How to fix a dead key on your keyboard

You probably need to clean whatever is under that key.

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One of the keys on Robert Arnold’s keyboard stopped working.

One bad key on your keyboard can make it impossible to write even the simplest email. After all, without the N key, your kids might be stuck eating “afterschool sacks.” Here’s how to fix the problem.

[Have a tech question? As Answer Line transitions from Lincoln Spector to Josh Norem, you can still send your query to]

First, if your keyboard doesn’t have a separate number pad, check the Numlock key. If it’s on, it might rearrange some keys and make others unusable.

Otherwise, there’s probably something below the bad key. You have to get it out.

If it’s an external keyboard, turn it over and gently tap the back. If that doesn’t work, unwind a paperclip and try dislodging stuff from beneath the key. But don’t try either of these with a laptop’s built-in keyboard

If neither of those worked, or if the problem is with your laptop’s built-in keyboard, use compressed air to blow out whatever is beneath the problem key. You can buy a can of compressed air for as little as $4. Make sure the one you buy comes with a very thin straw (almost all of them do).

Attach the straw to the can’s nozzle, point the straw to below the problem key, and blast air under the key. Hopefully that will dislodge the dirt.

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If nothing else works, try removing the key—and yes, I’m recommending this for both external and built-in keyboards.

Use a small, flat-blade screwdriver to pry the key off the keyboard. Insert the blade below the key and gently rotate the screwdriver until the key pops off.

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Once the key is off, you can clean anything around it. To return the key, put it in place and press down.

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If nothing else works, consider replacing the keyboard. It’s incredibly easy for an external keyboard. Just buy one and plug it in.

But if you have a laptop, consider paying a professional to replace the keyboard. Or, if you’re the do-it-yourself type, follow Ian Paul’s directions.

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