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How-To Feature
How To Clean a Sticky Keyboard

By Dexter Davenport
(July 4, 1999)

If you are like me, you have a bad habit of eating and drinking while surfing the web. And if you're like me, you may have accidentally spilled your coke into the keyboard. Or perhaps your kid or spouse had a little mishap with the keyboard.

Chances are, if you spilled a soft drink in it, your warranty is null and void anyway. You could send your keyboard back to the manufacturer to be repaired, but that will probably cost nearly as much as a new keyboard.

So, if you are a little brave, why not try to fix it yourself? What do you have to lose? We do recommend that you check with the manufacturer to see what they will charge you first. We don't promise this procedure will work for everyone. And opening your keyboard will definitely void your warranty, so proceed at your own risk.

Remove battery compartment cover. Remove batteries.

Unscrew small Philips head screws. There are seven. The trick is getting the screws out without losing any. Try this: Put a bath towel on the table and turn the keyboard right side up. The screws will fall into the towel but won't roll off the table. Collect the screws and put them into a container. You can use a cup or small jar. Be sure you get all seven screws. If any don't fall out, try loosening them again.

Using a medium-sized straight-edged screwdriver, gently pry apart the top and bottom of the keyboard. The screwdriver will fit into a groove along the edge. Start near one corner and work your way around prying in different places. Be gentle. You need to be careful so you don't break it. But it will pop apart with a little work. Note: You will unfortunately leave a few marks along the edge of the keyboard but these will be small.

Lift the top of the keyboard.

At the top of the keyboard there is a piece of smoked plastic that covers the Infrared transmitter. It may come loose. Don't worry; just place it back in its groove.

With the top removed you'll see the keys are connected to a metal plate. This assembly is connected to a small circuit board near the top of the keyboard.

There are two small white connectors. These need to be disconnected in order to clean the keyboard. The top connector is narrow. Grasp it and rock it gently up and down while pulling up. You may need to push gently against the circuit board with your other fingers.

Be careful not to push on any of the little black rectangles. These are the computer chips that make the keyboard work. With a little effort it should come free. Be gentle but firm.

This white clip holds a ribbon-like cable in place. The white clip will pull loose from the cable. Gently pull it off and put it aside with the screws.

Repeat the same with the wider ribbon cable. This one might give you a bit of trouble.

The plate with the keys will now be loose from the keyboard housing. Pull it free. Turn it over. There are tiny screws near the left and right lower corners. Remove them and put them with the other screws. They are much smaller than the others, so you'll be able to tell the difference.

The next part is tricky. The parts of the keyboard are interlocked. Hold the keyboard in both hands. Your fingers will be against the keys and your thumbs will be on the metal plate. Press down with your thumbs and slide the metal plate toward your body. The metal plate will be released from the keys. Remove it.

Under the plate you will see that the ribbon cables are connected to three sheets of plastic printed with what looks like a maze. What you are looking are the circuits that make the keyboard work.

Each of the little dots in the maze on the top sheet of plastic corresponds with a little dot on the bottom sheet of plastic. Each of the dots and lines of the maze are actually made of metal. When the two dots are pushed together, a circuit is completed and the circuit board interprets this as a certain key being pressed.

The center piece of plastic is a spacer. It has holes punched in it that correspond with each of the dots. This way, when the key isn't pressed, the dots are kept apart.

Sometimes, if you've spilled something into the keyboard, the liquid can seep between the layers of plastic and will glue them together. Or they will make them temporarily stick together. We will examine this plastic circuit sheet in a moment. But set it aside for a moment.

Under the plastic circuit sheets is a gray rubber membrane. Remove it. You'll probably notice that it has dust and crud on it. It also is probably sticky in spots. You will need to wash it. We'll get to that in a moment.

Now you are left with a plastic tray with all the keys connected. You will need to remove the keys. You might want to make a note of the placement of the keys by drawing yourself a picture of each row of keys. You could take your keyboard to a photocopier and make a print of it, or you could just rely on our key placement guide below.

Using the flat screwdriver gently pry off all the key caps. Use your index finger to hold the key caps in place so they don't fly off. Place the screwdriver under the edge of the key and rock the screwdriver as you press down on the key until it pops off. Repeat for every key.

You'll notice the Space and the Shift keys have an additional metal wire to hold them on. Leave the metal attached to the keycap.

Some of the keys may be stuck. Keep prying. As you remove the keys, notice the shape. The top is a bit flatter and the other sides are more beveled. This is important when you go to replace the arrow keys. If you can't get the screwdriver under the key, try pushing the key out from the back side.

