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Cleaning the iBook's keyboard

l.u. 14/11/2004

iBook is white. This is a huge design goal, but a specific component suffers a little compromise.

The iBook's keyboard

The keyboard is one of the most stressed component on a computer. Specifically on a laptop.
Sometime you feel you've reached the top. Your keyboard is too dirty and you like to see it clean again. Well, this is quite a quick job on desktop keyboards, and often on pc's laptop kbs too. Unfortunately, the ibook keybord uses an usual bearing and buffering technology to implement the good touch & feel of its keyboard. In fact, the whole system is quite fragile.
I searched the net for some good recommendation, and I haven't found anything. I hope not to be the first doing this insane job. This exist because everything went fine, and so this could become an useful reference for everyone who wants to undertake this job.

Of course, I did it on my own machine. I can explain my experience and give some recommendation, but what you'll get from all this will be your own responsability.

Before to start

Before to start you have to consider these important things: Are you sure you want to do that?

How do you feel as a surgeon?

Let's start. You'll need: I did everything with the machine turned on. This is necessary at least when you build up your keyboard again, for testing.
There are some picture through the text. Enjoy them :)

Let's begin

I took the picture below at the very end of the "process", but I think it's better you know how iBook's keyboard is built. Take a look down here (very bad light => very bad pictures).

Left: The dark side of an iBook's key. Bottom view.
The bearing and the shell (the two components of the key) are still kept together here.

Right: The bearing at left (closed/flat) and the shell of the "F" key.

Each key has 2 components: a little bearing and the key shell. There's a little buffer (air) which pushes up the key. The key runs up/down equilibrately thanks to the action of such bearing.

This is the schema: the bearing (a) hooks the keyboard base (b) on its bottom part, and the key shell (c) with the upper.




It's better you to try to understand this hooking with the first key you take away, so that you'll do a fair job with with the other ones.
The following pictures would explain it.

Left: The little bearing which keeps the key run equilibrately.

Right: The bearing and the shell of the key you pressed so many times.

You may now try to take away your first key. Choose the one you use least: this will reduce your pain in case of damage. I suggest you choose some "normal" key first: special keys like "Enter", "Backspace" and the others are much more difficult to leave.
You should use something tiny like a nailfile. The best way to do this is taking the key away from the left or the right side. Don't try to lever from the top or the bottom, because you'll get a very sad result.

Left: Keys should be taken away by the left or the right side.
[ This one is a fake, I've taken this picture the day after. This is why it's clean ;) ]

Right: The nailfile I've chosen as lever.

You can proceed with your job and you'll see this is getting more and more easy. Don't try to get faster! Keep calm and patient. It is very easy to break some of those tiny hooks in the bearings.
Remember again apple prices...

The keyboard getting more and more naked...

Once you've removed all the "normal" keys, I recommend you to continue with the smallest ones: Function keys ("Fx") first and arrows after. Arrows are more difficult just because they're close to the corners.
It may be useful for you to note that "small" keys bearings are mounted horizontally, this means that they have the fulcrum of the two arms in the middle of the long edge.
Unfortunately, I didn't take pictures for this. Do your best to figure it out yourself.

Well, the moment of the "special" keys is come. You should only have the "Enter", "Tab", "Shift[s]", "CapsLock", "Space" and "Backspace" keys on the keyboard (or whatever remains of it; uaz uaz uaz ;) ). To be honest I wasn't brave enough to try to remove the space key too. It's left on it's place. If you'll make better, please send me a picture and you'll come up in my public Hall Of Fame.
If you resolved to leave these keys too, this is what you have to bear in mind: they are more complex than the former. They use more pieces. They're bigger and larger, and thus they need further support. They're built on a little metal wire that runs all along the key shell. Tab, Caps, Shifts, Backspace (and Space too, I guess) have one starting at the middle of the left edge, running up to the the right edge.
The "Enter" key is something particularly complex: the wire here falls all along the right edge and is hooked into an appropriate hole. I can't explain this very well, but i'll just advice you this is the more difficult key I ran into. Don't remove it, if you don't feel to make it.

Once you terminate all this job you should have every key on your table. What about wash them too? Let's take a little bowl. Fill it with water with some soap and throw the keys into it. A good idea is to use some perfumed soap. It will give the keyboad a good smell, at least for some week.

