Recovering a Sticky (and Expensive) Keyboard

Some time ago - back in April? - I spilled Port ("Port wine" for those not familiar) on my keyboard. Pity my mother, who was on the phone with me at the time: some very bad words were used, several times. What you have to understand is that this isn't a cheap commodity keyboard: this is a very expensive custom-built Kinesis Advantage2 keyboard with the standard Cherry Brown keys replaced with Cherry Blue keys (details of the build here). It's essentially my perfect keyboard, and with more than $800 Canadian invested in it and about 8 hours of my own time in all the soldering, I think my cursing was to be expected.

WHAT NOT TO DO: my first thought was "I have to keep the Port out of the switches - I should turn the keyboard over." Which I did. The problem with this is two-fold. The key-caps initially prevented the Port from getting into the keyswitches, acting like mushroom caps protecting their stems from the rain: if I'd just left it alone, the port would have dried to a sticky mess in the plastic frame of the keyboard but never touched the keyswitches. Instead, when I turned the keyboard over again 24 hours later, the Port that had trickled into the underside of the key-caps now had a clear path down into the keyswitches. And my expensive, home-built keyboard was ruined.

A good friend of mine is an electronics technician, and very good at fixing stuff. With his advice, I removed all the key-caps and, while holding the keyboard upside-down, pressed each of the sticky keys repeatedly with a slightly damp paper towel. (I thought 99% alcohol might be better, but he pointed out that alcohol won't dissolve sugar at all: this is why you use water.) Then the keyboard was left, still face down, to dry overnight, and the process was repeated about four times. The idea is that a very small amount of moisture gets up the key stem stem into the mechanism, and picks up some of the sugar and gunk, and gravity brings it out. In fact, this mostly worked. I say "mostly," because when I was done I had a functioning keyboard. But all the keys that had been sticky were no longer clicky: they felt right, but they no longer had the Cherry Blue click. If that had been consistent across the entire keyboard, I probably would have lived with it and just used the keyboard. But it wasn't, so I returned to my friend for the more extreme solution.

For this, we took the keywell (The Advantage keyboard is divided into two keywells, one for each hand) and submerged it in hot water. I worked the keys quite frequently (this allowed the water to better get inside the keyswitches). I worked the keys, agitated the whole thing, left it to soak, and changed the water several times.

The first step in drying the keyboard was to turn it over and try to shake out as much water as possible. The next and final stage was the part that had most worried me, and why I'd put this off for months: we set the oven to its lowest possible temperature (somewhere below 150 Fahrenheit) and put the keywell on a plate in the oven. The point being this: you can't get inside the keyswitches to get all the water out. Heat evaporates water ... but it also melts or damages plastic (and, if high enough, melts solder). So the temperature is a juggling act: you want to get the water out without destroying the board. I forgot it was in the oven and ended up leaving it in there for six hours (we were aiming for "several hours" anyway, so it's not a bad thing).

Amazingly, every single switch is now fully functional and clicky again. I'd highly recommend not spilling sticky liquids on your expensive keyboard in the first place, but if you do, this solution may work for you. I'm typing on the keyboard in question now. If you're reading this ... well, good luck.