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  • Can I clean the keys by myself by plucking the keys out ?
  • How exactly do I clean the laptop keyboard in such a situation ?
  • Do I have to replace the whole keyboard ?
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what model of Dell Vostro is it? –  Steve Rathbone Jul 3 '12 at 12:20
    
If it's just water it's likely to "fix itself" after several days of drying out. Ideally, place the keyboard (if you can remove it) in a bag with desiccant, or (somewhat less ideal) place the entire laptop there. And then (if you can find the place) put this bag in a slightly warm place (not over about 100F). No guarantees, depending on how clean the water was, however. –  Daniel R Hicks Jul 4 '12 at 12:16
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5 Answers

What's Under Each Key in this typing thingy?

three layers of plastic. layer of silicone and/or rubber. key caps.

The top and bottom layers of plastic have contact traces on them, facing each other. The center layer of plastic has holes in it where each key is. The contact traces don't touch each other by default, because of the middle layer of plastic. However, when a key is depressed, the top layer is pushed down through the center layer to make contact with the bottom layer.

The rubber or silicone layer on top of this is responsible for directing the pressure of each keypress to the center of this hole. This flexible layer consists of "nipples" at each key point, so that variable direction and pressure will still result in a more exact redirection of the stroke.

The Key Caps are the plastic parts your fingers actually come in contact with. Removing them actually has no effect on whether the keyboard will work.

Now... this assembly outlay actually describes both laptop keyboards and desktop keyboards. The actual assembly of each differs in the components used. For example, with laptop keyboards, there is typically an aluminum frame that the plastic and rubber/silicone components are assembled into. Meaning there is a plate of aluminum on the bottom and a plate with holes for the key locations on the top. The "nipples" in the flexible layer would be poking through those holes. This aluminum framework would also have the connections for all the x-hinges and/or u-brackets that are used to hold the keycaps in place (and properly aligned). Some are assembled so that the bottom plate has tabs that stick up through all the layers to hold everything firmly in place... which makes the whole keyboard more like a grate.

The Problem with Wet Keyboards

You get a keyboard wet, and the liquid gets between the layers of plastic. If it is just water, it can and will interfere with the keyboard operations because it will begin to break down the contact traces. Remember, we are talking about an electrically conductive material mixed with a bonding agent that will allow it to stick to (and flex with) plastic. It is not just really thin copper strips with glue stuck to the layers of plastic.... not any more at any rate. Water will also conduct electricity between the layers, because once there is water there, a little water is spread quite widely when stuck between three layers of plastic that are touching. Try it. Grab a plastic sandwich bag. Put a few drops of water in it. Close the bag and start spreading the water. You'll be surprised how far it can cover. So, it takes VERY LITTLE water to start wreaking havoc. The longer the water is left there, the more permanent the damage will be.

Then, there are those laptop keyboards that are more like a grate. Those will allow liquid straight through the keyboard to get to more sensitive parts BENEATH the keyboard... you know... pouring water on your working motherboard. But that's another horrible story.

OMG What do I do?

In case of a spill, well... we would all panic a little. But, the first thing you do is turn the laptop off, unplug the power and remove the battery. Like... immediately. You know... fast enough to require you to go through that annoying "You didn't shut down Windows properly" process once you get things back up and running. You don't want the unit powered just in case water did get through to the motherboard. Then, it is good to turn the laptop upside down. Why? Well, like most things on the planet, water is affected by gravity. It also allows gravity to pull it along the path of least resistance. So, turning it upside down tends to stop the water from being pulled down INTO the laptop, and reverses the direction in which it is flowing.

Will these frantic actions save the keyboard? Probably not. But, when looking at the choice between getting a new keyboard for a laptop or having to get a whole new laptop... most people choose the new keyboard option.

As has been pointed out, you should consider the bag or box of dry uncooked rice as an option... and it's actually a good one. Why? Well, rice will absorb any moisture. Don't buy into the belief that it will only take a few hours though. You are talking about days of exposure. Once you get liquid in between those plastic layers, it doesn't want to come out easily.

