How to fix a broken keyboard

You try to type an email but nothing happens. Or perhaps you can type, but either specific letters don’t appear, or the wrong ones mangle your words. If you’re suffering these or similar issues, you might feel disheartened or frustrated, but take heart, there are some ways you might be able to fix it.

“Broken” is a broad term. Many issues can “break” a keyboard both on the hardware and software side. We can’t solve your keyboard woes if you used it as a baseball bat, but we can walk you through options to help resolve typical issues that affect and even prevent input.

Keyboard types

Before you dig in, determine the keyboard you have. Many laptop keyboards ship with Chiclet keys that press against a rubber dome to complete an electrical contact. You’ll also find versions that rely on an X-based scissor design that still uses the rubber dome but shortens the key travel distance and provides a snappier feel. Modern laptop keyboards typically rely on the latter scissor-switch design.

Recent MacBook keyboards use Apple’s “butterfly” design that resembles a “V” rather than an “X.” Apple used this design to create thinner MacBooks, but in the process introduced a keyboard that’s more prone to collecting dust and debris than scissor-based models. Unable to resolve the issues, Apple reverted to scissor-based keys starting with the recent 16-inch MacBook Pro.

Finally, there are mechanical switches. Keyboards based on these typically have taller, easily removable keycaps. There are no rubber domes, but instead an enclosed spring and stem that actuates your keypress when it touches a contact. Mechanical keyboards are typically loud.

Different switch types can take different methods to fix them and are resilient to different cleaning and clearing attempts. But something that affects all keyboards, is software.

Software fixes

Reboot your PC

This should be your first step in resolving keyboard issues. Sometimes conflicts arise on the software side that cause the keyboard driver to become unresponsive, like a conflict with another driver or application. Rebooting can help resolve that conflict or error.

For MacOS, you may need to reset the System Management Controller to resolve the issue. That means shutting down, removing the power cord, and waiting 15 seconds before restarting. For MacBooks, hold the CTRL + Option + Shift keys simultaneously followed by the power button for 10 seconds. Next, release all keys and press the power button.

Update or reinstall drivers

If rebooting doesn’t work, try updating or reinstalling the driver. Typically when you connect a keyboard, the operating system installs a compatible driver. On laptops, this driver is already installed unless you connect an external keyboard, while gaming keyboards may have their own drive that you downloaded from the official website.

This driver may be corrupt, causing communication issues between your PC and the peripheral.

Here you want to update the driver to replace the possibly-corrupted version, or remove it entirely and reinstall a fresh version.

For Windows:

Step 1: Right-click on the Start button and select Device Manager on the pop-up menu.

Step 2: Expand the Keyboards entry and right-click on your device.

Step 3: Select Update Driver on the pop-up menu and follow the instructions. This merely updates the driver supplied in Windows. If this method doesn’t fix your issue, continue to the next step.

Step 4: Repeat the first two steps but select Uninstall Device on the pop-up menu instead.

Step 5: Click Action located on the Device Manager toolbar and select Scan for Hardware Changes on the drop-down menu. This should reinstall your keyboard’s driver.

Note: If you’re using a keyboard with drivers that need to be independently downloaded from the manufacturer, visit their website for the latest version of your driver and run the executable to reinstall it.

Check your region or language settings

Did your region and/or language settings change? Follow these instructions to find out.

For Windows:

Step 1: Click the Start button followed by the gear icon located on the Start Menu

Step 2: Select Time & Language.

Step 3: Select Region listed on the left and verify that Windows is set to your correct region.

Step 4: Select Language listed on the left and verify that Windows is set to your correct language. Click the “+” under Preferred Languages if you prefer a different language. After installing, click Options to select the keyboard type.

For MacOS:

Step 1: Click the System Preferences gear icon located on the Dock.

Step 2: Select Language & Region (flag icon).

Step 3: Verify your region or click the blue up/down arrows to change.

Step 4: Verify your preferred language. If it’s incorrect, click the “+” button to add another language.

Check your input settings

Maybe your keyboard is acting weird due to incorrect repeat and delay settings. Here’s how you can adjust those settings:

For Windows:

Step 1: Type Control Panel in the search field and select the resulting app.

Step 2: Click Hardware and Sound followed by Devices and Printers.

Step 3: Right-click on your keyboard and select Keyboard Settings on the pop-up menu.

Step 4: Another pop-up window will appear with the Speed tab loaded by default. Adjust the Repeat Delay setting to see if that resolves your issue.

Step 5: If Step 4 doesn’t work, return to the Control Panel’s main menu and select Ease of Access followed by Ease of Access Center. Ignore the annoying robot voice if you can.

Step 6: Scroll down and select Make the Keyboard Easier to Use.

Step 7: Uncheck Turn on Sticky Keys and/or Turn on Filter Keys if they’re currently checked. Click Apply followed by OK to save these settings.

