A Cure for Shiny Key Syndrome
May 26, 2008 11:05 AM   Subscribe

How can I avoid shiny keys syndrome on my computer keyboards? This relates to the patches of smoothness that seem to appear on often-used keys after a few months of consistent use.

On every keyboard I've used, after a few weeks of heavy use, there always seem to be certain keys which exhibit an odd, shiny smoothness compared to other keys. It is clearly because these keys are the most often used. The spacebar, for example, has a patch of shiny smoothness on the right side where my right thumb usually lands when I'm hitting the spacebar. The ⌘ key on my keyboard is pretty shiny too. In contrast, rarely used keys like "Esc" or the F-keys are in pristine condition.

It's most obvious on black keyboards but the shiny patches are also quite evident on white keyboards if viewed at an oblique angle. They keys themselves function normally, they're just really... shiny.

My question is, is there any way to avoid the development of these shiny patches short of using a keyboard cover? Is it because the top layer of plastic has been worn off by my fingers or is it an accumulation of grease and oil and dirt? Can it be "cured"?

This isn't a very well-phrased question, so if anyone has any clarifications to ask I'd be happy to make them.
posted by WalterMitty to Computers & Internet (16 answers total)
You ought to make sure it's not a build up of oil from your fingers as you suspect it could be. One sure way to find out would be to rub some isopropyl alcohol on the keys with a towel and see if it disappears. If not, then it's actually the plastic degrading (or losing texture) in which case you can only alleviate it by buying a more durable keyboard, or using a cover which you don't want to do.
posted by tybeet at 11:14 AM on May 26, 2008

That seems to be a function of the kind of plastic they used to create the keys. I don't think there's anything you can do about it except to spend money for expensive keyboards.

(Yeah, it's because the plastic is wearing away. Expensive plastic is stronger.)
posted by Class Goat at 11:23 AM on May 26, 2008


Also, I'm pretty sure it's the plastic, not the skin oils. The keys are more worn on my work Dell keyboard, which is about a year old, than on my home keyboard, which is about twenty.
posted by box at 11:30 AM on May 26, 2008

Shut down and use one of those Clorox wipes across your board. Other than that, forget about it.... I can see my hand prints on my laptop, literally, I can see my palm prints on the front of my laptop, I've worn through the gray and into the black, my hands have worn away the plastic and OMG! they look like hands.

Learn to touch type, then you don't need letters on the keys.
posted by zengargoyle at 11:30 AM on May 26, 2008

Yes, this is the matte finish on the plastic wearing away. At work I deal with a huge variety of keyboards, and they've all got this to some extent. I think the only way to avoid it is to use a keyboard that's initially smooth and shiny, although IMO a battle-scarred keyboard is something to be proud of.
posted by pocams at 11:37 AM on May 26, 2008

A few weeks of use seems a bit short (to me at least) for actual wear of the keys: the matte finish on my El Cheapo 5-year old keyboard looks ok, but maybe I just have a soft touch.

Try cleaning it up with a solvent like alcohol. Be carefull with the plastic though - try it out on a little patch first. You don't want to end up with fuzzy-looking grey keys.
posted by ghost of a past number at 12:36 PM on May 26, 2008

I use a silicone keyboard cover like one of these. The keys on my PowerBook, which is more than three years old and has pretty much never been turned off, look brand new. Added bonus: no crumbs and crap in the keyboard, either.
posted by bcwinters at 12:57 PM on May 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Keyboards are cheap. If it's really an issue you can just replace it. You can buy a box of ten for less than $100.

You can also put your keyboard in the dishwasher.

Personally I think it's just oil from fingers, so it responds well to mild soap. Isopropyl alcohol and cotton balls work wonders too.
posted by wfrgms at 1:03 PM on May 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

You could put patches of contact paper or removable-but-durable stickers and put them on the keys, to protect the surface. You'd just have to replace the stickers every few months.
posted by delmoi at 1:08 PM on May 26, 2008

Finger Condoms?
posted by JimmyJames at 1:20 PM on May 26, 2008

If you can touch type, and you don't have a funny ergonomic keyboard, you could rotate the keys around so that the one labeled ESC gets as much wear as the one labeled E. This might not be convenient for guests on your computer.
posted by aubilenon at 1:35 PM on May 26, 2008

To prevent uneven wear, keyboards need to be rotated just like mattresses.
posted by muzzlecough at 3:16 PM on May 26, 2008

To prevent uneven wear, keyboards need to be rotated just like mattresses.

No way I could get used to having the function keys appear below the letters. Or the spacebar on the backside of the board -- you'd have to hit the apparatus with a mallet to get any work done.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 3:20 PM on May 26, 2008

(As an aside, my lower three arrow keys have notches worn in them because I use the tips of my fingers on them, and my fingernails have worn groves over time. The keys are worn smooth in exactly their frequency of appearance in the English language ("e" is slick, "q" still has almost all of its texture), which is pretty neat when you think about it.

None of this answers your question directly--but you could just embrace the wear as a humanizing element on an otherwise antiseptic device. Think of ancient stone stairways where the passage of endless people have worn the center of the treads--and hence they're much more interesting and human than a perfect stair would be.)
posted by maxwelton at 7:16 PM on May 26, 2008

Response by poster: It's not so much the wearing out of the lettering that bothers me as the fact that it's a little greasy and weirdly smooth - a little obsessive-compulsive really. I can touch-type, so there's no problem there. There's no bearing on the functionality of the keyboards at all, just me being nit-picky.

I'll try the alcohol and soap. Either that or start bothering myself about things that really matter. Thanks all.
posted by WalterMitty at 7:07 PM on May 27, 2008

They're not greasy, they're polished smooth by your fingers.

They may feel a little "greasier" because they have a smooth texture as opposed to the original matte texture, but the smoothness is not due to accumulated grease.
posted by qvtqht at 12:44 AM on June 18, 2008

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