Fans... just won't cut it. Why? Well, if you think about how the keyboard is assembled, once there is water underneath that rubber/silicone layer, a fan isn't going to get at it. At all.

Umm... Ok, I didn't really spill water, It was coffee/soda/juice

Hrm. I wish you had said that in the first place. The addition of any kind of residue that would be left behind by the evaporation of the water from the liquid itself is going to STILL create a conductive connection where there shouldn't be one. Thus, that sticky stuff will mean certain keys won't work even after the keyboard is COMPLETELY dry inside and out. Nono... not the sticky residue that is still on the edges of the keycaps. Well... the fact that there is sticky stuff should tell you that there is also some of that same stuff INSIDE the keyboard.

If the spill is anything other than water, you should be considering, budgeting, and shopping for a new keyboard.

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Thanks for the info about the length of time needed in the bag of rice. I've never tried it myself; I just know the physics behind it. I've modified my answer accordingly. –  Matt Jul 4 '12 at 9:09
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to (i): Well from my experience with a Toshiba Notebook - don't pluck the keys out - it's easy to break something in the fine mechanics and you can't clean anything from there.

If you got the tools and skills to remove the whole keyboard you could try to disassemble it clean it (use distilled water or ethanol) and put it back together.

to (ii): Depends on what keys they are. There are some tools to remap keys - so you could map them onto other less used keys - like on "Caps" or whatever you have on your keyboard.

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Thanks a lot! Mine is a DELL Vostro laptop. T|he ALT and 's' are not working...atleast I learnt that I shdnt try to pluck the keys out, :) –  LathaKVP Jul 3 '12 at 10:15
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Use a good blower or vacuum cleaner to blow air between the gaps of keys. Or try putting the lap keyboard under incandescent lamp.

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Actually 4 keys were not working. Then, I put it under hot sun, then 2 of them started to work. But 2 aren't working. Wud it still help if I again put it under a lap or hot sun ? I gave up thinking that nothing more can be done now and I need to replace the key or the keyboard/// –  LathaKVP Jul 3 '12 at 10:13
    
Do not put it under hot sun. You May damage your laptop screen. Blow air and see if it help. –  gladiator2345 Jul 3 '12 at 11:41
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As mentioned you should probably not try to remove the keys individually. In my experience with Dell laptops the keyboard is removed as a whole (kind of like a slate), trying to remove the keys one at a time will likely break them.

With the Vostro I believe removing the keyboard would require disassembling part of the laptop, at best you'd probably need a small screwdriver.

Personally I'd disassemble it where needed, remove the entire keyboard, give it a good clean with compressed air and plug it in again. If the two keys still don't work I'd get a new keyboard.

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I wouldn't give up on the keyboard until it's had several days to dry out. And the compressed air is likely not a good idea. –  Daniel R Hicks Jul 4 '12 at 12:18
    
I wouldn't be worried about using compressed air, I've used that to clean several keyboards on both desk- and laptops. –  Chris Piechotta Jul 4 '12 at 21:41
    
It's using air on the water that's the problem -- it's more likely to drive water into the keyboard than drive it out. –  Daniel R Hicks Jul 4 '12 at 22:02
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Oddly enough, the best way to get rid of water in electronics is by putting the device in a bag of white or brown rice (no additives, not boiled or anything) and letting it stay in there for a few days (yes, it will take that long)(Thanks @BenGart for the clarification). It works wonders with dunked cell phones, and should work with laptops as well as long as you cover all open ports with a bit of tape or something similar. Even better would be if you had the skills and inclination to remove the keyboard completely from the laptop and just put that in the rice.

I would stay away from using any kind of compressed air or vacuum as it will spread the water faster than it will dry it.

Side note: Actually, a quicker (NOT better) way would be to put the laptop in a bunch of silica gel beads (you know, the little white packets that say "Do Not Eat" that come in shoeboxes and some OTC medicines and such), as they are widely used for water absorption. Unfortunately for you, silica dust is poisonous :P so don't try this at home! (or anywhere else, really.)

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