How Spill-Proof is Your Expensive New Keyboard?

Mike Halsey MVP
Apr 5, 2011
Updated • Apr 5, 2011

In the last few years the world of computer peripherals has changed with many high-end products coming to market.  Now though a great many of these products are the norm with keyboards and mice now costing over £100 ($150).  We've generally accepted these price increases as consumers as commonly they bring additional benefits such as precision laser tracking, additional comfort and long-life.

However... on that last point, are you aware that the keyboard you've just spent huge sums of money on could be dead within weeks with no hope of having it replaced by the manufacturer?

I was in just this situation recently with a keyboard that had fallen foul of a white wine spillage.  It's wasn't large, only a small dash of no more than 5ml.  You would expect any modern keyboard, with modern production standards and given everything we know historically about keyboards and food and fluid spillages to be able to withstand such a spillage.  Indeed, most consumers and businesses would expect any and all keyboards to be able to withstand something small.

Sadly on this occasion, and within just a few seconds, the keyboard was rendered useless and has not worked since.  This seemingly tiny volume of wine stopped some keys working forever and caused many others to record incorrect key-presses or to auto repeat when just tapped once.

The keyboard in question was only two months old but the spillage wasn't covered by the warranty.  There's no point in saying it was caused by something else either as water damage of any type is very easy to spot and diagnose on electronics, just ask anyone who's dropped their mobile phone in their drink.

A call to the manufacturer was met with sympathy but very little actual help and a voucher code arrived in my inbox towards the cost of a new keyboard.  This wouldn't cover the vast bulk of the cost though.

I later called back in my capacity as a gHacks editor and was told that none of the keyboards from this particular manufacturer were considered spill-proof!  I pressed further with this and found that while a few of their keyboards had drainage holes, the design of the rest didn't allow for these and so there was nowhere for any fluid to go once it hit the keyboard.

Further investigation of their website made no reference to any of this on the product pages.  Even the keyboards with drainage holes didn't have this fact mentioned.  There was no reference at all unless you dug really deep into the FAQs and then the only reference was an article saying that all keyboards should be considered "non spill-proof" unless this was specifically mentioned in the product information, which again, it wasn't.

Now I'm not going to single out this single manufacturer, firstly because when I pushed the issue about the lack of information on their website and that most people would expect a certain degree of spill-resistance they did their best to help resolve the problem for me, but also because I don't believe this particular manufacturer's products are any better or worse than any other.

It is significant to note however that such a basic feature of keyboard seems to have been dropped from modern designs.  The moral of this story is that if you are considering spending a sizeable sum of money on a particular keyboard it's wise to contact the manufacturer first to check exactly how spill-proof it is, if at all.

There are generally two types.  The best type is channels designed specifically to drain fluid away from the keyboard.  If a keyboard has these you can be certain that it will be mentioned.  You would normally only expect to find such a feature on high-end laptops though.  The other is the drainage holes I have mentioned earlier.  The manufacturer of my particular keyboard was at pains to stress though that the existence of such holes did not make the keyboard spill-proof as you can never protect against large amounts of fluid and there's no way of knowing where on the keyboard it will fall.  These drainage holes, for fairly obvious reasons, can't be everywhere.

It's a tremendous shame that in this age where we're all trying to use fewer of the planet's resources that electronics products generally are coming with shorter and shorter life-expectancies.  This news simply comes as another blow so when you're buying your next expensive keyboard it can be a wise move to do a thorough research job first.


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  1. Lvanett said on November 6, 2011 at 1:44 am

    Jesus, I won’t thank you because you fail to mention the covers are for MACs. Nice try.

  2. fred said on April 17, 2011 at 2:35 am

    i killed two microsoft ergonomic keyboards with a surprisingly small amount of water spilled, i shook it out each time, dried it, and lost a key or two each time, which of course is enough to scrap the entire kb. i took the damned things apart, they are built pretty solid, cept for the fact that any liquid will kill them in an instant.

  3. jesus said on April 5, 2011 at 6:46 pm

    google “silicone keyboard cover”. Thank me later.

    dry your keyboard completely – you will need at least couple weeks in warm ventilated place. Best take it as much apart. It will probably come to life. Good wine doesn’t contain a lot of sugar, but if you drinking white zinfandel – you have other issues to deal with.

  4. Anonymous said on April 5, 2011 at 2:57 pm

    REALLY? $100 to $150 for a keyboard? Why???

    1. Lvanett said on November 6, 2011 at 1:40 am

      Those flexible keyboards are harder to use, you have to press harder on the keys….I had one and ditched it for that reason alone

  5. Martin Brinkmann said on April 5, 2011 at 12:34 pm

    For my desktop PC, I prefer low to mid priced keyboards as it does not hurt me financially that much if I have to replace them. It is a different story if you look at laptops though as it is not quite as easy, if at all possible, to replace a keyboard there.

    I usually replace my keyboards fairly often, probably once or twice a year.

  6. MartinDK said on April 5, 2011 at 11:53 am

    A long time ago, I don’t recall when, but it was when my desktop computer was an AMD K6-2 300 MHz, I dropped about 1/3 litre of soda in my Cherry keyboard. It still worked fine, but the keys slowly started sticking, so I just took it apart and rinsed the non-electronic parts in dish-washing soap => Good as new :)

    In the latter years, I can only recall having seen IBM brag about spill drains (this was in a laptop), and I must admit that I actually don’t expect spill-proofing as being a standard requirement . Hence I always freak out and do the funky chicken dance whenever I’m close to drowning my laptop which is, regrettably, far too often (the downside of always having a cup of coffee nearby)…

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