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 you end up with 15 of the same letter on the screen. If you’re suffering these or similar issues, you may feel like all is lost and your keyboard is toast.

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

Keyboard types

Before digging in, determine what type of 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.

Previous MacBook keyboards used Apple’s butterfly design, which resembled a V rather than an X. Apple used this design to create thinner MacBooks, but in the process, it introduced a keyboard that was 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 16-inch MacBook Pro in 2019. The problem became so notorious there is currently a class-action lawsuit proceeding against Apple from those who had broken butterfly keyboards on their MacBook Pros.

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

Different switch types can require different fix-it methods, and they’re usually all resilient to different cleaning and clearing attempts. But something that affects all keyboards is software.

Software fixes

Reboot your PC

Reboot Windows 10

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

Device Manager Remove Keyboard

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. (Gaming keyboards may have their own software that you download 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 Power User 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, follow these steps:

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

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

Step 3: Select Uninstall Device on the pop-up menu.

Step 4: 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 and run the executable to reinstall it.

Check your region or language settings

Windows 10 Region 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 plus sign (+) 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 or down arrows to change.

Step 4: Verify your preferred language. If it’s incorrect, click the plus sign (+) to add another language.

Check your input settings

Control Panel Keyboard Properties

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.

If Step 4 doesn’t work, do the following:

Step 1: Type “control panel” in the search field and select the resulting app.

Step 2: Click Ease of Access, followed by Ease of Access Center.

Step 3: Scroll down and select Make the Keyboard Easier to Use.

Step 4: Uncheck Turn on Sticky Keys and Turn on Filter Keys if either is currently checked.

Step 5: Click ApplyOK 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 might 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 to the same port. 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.

Another way to test the keyboard is to plug it into another PC. If it’s misbehaving on that device, then the issue is on the keyboard side. If not, then it’s the original parent PC.

Check for active features

Cooler Master MK850
Cooler Master

There are keyboards you can buy that include special features you toggle on with a key press. 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 off if they’re giving you trouble.

Check the batteries (wireless)

Wireless Keyboard Batteries
Kevin Parrish/Digital Trends

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)

Windows 10 Remove Bluetooth Device

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 plus sign (+) 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

Mechanical Keyboard No Keycap
Kevin Parrish/Digital Trends

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

Dirt and grime are likely your biggest adversaries 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

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 need a replacement provided by the OEM.

Replace broken keys

Mechanical Keyboard No Keycap
Kevin Parrish/Digital Trends

Impact and wear and tear on keyboards can lead to broken (or missing) keys. For mechanical and membrane keyboards, keys are relatively easy to replace. Laptopkeys.com keeps a variety of average keys in stock from many different brands to find what you’re looking for. Individual brands like Razer and Das Keyboard also offer their own sets of replacement keys directly, which may be useful if you want to upgrade your keys while also getting replacements. Many keys are easy to remove by gently popping them off, but flatter keyboards may need specialized tools or professional help to replace damaged keys.

Replace switch (mechanical)

Replacing a faulty keyboard switch isn’t as easy as it would seem. If you know a little bit about electronics and are comfortable using a soldering iron and solder remover, you can do it at home. You may run into a situation where you need a special tool, such as a switch puller. It’s a good idea to find a tutorial on YouTube that applies to the specific keyboard you’re working on. That way, you can get some insight into what obstacles you may face, as this is a difficult job to do well.

Some mechanical keyboards, like the Dygma Raise or the Logitech G Pro X, have snap-in switches, which can be a great option if you routinely find yourself with a broken keyboard. These keyboards allow you to remove the defective switch easily by pulling the keycap up. You’ll have to investigate proper protocol to verify if you have to break your keyboard down before or after you take the switches out.

Repairing or replacing a membrane

If you are using a traditional keyboard design that’s not mechanical, it may have a membrane, which softens the keypresses and helps deliver an electronic signal to the panel at the base of the keyboard. Membranes are designed to be durable, but corrosion and other problems can damage them: This leads to stuck keys, an unresponsive keyboard, and similar problems.

If you suspect that the membrane has been damaged, it’s time to take the keyboard aside, remove all the keys, and examine the full membrane layer. Sometimes, grime and buildup on the membrane is keeping it from working properly, and a thorough, careful cleaning will solve your problems.

Replacing a membrane is a different story. Membranes are typically screwed in place, and while they can be removed with a little work, finding a replacement version is difficult, as they are not always sold separately. It’s best to find the exact model of your keyboard and search for components on the manufacturer’s site or check eBay to see if anyone is selling a membrane for it. Compare prices — it may be more affordable to purchase a new keyboard entirely.

Use a different keyboard

If nothing else seems to work, disconnect or unplug the keyboard that isn’t working and try a different one. You may even want to try a different USB port to be sure you’re starting from scratch. If the problem persists, then you will have to do a more in-depth troubleshooting process because the issue might not be the keyboard at all. 

You may have to save essential data to an external hard drive or web-based storage and completely wipe your computer to restore it to factory settings If you can’t find a solution after trying everything we’ve presented here, you might want to go to a computer repair shop to help diagnose and fix the problem.