Can Mechanical Keyboards Handle Getting Wet?
Many people prefer using mechanical keyboards. They’re more tactile, durable, and faster to type on. But mechanical keyboards have one major drawback compared to membrane keyboards: they’re less water resistant.
- How Much Water Can Mechanical Keyboards Handle?
- What Happens to a Mechanical Keyboard When It Gets Wet
- What To Do if Your Mechanical Keyboard Gets Wet
- Can I Clean My Mechanical Keyboard With Water?
Many mechanical keyboards can handle minor water spills. But even those advertised as waterproof or spillproof will only tolerate minor degrees of water exposure. More significant water exposure will usually permanently damage a mechanical keyboard.
Read on to learn how to decipher the water resistance ratings for different mechanical keyboard models. I’ll also explain what to do if you spill over your keyboard, as that may be why you’re here in the first place.
How Much Water Can Mechanical Keyboards Handle?
Electronics and water don’t usually go well together, and keyboards are no different. All keyboards include vulnerable circuitry that is susceptible to damage when exposed to water.
Moreover, compared to membrane keyboards, mechanical keyboards are more susceptible to water damage. That’s because the membrane in a membrane keyboard provides a degree of protection from water damage. The membrane is the plastic layer that seals a keyboard’s inner parts.
Mechanical keyboards can only handle minor water spills and splashes and aren’t entirely waterproof.
Since mechanical keyboards don’t have a membrane layer protecting their vulnerable components, they are more likely to be damaged by water. Even keyboards that are advertised as spill-resistant usually offer only minimal protection.
However, there’s a way to objectively know the degree of protection against water that a mechanical keyboard offers: IP ratings.
IP Ratings Explained
You might be familiar with IP ratings for electronic devices. You probably considered the IP rating the last time you purchased a smartphone.
The IP or Ingress Protection rating of a device is a standard laid out by the International Electrotechnical Commission. It denotes the ability of the device to resist the entry of dust or water.
IP ratings objectively measure claims to water or dust resistance and help users compare different products to find one that meets their needs.
The rating is denoted in the form of a two-digit score. The first digit indicates the degree of resistance of a device to dust, and the second conveys its resistance to water.
The higher the number, the greater the degree of protection offered. Thus, higher-rated devices can be exposed to moisture and dust at greater intensities and for longer before failing. Conversely, lower-rated devices are likely to fail even under minor exposure to dust or moisture.
You will usually need to pay a premium for more durable products.
The following table explains the moisture resistance of any device in terms of its IP rating. A device rated 0 offers no water resistance at all. At the other end of the table, a device rated 8 offers complete protection from moisture ingress, even when submerged deep underwater.
|1||Water dripping at 0.4 in (1 mm) / minute|
|2||Water dripping at 0.12 in (3 mm) / minute|
|6||Powerful water jets|
|7||Submersion at depths of up to 3.28 ft (1m)|
|8||Submersion at depths greater than 3.28 ft (1 m)|
IP Ratings for Mechanical Keyboards
Even the most water-resistant mechanical keyboards today only come with IP ratings of up to IP65. They are thoroughly dust resistant and can withstand jets of water.
But while an IP rating of 5 is enough to make a mechanical keyboard withstand the occasional accidental spill, it is nowhere near water-resistant.
Moreover, lower or mid-range products will offer even less water protection. Often, these may come with a water-resistance IP rating of only 2 or 3. Such products will only resist minor trickles or sprays. Anything more is likely to damage the product.
Thus, the vast majority of mechanical keyboards offer poor water resistance.
But why is this the case? What about mechanical keyboards makes them so vulnerable to water damage?
What Happens to a Mechanical Keyboard When It Gets Wet
Mechanical keyboards may are primarily made of plastic. You may think their plastic components should make them waterproof, if not highly water resistant.
However, mechanical keyboards also include electronic components. These electronic components are why mechanical keyboards are susceptible to water damage.
When a mechanical keyboard gets wet, the water enters the electronic circuitry beneath the keyboard’s plastic switches. This can cause a short circuit, which will usually permanently damage the keyboard.
To understand why this is the case and better appreciate the vulnerabilities of mechanical keyboards, it helps to know what they are made of and how they work. Learning about the components of a mechanical keyboard will also come in handy if you want to recover your device in the event of a minor spill.
What To Do if Your Mechanical Keyboard Gets Wet
In the event of minor spills, you may be able to stop the water from entering and clean up the keyboard before it is damaged. The better the spillage resistance indicated by a specific mechanical keyboard manufacturer, the more leeway is available.
Here are the steps you need to follow in the event of a spill.
1. Disconnect a Wet Keyboard Immediately
Once you’ve gotten over the initial panic, immediately unplug the keyboard from the USB slot it is attached to. Those that still own a PS/2-connected keyboard should shut down their computers first. Failure to do so may damage the keyboard or, worse, your machine’s motherboard.
2. Set the Keyboard Aside To Dry
Drying the keyboard is the most obvious and important step, but you’ll need to do more than leave it out in the sun.
- Lay out some paper towels or a clean cloth on a table.