For MacOS:

Step 1: Click the Apple logo in the top left corner followed by System Preferences in the drop-down menu. Alternatively, you can click the gear icon located on the Dock.

Step 2: Click Keyboard.

Step 3: Adjust the delay and repeat settings to see if that resolves your issue.

Uninstall apps and programs

An app or program running in the background may cause your keyboard issues. If it installed drivers, they may interfere with your keyboard too. Determine when your keyboard began acting strangely and remove any software that you installed prior to the misbehavior. For instance, if you installed desktop software that manages a new keyboard but you’re still running software for an older keyboard, the two may conflict.

Hardware fixes

Check the connection

For external keyboards, the problem may be a physical connection. Does the cable have a short, causing erratic behavior in Windows and MacOS? Is there gunk collected in the USB connector? Is the connector damaged? Is your PC’s USB port damaged? These factors will cause issues.

One method you can try is to disconnect and reconnect the keyboard. If this doesn’t fix the issue, connect the keyboard to a different port. The current USB port may suffer software or hardware issues that require a separate investigation and fix.

Check for active features

Cooler Master

There are keyboards you can buy that include special features you toggle on with a keypress. For instance, Cooler Master’s MK850 includes “Aimpad” technology that adds gamepad-like analog controls to the WASD keys. If this feature is accidentally toggled on, every word you type includes additional letters, like Q, E, and Z. Your problems could stem from similar features.

Similarly, some keyboards let you temporarily turn off useful keys like the Windows key. Make sure those aren’t toggled to off if they’re giving you trouble.

Check the batteries (wireless)

If you’re using a wireless keyboard, check the batteries to see if they’re dead. A low battery level will cause connection issues if your keyboard relies on Bluetooth. For a keyboard with a built-in rechargeable battery, plug it into your PC or a power supply for a recharge if it’s dead.

Re-pair your keyboard (Bluetooth)

For Bluetooth-based keyboards, there may be an issue with the connection. Removing and re-adding the device may clear up any issues associated with the Bluetooth exchange.

For Windows:

Step 1: Click the Start button and select the “gear” icon on the Start Menu.

Step 2: Select Devices.

Step 3: The Bluetooth & Other Devices panel opens by default. Select your Bluetooth keyboard and click the Remove Device button.

Step 4: Click the “+” next to Add Bluetooth or Other Device and reconnect your Bluetooth keyboard. Follow the pairing instructions.

On MacOS:

Step 1: Click the Apple logo in the top left corner and select System Preferences in the drop-down menu. Alternatively, you can click the “gear” icon located on the Dock.

Step 2: Click the Bluetooth icon.

Step 3: Select your Bluetooth keyboard followed by the “X” button to remove it.

Step 4: Pair your Bluetooth keyboard again.

Clean your keyboard

Note: Before any physical cleaning, make sure to unplug the keyboard and/or remove its batteries.

Dirt and grime are likely your biggest adversary regarding keyboard performance. There’s no escaping dust, food particles, falling hair, nose projectiles, and more that attack our keyboards each day.

Mechanical keyboards are likely easier to clean because you can remove the keycaps. In this scenario, unplug the keyboard from your PC, take it outside, and use a can of compressed air angled at 75 degrees to evict the troublesome trash. For stubborn debris, remove keycaps and use compressed air again. The goal is to make sure there’s no debris preventing the switch stem from springing into action.

Chiclet and scissor-switch-based keyboards are harder to clean, especially on laptops. Again, you want to use compressed air to blast away any debris that may prevent a full connection between the keycap and the top membrane layer. Gunk caked between the keycaps and keyboard body may also prevent keys from moving properly.

Other cleaning methods include using a soft toothbrush, a microfiber cloth, or a swab dampened with warm water. Do not use cleaners and never spray directly on the keyboard, especially on a laptop.

Test keyboard without laptop battery

The problem may not be your keyboard at all, but the laptop’s battery. A good test is to completely shut down the device, remove the battery if possible, connect the external power supply, and reboot. If the keyboard works without issues, then the battery may have issues supplying a steady current and needs a replacement provided by the OEM.

Replace switch (mechanical)

On mechanical keyboards, the switch under the keycap may be defective or simply failing due to constant use. You can manually replace these switches, but that typically requires a soldering iron, a solder remover, a possible switch puller, and other tools. There are plenty of tutorials on YouTube that show you how to safely remove mechanical switches without damaging the keyboard, but it’s not an easy process.

There are also mechanical keyboards with snap-in switches, like the Dygma Raise and the Logitech G Pro X. With these you simply pull the keycap followed by the faulty switch. Research your keyboard to see if you can remove the switches easily.

Use a different keyboard

When all else fails, disconnect the faulty keyboard and use a different model — maybe even on a different port. If your problem persists, then the issue is deeper than the resolutions that we provide here. Take a step back and determine if there are other issues outside your keyboard woes. You may need to perform a system reset to clear out any conflicting software lurking deep under the OS surface, or consider taking it to a PC repair shop.