1. Once you took away all the keys

2. bear them together, making sure you won't lose any of them


3. fill a bowl with water+soap and

4. put the keys to soak


You woule better do this before to clean the keyboard base. This way they'll be clean when you're done with it.

Regarding the base, I tried many ways to clean it. It's a bit sticky and all its hooks do definitely no help for washing with some cleaning cloth. Finally I came up that the best way to achieve the goal was an aspirator. [If you find a better way, you know what you have to do.]
Make sure you didn't leave anything on the keyboard base, and be careful: there are two tiny layers on it: tear one of those and you can throw away your keyboard (you still remember apple fares, didn't you?).

I suggest you take a little break now. When I came to this point, I thought the worse part were done; I was wrong. What's important, however, is that you've experienced enough about keys construction, so that at the right moment you'll know how to behave if some of them don't fit perfectly in its position. They should still be swimming into the bowl. I left them soak about 2 hours, and they went clean. Maybe you can wait a bit less. Consider that they'll have to get dry too, and this will take much longer than the cleaning. Actually, it's better you don't use phon or radiator. The material the shells are made of could deform easily.
Meantime hint: Note how the apple keyboard works (alike most of other models, actually...).

When your keys are clean and dry you can start with the reverse process. I have only two recommendations here: 1) be careful and calm; 2) if some key don't hook correctly at the first time, let it for the end.
Some key will not catch both its (upper) corner into the base's hooks: take away their bearing and try to hook it alone first. Push the key shell only after that. If you can't even hook the bearing, check that all the base hooks are simmetric and at the right height. It happened to me to bend a bit some hook. With a little screwdriver all went ok.

Well, pal. This is everything I can say. I wrote down everything I meant "relevant". Feel free to contact me (see at the end of the page) for any question or suggestion.

Good night.

I received this contribution by mail. Thanks to the author (see below) for it.
[I'm not responsible for this mail's content, nor for possible damages occurred following the instructions it embeds bla bla bla]

Date: Mon, 29 Sep 2003 21:26:29 +0100
Subject: Cleaning your iBook's keyboard
From: "Freaking Booty ;-P" <*censored*>
To: <mijREPL@CEMEbitchx.it> 


First off, I would like to point out that I have taken off all keys, even
the little Num-lock cover and the two plastic fillings at the numpad. The
numpad fillings are very easy. Take them from the top center and lift them.
The Num-lock cover is a bit more difficult, mainly because it's so small.
You have to use the same method though, but this time lifting from the
bottom center. BE VERY CAREFUL!

I have had the courage to take the spacebar off, and I must say it was
simple. It has the same system as the other keys, but the difference is that
there's two instead of one. The trick is, to first loosen the metal bar at
the top. You put your nail-vile between the metal bar and the top of the key
and put down gently. Don't put it in the center though, but once on the left
and once on the right. Now, take the left side of the spacebar and remove
the spacebar from the left bearing as you would a regular key. Repeat the
process with the right part, from the right side of the spacebar.

Please be sure to also remove the metal bar first on the other keys that
have one: Enter (metal on the right), Shift (metal at the bottom) and
Caps-lock (metal at the bottom).

Once you have removed, it's all very simple. Take off the plastic cover (I
don't know if that is still on an iBook II) and put it in a soap solution (I
used the same as the one for the keys - just don't put it in together with
the keys!). I even cleaned it with a soft brush to make sure most of the
dirt had actually come off. As you will see from the picture, the keyboard
levers (the one that you click backwards to remove the keyboard) do not hold
the plastic cover, which made it simple to actually take it off.

Now for a tip on putting the keys back on. First off you have to put the
bearings back on. Just take it between the nails of your thumb and pointing
finger (sp?) and gently place it in. Use your nail-vile to adjust it
(gently!). Now place the key onto the bearing with the bottom side only, a
little higher than where it's supposed to click in. Gently press it
backwards into the bottom holders and then guide the top down aswell. Then
adjust until you feel (yes, you actually feel it!) the key is right and
gently press down.
Of course you'll say: but what about the keys with the metal holder, and
especially the Enter-key? Fair enough, here's the trick for those:
First attach the key to its bearing, and only then fit the metal holder in
place (yes, it's a bit of a precise work, but we're Mac-users, right?). Make
sure it is in the right place, and then just press the key down so it
catches on the metal holder.
For the Enter-key, it's a bit tricky. There's two bearings, and they point in
a different direction (one horizontal, one vertical). Hey, but this is Apple
right? You will notice you can put the key on just like a regular key, by
just hooking it in the bottom (and right) bearing holders and then pressing it
down. This is because both bearings are only used on one side. Then, simply
fit in the metal holder, and you're done.

