Fixing Common Keyboard Problems

One of the most frustrating, yet common computer problems is a keyboard that doesn’t work. You may not even be able to search online for information if you can’t type properly! It’s tempting to just head to the computer store and shell out for a new keyboard, but don’t give up so quickly. There are several simple fixes you can try at home.

First of all, make sure it’s really the keyboard itself that’s causing the problem. Shut down the computer and take a good look at the keyboard cable and where it’s plugged in. A keyboard with a USB plug (flat and rectangular with no visible pins) can be plugged into any USB port, but many keyboards, especially older models, have a different kind of connector. If your keyboard has an AT or PS/2 connector (round with pins inside), check the pins. If any pins are broken or bent, that can be the cause of a bad connection.

If they all seem intact, make sure the port you’re trying to use has the same number of holes as there are pins in the keyboard’s plug. If they don’t match or it is difficult to get the plug in the port, don’t try to force it in! You’ll need to buy an adapter, available at any computer or electronics store. Count the pins in the plug and the port before you go, or store employees won’t know which kind of adapter you need.

If the number of pins match, check to see if there is more than one matching port on your computer. Some computers have two identical-looking ports, one for a keyboard and one for a mouse. Sometimes they are color-coded (purple for the keyboard, green for the mouse), or are labeled with pictures.

Another very common problem is dust or crumbs inside the keyboard. Try turning the keyboard over and gently tapping it to shake loose anything inside. (You may want to do this over a sink or paper towel!) If you can still see or feel that there is something stuck inside the keyboard, you can remove the keys to get it out. Computer stores sell tools specifically for removing keyboard keys, but it can also be done with a screwdriver if you’re careful. Cup your other hand over the key you’re removing so it doesn’t go flying across the room.

Don’t reach into the open keyboard with your fingers, which may just get the inside dirtier. Use a toothbrush and some compressed air to get rid of the gunk.

The letter keys are easy to snap back on when you’re done, but try to avoid removing the larger keys, especially the spacebar, which can be difficult to get back in place. If you find that any of the keys themselves are damaged, you can buy replacement keys at a computer store.

Note that you should only remove the keys from a peripheral keyboard. Never, ever remove keys from a laptop computer!

To keep your keyboard clean, try to avoid eating at the computer, and especially don’t drink at the computer. If you do spill something on your keyboard, immediately shut down the computer, unplug the keyboard, and pour any liquid out of the keyboard over a sink. Rinse the keyboard out with distilled water, particularly if you spilled coffee or soda. Often it isn’t the moisture of a spill that destroys a keyboard, but the sticky sugars and acids of many drinks. Allow the keyboard to dry for at least a couple of days before trying to plug it in again. Don’t be impatient– plugging in wet electronics is dangerous.

If there doesn’t seem to be anything physically wrong with your keyboard, there could be a software problem. Your keyboard drivers may need to be updated, or you could have the wrong keyboard layout enabled. The solutions to these issues will depend on your operating system.