), but at least you won't have risked any of the internal components.
posted by blurker at 4:11 PM on March 20, 2012

Blurker's warning is valid. There is a legitimate risk that beer residue and such might end up further inside the computer, in places where you don't want them. It's not something I've ever had happen, nor have I heard from anyone who's had it happen, but it's possible.

It would indeed be better to be able to remove the keyboard and clean it separately, if it's easy to do, and you should probably go look for a guide to doing this on your computer to see if it's feasible. However, to me it would seem riskier to attempt disassembly of my laptop's keyboard than to try to wash out the gunk with alcohol. Taking apart laptops is not without risk of its own, even if you can find a guide to help you in the process.

In my experience, a fair bit of the laptop's chassis generally has to be disassembled before the keyboard can be removed. You usually have to go in from underneath and work your way up, through the guts of the machine. Your machine may be different and you may be more comfortable going the disassembly route, but I personally would still go the solvent route if it were my laptop. Perhaps if you do attempt that method you would do well to invert the computer (leave it lying open with the screen and keyboard facing down) in order to minimize runoff of contaminant-containing alcohol into the guts of the machine.

If you have the time and the money, it might be best to just send it out for professional repair. If you want to repair it yourself, there is going to be some risk involved.
posted by Scientist at 4:45 PM on March 20, 2012

I should say that the consequences of getting stuff deep inside the machine could indeed be corrosive action, just as blurker says, and that the effects of this could be delayed and once they set in could be difficult to diagnose as coming from that. So just because I've never noticed it happening doesn't mean I've never had it happen, I suppose. The alcohol thing is still what I would do if it were my machine but I guess I don't feel comfortable really recommending that you just go in and do it as a first resort. If there's something less risky that you can come up with to clean out your keyboard, or if you can reasonably get your keyboard out away from the machine before cleaning it with alcohol, it would probably be better to do that.
posted by Scientist at 4:57 PM on March 20, 2012

Clean with rubbing alcohol. Also, don't turn your computer on for a little while. Something similar happened to my MacBook, and now my right shift key doesn't work and my mousepad button is no fully responsive.

Am i the only one who wants more details on the drinking contest?
posted by jander03 at 8:18 PM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: If there's something less risky that you can come up with to clean out your keyboard, or if you can reasonably get your keyboard out away from the machine before cleaning it with alcohol, it would probably be better to do that.

Ugg, it doesn't sound like I'm on the right track. Are there other, less risky, strategies for dealing with sticky keys?

Thanks for the advice everyone.
posted by Hoenikker at 7:07 AM on March 21, 2012

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