The following images were attached: 001_top_view.jpg (512 KB), 002_enter_detail.jpg (408KB), 003_plastic_cover.jpg (404 KB), 004_stilt_detail.jpg (564 KB).

The author provided the following informations:
Name: Freakin' Booty ;-P
Website: http://freakingbooty.no-ip.com
Mac configuration: iBook Indigo G3 366

I received (07 Nov 2003) this other contribution by mail.

Date: Fri, 7 Nov 2003 09:49:27 +0100
From: Ingo Paschke 
To: mijREPL@CEbitchx.it
Subject: ibook keyboard


I enjoyed your disassembly instructions for the ibook keyboard. As mine 
has a key that squeaks, I tried to remove that key to see what's wrong.

I found it much easier to remove just the cap and leave the bearing in 
place: Start by inserting the nailfile in the middle part of the key, 
then gently work your way up until the top part unsnaps. Repeat from 
the other side.

To put the cap back in place, you start by sliding it on from the top 
until the hooks at the bottom of the keycap catch, then gently press 
the keycap down.

Here's a closeup picture of a key. Maybe you can use it to further 
illustrate how the key mechanism works:



The following image was attached: DSCN0003.JPG (508KB).

I received (25 Nov 2003) this other contribution by mail.

Date: Tue, 25 Nov 2003 02:34:50 -500
To: mijREPL@CEMEbitchx.it
From: Jordi Bunster <jordi [at] bunster.org>
Subject: iBook keyboard

Hi. Inspired by your instructions, I took apart my iBook dual USB snow 
keyboard as well, for cleaning. I dropped coke on it a few months ago, 
and the machine survived. But the keyboard was all sticky.

Anyway: I went ahead and took all keys out, left none. By the time to 
put them back, one part was missing: The little device that sits under 
the keycap and the keyboard itself, that little bearing. I was missing 
one for the most common size, the one for 'a' or 't', for example.

So, before going to eBay to buy a new key, I thought about taking one 
of the ones used by the spacebar. They're the same size, and the 
spacebar uses three.

It worked perfectly! I can't even notice a difference on the spacebar. 
It works so well, that I am wondering if the spacebar had all three 
bearings originally or not. Can you please check on yours? I can't stand 
the curiosity.

Thanks in advance ... (and for the instructions ...)

        -- Jordi

I received (11 Feb 2004) this other message. The answer can probably be interesting for someone.

Date: Wed, 15 Feb 2004 11:32:58 +0100
From: mijREPL@CEMEbitchx.it
To: she likes not to be reported
Subject: Re: keycap F

There are several ways you can do that.
First, you can buy a whole keyboard on ebay,
an used one. It's about 20€ (possibly plus shipping).
Search google for this.
The other way is to buy key-by-key, if you
broken more keys.
http://www.welovemacs.com/clamkeys.html offers
any key. They're about 7€ (9$), plus 10 € (12$)
shipping. Crazy price, but apple would ask about
400 euros for such a job.


she likes not to be reported wrote:
> Hello,
> I search the keycap F for my Ibook but i don't find where i can buy it.
> I have seen in your web site your interest for the keyboard... so Do you
> lnow where can i buy this keycap???
> thank you very much for your help
> Best regards

I received (18 Sep 2004) this other message from a brave guy; unfortunately, he did not want to provide more infos about how he did that.

Date: Sat, 18 Sep 2004 16:58:59 -0400
To: mijREPL@CEMEbitchx.it
From: wogri 

The following image was attached: CIMG0956_1.jpg (184KB).

Why is this page so huge?
To view this document you need to download 25KB of html plus 280KB of images (previews). Since browsers download text first, you can read the substantance, that is the html content, almost suddendly. One, or five, or ten pages of text are nothing compared to what you have to wait for images previews, so I'm not gonna split this document into more pieces.
This will be possibly done, instead, as soon as I consider we have contributions/stuff enough to put everything on another (dedicated) page. Since more and more people are writing interesting stuff, this can happen sooner than we expect.

You can contact me by mail.