Image: iStockphoto/vbacarin

Disaster has struck your favorite keyboard and the S key is starting to stick or is failing to comply with your finger strikes. What do you do? Do you toss that keyboard and purchase a new one? Do you take on the task of fixing it yourself? Given how landfills are overflowing with bits of discarded technology, keeping that keyboard in working order is not only the financially responsible choice, but the environmentally responsible choice as well.

What do you do when a key has stopped working? It depends on the keyboard.

SEE: Keyboard troubleshooting guide (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Two types of keyboards

Most standard keyboards have keys that are integrated by being soldered to the motherboard. In the case of the integrated key, there’s not much you can do. The only way you can actually replace a key, without having to de-solder it from the board, is if your keyboard keys are hot swappable. A great example of a hot swappable keyboard is the Drop ALT mechanical keyboard.


This keyboard is a bare bones piece of hardware that allows you to purchase the exact keys you like and swap them out as needed.

If your keyboard isn’t hot swappable, the chances are very slim you’ll be able to fix a broken key without knowing your way around a soldering gun and a motherboard.

However, you’re not completely out of luck. One of the most common reasons why a keyboard stops working correctly is not due to mechanical failure, but dirt and other gunk. That means, your first plan of attack might be using a vacuum to suck out all that nastiness under the keys.

But what happens when that fails? You remove the keys.

SEE: Hardware inventory policy (TechRepublic Premium)

How to remove keys from a keyboard

In order to safely remove your keys from a keyboard, you need the right tool. That tool is a keyboard keycap remover (Figure A).

Figure A

A CIY keyboard puller is an effective tool for the job.

These keycap removers can be purchased from Amazon for less than $5.00 USD.


The way a keycap remover works is simple: Insert the wires between keys, such that they surround the key you want to remove, until they slip under the edges of the key (Figure B).

Figure B

Preparing to pull a keycap from a keyboard.

Once the wires are under the keycap, carefully pull upward until the cap pops off.

If you don’t want to purchase a keycap puller, you can always make your own. I’ve found two paper clips do the job–although not quite as easily. Unfold both paperclips and bend one end into a small hook (Figure C).

Figure C

Making your own keycap pullers.

Once you have both paperclips bent, slip them between the keys and hook them on opposite ends. With both hooked under the key, pull upward on both paper clips to pop the keycap off.

With the keycap removed, you should have unfettered access to the key beneath (Figure D).

Figure D

An exposed keyboard key, ready for removal or cleaning.

If this is a hot swappable keyboard, you can use the other end of the keycap puller to pull the key out (Figure E).

Figure E

The key remover end of the keycap puller.

If your keyboard isn’t hot swappable, you will at least be able to clean the keys and vacuum out any remaining gunk. Make sure you clean the key with isopropyl alcohol, while the computer is turned off and the keyboard is disconnected.

After cleaning the key, allow it to dry, replace the cap, and move on to the next key. Do this until you’ve cleaned all of the keys and replaced the caps.

Hopefully, after you’ve taken care of this, your keys will be working as well as they did when you first purchased the keyboard. If not, and this isn’t a hot swappable keyboard, you’ll either have to take the keyboard to a specialist well-versed in replacing soldered keys, or purchase a new piece of hardware.

And that’s how you can gain access to keyboard keys to either replace them, clean them, or find out it’s time to replace your keyboard.

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