- Turn your unplugged keyboard on its face and gently shake it to remove any excess moisture.
- Remove all the keycaps. There is probably water inside the keycaps, so you need to remove them if you want your keyboard to dry thoroughly.
- Leave the keyboard face-down on paper towels or cloth.
- Cover the keyboard in paper towels or cloth until most of the excess water has drained off.
- Leave it aside to dry out for at least 48 hours in an open, dry area away from direct heat.
3. Clean the Keyboard
Once the keyboard is dry, use a lint-free cloth to mop up any moisture in the spaces between the switches. Check for any sign of damage before you put the keyboard back together.
Then, reattach the keycaps and use a vacuum cleaner with a soft brush head to clean the top of the keys gently.
4. Test the Keyboard
Finally, plug the keyboard back in and reboot your computer. Test every key to see if they work as they should.
If some keys don’t work or seem to operate erratically, your keyboard may be damaged. In this case, you may have no option but to replace it.
Can I Clean My Mechanical Keyboard With Water?
You can clean the plastic components of your mechanical keyboard with water, but it’s better to wipe them with rubbing alcohol using a microfiber cloth. You shouldn’t immerse your entire keyboard in water.
A keyboard is made up of both plastic and electronic components. The electronic components can’t stand water. Immersing a keyboard in water will likely expose its electronic components of water and, hence, shouldn’t be attempted.
However, keyboards do get dirty from time to time and must be cleaned. Additionally, if you’ve accidentally spilled a sugary beverage over your keys, you will certainly want to do a thorough cleaning of your keyboard.
To correctly clean a keyboard, you will need to take it apart and clean the different parts separately. This way, you can be more or less aggressive in your cleaning depending on how much exposure to water and cleaning agents the different components of your keyboard can take.
Before starting to clean your keyboard, gather all the tools you’ll need:
- A soft brush.
- An airbrush.
- Cloth or paper towels.
- Soap, cleaning solution, or rubbing alcohol.
- A glass bowl.
- Hot water.
If you have an expensive keyboard, it may be worth investing in a keycap removal tool. While you could remove keycaps using your fingers, doing so by hand can end up damaging keycaps or switches if you use excessive force or pull at a hard angle.
If you don’t want to go to the trouble of getting a keycap removal tool, you can also try removing keycaps using a pair of tweezers.
1. Shake Out Any Dirt That May Be Stuck Between Keycaps
Turn your keyboard over so that the keys are facing downwards. Then, give the board a firm but gentle shake. Any bits of dirt stuck in the spaces between the keycaps and switches should now fall out.
It’s a good idea to do this step of the process at regular intervals, even when you are not doing a full cleanup. That way, excessive dirt will not accumulate over a long period.
Soak Your Keycaps in Soap Water
Once you’ve cleaned any dirt that’s easy to dislodge from the keyboard, you’re ready to wash your keycaps.
- Remove your keyboard’s keycaps one by one. Take care not to damage the caps as you remove them. If you have a keycap remover, use one.
- If you’re unsure about the placement of the keys on your board, take a photograph of the board before you remove the keys. This way, you’ll be able to keep track of where each key goes when you are done cleaning.
- Add a few drops of a cleaning agent like soap to a bowl of warm water.
- Drop your dismantled keycaps into the bowl. Make sure the keycaps are submerged, and give the water in the bowl a little stir to get the bubbles activated.
- Once the keycaps have soaked for an hour or so, remove them from the bowl. Dry the wet keycaps with a cloth or paper towel and set them aside to dry.
Remember to let the keycaps completely dry out before putting them back on the keyboard. If you are in a hurry, you could use a blow dryer to speed up the drying process.
However, remember not to use excessive heat to dry the keycaps. Also, don’t soak them too long or too frequently in a soap solution and don’t use an excessively strong cleaning solution.
While a little heat, water, and mild soap will not damage keycaps, excessive exposure, even if it doesn’t damage them, can erode the symbols inscribed on them over time.
Cleaning Under the Keys
You can begin cleaning the space under your keycaps even as they soak. This is often the dirtiest part of a keyboard because it is cleaned most infrequently.
However, because of the delicate circuitry underneath the casing of the board, you can’t simply soak it in soap water to clean it.
- Begin by using an airbrush to go over every exposed nook and cranny of your board. Then, turn your board over again and shake out any bits that the airbrush may have dislodged.
- Next, use a soft brush to go over the board again. Again, turn the board over and shake out any loose dirt.
- Use the q-tips to spot-clean any remaining stains. You can dip them in rubbing alcohol if the stains are hard to remove.
You may need to do more than one round of each step, depending on how dirty your keyboard is. Once you’re done, let your keyboard dry out completely before you re-place the dried keycaps. And voila! You have yourself a squeaky clean keyboard.
Mechanical keyboards can handle getting wet to a certain extent. As long as the water hasn’t come into contact with the printed circuit board inside a mechanical keyboard, you can recover it using the simple steps I’ve outlined above.
However, if water comes into contact with a mechanical keyboard’s PCB, it will short-circuit it, leading to permanent damage. Avoid exposing a mechanical keyboard to water as much as possible.