Now you have a pile of parts.

Chances are, your hands feel greasy and sticky. This is from the food and drink you enjoyed while using your keyboard. It doesn't seem like much while you are eating and drinking, but it adds up. You need to wash the parts.

Put the keys and the gray rubber membrane into a dish with warm water and move them around. You may need to change the water a few times to make sure you get all the crud off the keys. I don't recommend using any soap, unless the parts are particularly disgusting.

You should also look at the plastic circuit sheets. You know, the one that looks like the maze. Hold it up to the light. If you see any crumbs or stickiness, you will need to wash it too. Don't wash it unless you have to because it will be hard to dry.

If you do wash it, when you pull it out of the water place it on a towel. Then gently lift the layers of plastic and put paper towels between them to blot the water. You'll notice the three sheets of plastic are connected in two spots. They are melted together. DO NOT separate them. These two spots keep the pieces of plastic aligned. If they become disconnected, it may be difficult to get the keyboard to work properly.

Pull the key caps out of the water and put them on the towel to dry. Blot them as needed. Turn the key caps face up to let any water drain out of the back. You might consider using a hair dryer on a cool setting to speed the drying process. Transfer the key caps to a dry towel. Blot them again to make sure they are dry. Any water could cause a problem later.

Dry the plastic tray that the key caps were connected to and the gray rubber membrane. Also wash the metal tray and the top cover of the keyboard if needed. Dry them THOROUGHLY.

You probably shouldn't wash the bottom of the keyboard case as it is connected to the circuit board. You could remove the circuit board, but this is a bit tricky since it's connected to the battery compartment. If it is dirty or sticky, wipe it with a damp cloth, being absolutely certain not to get any water near the circuit board. Dry it thoroughly.

Now comes the nerve wracking part, reassembling your keyboard. It's a little more difficult than putting it together, so here is how to do it.

Take the plastic keyboard tray (the thing that had the key caps attached). The top has to notches along the edge. The top part where the keys were attached is raised above the surface. Flip this over so the part where the keys are lies down on the table and the notches are at the top.

Lay the gray rubber membrane on top. The membrane has raised buttons that should lay down against the plastic tray. You will know if you have the membrane oriented the correct way if it lies flat against the tray. There are square and rectangular cutouts in the membrane. The plastic tray has pegs that poke through the cutouts. If you have everything lined up, the pegs should poke easily through the cutouts. If not, try turning the membrane and try again.

Lay in the plastic circuit sheets (the ones with the maze printed on them). They will only fit one way. Again, there are holes that will fit around the pegs in the plastic tray. The ribbon cable will stick out the top of the assembly.

Take the metal tray and align it with the keyboard assembly. The metal tray has edges that bend at a 90 degree angle on the bottom, left, and right sides. Position the metal tray so that the wrap around edges fit around the edges of the plastic assembly. You'll notice the two little screw holes on the bottom corners. Slide the metal tray against the plastic tray until the plastic pegs show through. Some of these pegs actually lock against the metal tray and keep it in place. You have to be sure the metal plate locks in place so the top edges are perfectly aligned. If you hold the whole assembly up to the light, you should be able to see through the two screw holes.

Screw in the small screws into the metal plate.

Place the keyboard on the bottom part of the keyboard case. Don't put it into its final position because you need to connect the cables first.

Take the wide white plastic clip and test fit it onto the circuit board connector. It will only fit one way. Remove it and slide the ribbon cable into the flat, slotted side of the clip up to the bend in the ribbon. Snap the clip into place.

Do the same with the narrow clip and cable.

Place the whole keyboard assembly into its final position. The metal plate will be down, and the ribbon cables will be on the top. The assembly will fit against pegs in the keyboard case. Slide it around until it won't slide any more.

Place the top part of the keyboard place into position and squeeze the parts of the keyboard together. They will snap together. Start with the bottom edge.

Screw in the seven screws in the back of the keyboard.

Replace each of the keys in its proper place. Here is a guide to proper placement.

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Replace the batteries, being sure to pay attention to the polarity.

Test your keyboard. Go to your e-mail and try to write a new e-mail. Test every key to make sure it does what you expect it to do. If it does something else, you probably put the key caps in the wrong place.

Hopefully, after all this effort, your keyboard works and your sticky keys now work flawlessly. Remember -- you should only do this when your choice is to buy a new keyboard or live with one that's too sticky to use. It works, but if you have a warranty on your keyboard, it likely will void it.

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