After spending a decent chunk of change on a new mechanical keyboard, it’s only natural to wonder how durable it is to damage that you may cause to it as you go on with your day.
While your keyboard falling off your desk isn’t a common occurrence that you should be worried about, spilling something on your keyboard is a decent possibility, especially if you spend most of your day on your computer.
So, are mechanical keyboards waterproof, or should you be extra careful about spilling something on your mechanical keyboard?
If your mechanical keyboard’s manual does not state that it is waterproof or water-resistant, it is most likely not, as water resistance in keyboards is still in its early stages.
To check if your mechanical keyboard has any water-resistance capabilities, look out for the mention of an IP rating.
As water-resistant and waterproof means two separate things, an IP rating helps us understand the level of resistance a product has to water, considering that not all instances of water spillage are equal.
Waterproof Keyboards vs. Water Resistant Keyboards
Water and dust resistance is slowly gaining traction in the world of mechanical keyboards, especially in the case of expensive keyboards that are mostly used by gamers.
That being said, water-resistant or spill-resistant isn’t the same thing as waterproof.
So, what are the differences between water-resistant and waterproof keyboards?
To understand the difference between the two, let’s quickly go over what IP Code (also known as Ingress Protection Rating) is.
If you have recently bought a mobile phone, the abbreviation IP is most likely something you have seen in the context of water resistance, with two digits following it, such as IP45 or IP68.
In this system, the first digit is the level of solid protection, while the second digit is the level of liquid protection.
The solid protection level goes from 0 to 6, with each level representing a size. For instance, a level of 4 means the product is protected from objects that are larger than 1 millimeter, whereas a level of 6 tells us that the product won’t even allow dust to go inside.
On the other hand, the liquid protection level goes from 0 to 8, representing different levels of water pressure. For instance, a level of 5 means that the product is protected against water that is projected by water jets, and a level of 8 means that the product can actually be immersed in water for a long time, up to a meter in depth.
Mechanical keyboards (ones that are labeled as water-resistant) often range between the levels of IP32 and IP54 (protection from splashing of water at best), so it would be safe to say that they are not waterproof and should never be intentionally exposed to pressurized water.
On the other hand, it’s possible to find non-mechanical keyboards that are completely waterproof, meaning that there is no harm in intentionally exposing them to pressurized water. In this case, you would be looking at a liquid protection level above 5.
These keyboards are often silicone-based and can even be hand-washed, as they can tolerate the amount of water pressure that is exerted upon them during the washing process.
Regular membrane keyboards are the worst out of the bunch when it comes to water resistance, considering that the only thing that separates the keycaps and the circuitry is a fully removable, thin layer of membrane with no water-stopping qualities.
How Does Water Affect Your Mechanical Keyboard?
If you have never opened a keyboard up before, you may be wondering how water could damage a keyboard, as a keyboard looks to be something that is made entirely out of plastic.
While it is true that a keyboard is mostly plastic, the electrical circuitry of the keyboard actually resides right below the switches as the switches are directly soldered onto the circuitry.
When you press a key, the switch activates and completes the circuit, sending a signal to your computer with the information of that particular key.
Considering that the switches are right below the keycaps, there really isn’t much that separates the outer layer of the keyboard from the circuit board where all of the electrical activity takes place.
When water makes its way into the circuitry, there is a good chance that it will cause a short circuit and damage your keyboard in one way or the other, as water coming into contact with electricity is never a good thing.
If you have spilled water on your keyboard before but haven’t experienced damage, the spill most likely dried out before making its way to the circuitry, so you should consider yourself lucky.
What Is a Spill-Resistant Keyboard?
You may have noticed that some keyboards are labeled spill-resistant. To clear any confusion, spill-resistant and water-resistant are actually the same things.
As their name suggests, spill-resistant keyboards do a better job of keeping liquids out of the circuit board in the case of a spillage despite not being waterproof. While this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be careful about spilling liquids on your keyboard anymore, it does mean that the chance of spill-related damage is often minimal.
While how this is achieved can show slight differences between manufacturers, it’s mostly an added layer of insulation that separates the outer layer of the keyboard from the circuit board.
The addition of such layers separates the outer part of the keyboard and the circuit board with no gaps in between other than the switches themselves, making it almost impossible for water to reach the circuit board unless you remove a keycap and pour water directly on the switch.
In some keyboards, you will also notice that there are drainage holes at the bottom. In the case of a heavy liquid spill, the majority of the liquid is directed towards these holes from the protective layer, causing the water to escape the keyboard before having the opportunity to make its way to the circuit board.
That being said, you should still make sure that you follow the necessary steps for drying your keyboard as soon as you spill something on it to be as safe as possible.
What Should You Do After Spilling Water On Your Keyboard?
While we hope that you never have to read this part, it’s our duty to help you save your keyboard in the case of a nightmare event where you spilled water or some other liquid on your keyboard.
- Start by unplugging your keyboard immediately. It’s important that you unplug your keyboard as soon as possible, as cutting the flow of electricity will prevent water from doing damage to the circuitry. The chance that a short circuit occurs gets higher with every second your keyboard stays plugged in.
- Remove all of the keycaps from your keyboard. This will allow you to set the keycaps aside for drying and allow you to access the layer where switches reside, which is most likely also wet.
- Dry the keycaps. As keycaps are rather easy to dry, wiping them with a towel should suffice. As you won’t be using this keyboard for a while anyway, you can leave the keycaps in a place where they will naturally dry over time.
- Dry the keyboard. It’s a good idea to press on the keyboard with a towel and see if it soaks any water up. When you can’t find visible traces of water anymore, dry the keyboard thoroughly with a hairdryer on low heat. Keep the hair dryer moving, and don’t hold it too close to the keyboard, as focusing the heat on the same spot for a long time can melt the plastic.
- Allow the rest of the water to dry. There will be areas that you won’t be able to reach with the hairdryer, which is why you should leave your keyboard at a spot that gets a certain level of sunlight and let time do the job. Switch the position of the keyboard now and then to ensure that all parts of the keyboard get equal sunlight. While waiting 24 hours is often recommended, we recommend allowing your keyboard to dry for roughly a week if you aren’t in a hurry to use it, especially if you can’t afford to lose your keyboard.
After testing and confirming that all of the keys work as intended, you can put the keycaps back and use your keyboard once again.
While the technology for mechanical keyboards being completely waterproof isn’t here just yet, it’s certainly possible to find water-resistant ones that can handle the occasional spill, which is good enough for most people.
If you are someone who often finds themselves in spillage-related trouble, it may be a good time to invest in a water-resistant keyboard to avoid having to buy a new keyboard in the case of further accidents.
That being said, prevention is the best method when it comes to avoiding water damage, and a little bit of extra care goes a long way.