Recipe for cooking a keyboard and mouse

While slaving over some complex lab notes last week I made a colossal mistake. I was in the third hour of my frantic work when I spilled a freshly-brewed cup of Earl Gray tea into my keyboard. I also flooded my desktop and both my wired mouse and wireless mouse. I dashed for paper towels, mopped-up the tea, then shook the tea out of the keyboard into the towels.

My tea-soaked keyboard would no longer work, the wireless mouse was beyond dead, and the wired mouse dripped tea when I held it up in the air.

I put the aluminum Apple keyboard upside-down on the paper towels, shook the wired mouse out, and I took the batteries out of the wireless mouse. I was – obviously – irritated with myself for making this mistake. It has been years since I did this same act, and I thought that I had learned a lesson about liquids around computers. Obviously not.

Then I took my wife’s keyboard and mouse so I could continue to work.

Since I have been through this before, I had some knowledge of tea in keyboards. Electronic circuits are basically waterproof; they are etched metal laminated to phenolic boards, covered by a fairly thick ink of screen printing. Solder joints are exposed where the chips are mounted. It’s possible for water to get between the circuit board and the chips, and when it does, there is trouble.

My attitude about circuits that get wet is that they are lost, and must be replaced. There is nothing to lose by trying to salvage them.

So I put them in the oven and cooked the water out. Here is the recipe:

Preheat the oven to 200° F
Put the keyboard and both mouses into the oven (no batteries!)
Cook at 200° F for 20-30 minutes
Remove from oven and allow to cool

My keyboard and mice in the oven. 20 to 30 minutes at 200°F is usually adequate to cook water out of electronic circuits. You stand a chance that it won’t work when it comes out of the oven, but you have nothing to lose by trying to salvage these devices.

After cooling, plug these accessories into computer and test. If they work, all is well. If not, you are no worse off than you were 30 minutes prior.

If you spill some other beverage into your keyboard, especially one with sugar content (Coca-Cola comes to mind), first wash the keyboard out with lots of hot water, drain it, then cook it. You must remove the sugar, which will wreck a keyboard as it gets sticky.

I count myself lucky that I learned the lesson again without doing much harm to my equipment. I have started using one of those tippy-cups that people use when they take coffee in a car. With that cup, at least I will limit how much tea gets out if I tip the cup over.

When I plugged the keyboard and mouse back in, and returned the batteries to the wireless mouse, everything worked. Hurrah!

About Brian Lawler

Brian Lawler is an Emeritus Professor of Graphic Communication at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. He writes about graphic arts processes and technologies for various industry publications, and on his blog, The Blognosticator.
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