Sticky Laptop Keys
August 25, 2004 11:13 AM   Subscribe

PouredSodaInMyLaptopFilter: Thanks to a remarkable gust of wind, I managed to deposit about 1/2 of a Coca-Cola into my the right third of my laptop keyboard. Now the keys stick. Ideas? (inside)

I managed to power off and turn the thing upside down before any liquid made it onto the motherboard, etc., but the keys are getting worse. They bounce back like they're walking through marshmallow quicksand.

I've destroyed a few eminently disposable desktop keyboards in the past, but never a laptop. Will this condition improve on its own or no?

Assuming no, the only options I can think of are (1) replacing the keyboard (about $120 I'd rather not spend) or (2) removing the keyboard and trying to clean each key individually (in which case I'd be worried about (2a) how to remove the keys without breaking them (done that before), (2b) what solvent to use and in what quantity, and (2c) what "applicator" to use that won't leave an additional residue rendering the keyboard even worse than it was when I started.

Your help is appreciated.
posted by Sinner to Computers & Internet (10 answers total)
Pop off the keys carefully using a flat-head screwdriver, and clean it with rubbing alcohol and a Q-Tip.
posted by cmonkey at 11:25 AM on August 25, 2004

And once you're done, pick up something like an iSkin ProTouch -- it's like a condom for your keyboard! (link is for a Mac product since that's what I have -- I assume similar things exist for other brands of laptop)
posted by bcwinters at 12:20 PM on August 25, 2004

Also, if you're going to be poking around in the moving parts of the keyboard with a Q-Tip, make sure you get the type made out of foam. The cotton tipped variety will leave behind lots of little threads that were snagged by the lever mechanisms, which can be annoying to remove.

If the alcohol application doesn't sufficiently clean the keyboard, consider the bathtub technique: remove the keyboard entirely from the machine, submerge it in water, work the keys a while, and dry very, very thoroughly. Leave it for a couple of days to be absolutely certain that it's dry, then re-connect it.
posted by majick at 12:25 PM on August 25, 2004

I have never tried this and I am thinking off the top of my head so take this advice at your own risk (well the risk of a $120 keyboard). Along the lines of what majick suggests, rather than take off each key you might be able to just hose it down to get out the soda. Afterwards to prevent rust from forming you could rinse it in alcohol (90% not 50%) or some other quickly evaporating solvent. Ether works to remove alcohol but is incredibly dangerous.
posted by caddis at 12:34 PM on August 25, 2004

slightly offtopic, but what type of keyboard is it? We have a spare Inspiron one here that I'd happily mail you.
posted by jessamyn at 12:51 PM on August 25, 2004

I had a similar problem with coffee and an old ibm thinkpad. it was so old the keys were starting to stick in clumps so i couldn't type just t without gtr, or r or g, etc. with jkl...
being way more mac familiar and never dismantling a laptop keyboard, and since it was so old anyway, it degenerated into a last straw dumping of rubbing alcohol--
strangely it worked, but since it was so used and old, the keys denegerated anyway.
it was hell for literati, but i still got accused of being some covert literati veteran.
using the spell check estimates to send email was a riot for a while---
posted by ethylene at 1:08 PM on August 25, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks all for the replies and sorry not to have responded in turn earlier - ironically, had to go help a family friend with an unsolveable MS Word dilemma. Still not sure what I'm going to do and wondering if anyone's seen this sort of thing improve with time. I suspect not, and once the irritation reaches a boiling point, I'll probably put some of this to use shortly, thinking gratefully of AskMe in general the whole time (with more specific thanks to the below).

cmonkey: thanks - I had a feeling that that solution would be something along the lines of flat-tip, q-tip and alcohol (although I have another old laptop that's minus a couple of keys thanks to the flat-tip approach).

majick: also a good call on the foam vs. cotton thing. I had a feeling there. I must say, I'm very wary of the "bathtub solution" as you put it, but I'll keep it in mind as a last ditch.

: the rust-preventing alcohol thing is a great tip I wouldn't have remembered.

bcwinters : that sounds like exactly the sort of wise, appropriate, pre-emptive strategy that I would never have the good sense to employ. But thanks.

Finally, jessamyn, the machine's not a dell, so no luck there, but thanks so much for the offer (next - or last, I guess - stop ebay).
posted by Sinner at 1:59 PM on August 25, 2004

I find it very difficult to replace most laptop keys, so I recommend against that method. Try one 1st, maybe it's not too bad on your laptop.

Sometimes they have a little plastic thingie under the key that may have soaked up lots of sodapop. If you can remove the keyboard, I'd give it a thorough rinsing, with several changes of water. Shake off as much water as possible, then dry with a blow dryer. Let it dry in a warm, sunny spot for a day before you plug a potentially wet item into your laptop. Alcohol might be bad for any rubber bits. I've successfully washed a Toshiba laptop keyboard.

I've seen a lightweight, rollup keyboards for PDAs; maybe you can find a USB one.
posted by theora55 at 8:42 PM on August 25, 2004

Rollup USB keyboard, from Thinkgeek, of course. And I would really like the illuminated one, since I neber ;earmed tp toucjh typew.
posted by theora55 at 8:46 PM on August 25, 2004

Lucky. When I spilled Polaner Orange Dry soda on a laptop - just a bit! - it broke, disturbing crackling noises on startup and all. And it was acting as a MOO server, and I hadn't saved a copy of the database any time recently. Then again, it was a really old one and the keyboards recent ones are probably much more isolated.
posted by abcde at 9:06 PM on August 25, 2004

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