If you’re an avid gamer or a general enthusiast of keyboards, you likely pay close attention to switch types. A good keyboard should have high responsiveness and accuracy. The keys should also register keystrokes fast, and the typing or gaming experience should be seamless and enjoyable.
Another quality many keyboard enthusiasts enjoy is the thocky, tactile rhythm keys make when pressed. Gamers especially enjoy the clanky sound as it makes gaming more satisfying.
However, keyboard switches don’t always maintain the same smooth, clanky, and responsive feedback, especially after prolonged use. This is where lubing comes in. It’s critical to learn how to maintain your switches’ accuracy and excellent performance by lubricating them regularly.
Lubing switches have several advantages. Some include improving acoustics, minimizing rattling, and eliminating any scratchiness the switches may have acquired from rubbing together. This post will detail the steps to lube your keyboard switches, the necessary tools, and the reasons to do it regularly.
Reasons To Lube Your Keyboard Switches
As noted above, it’s essential to regularly lube your switches, especially if you’re an avid gamer or use your keyboard daily. Here’s why:
It Reduces The Tactile Bump
A tactile bump is a bump you feel when pressing a key. This bump typically indicates the key’s actuation point. Even though a tactile bump may benefit some users, others prefer the clunky sound key produced instead of the tactile bump, mostly in mechanical keyboards. If your keyboard switches feel like they have a tactile bump and not the mechanical feel you enjoy, lubing them could help.
Like all mechanical parts, keyboard switches are moving parts experiencing wear and tear after use. This is primarily due to features of the switches rubbing together as you press them when typing or gaming. With continued use, the movement of the keys becomes more rigid and less smooth because of increased friction. Sometimes the friction may lead to stuck keys that can affect your overall experience. Lubing them ensures they move easily and reduces the friction’s wear and tear.
Reducing the Noise
Many mechanical keyboard switch users like the clunky sound the keys produce when pressed. However, it’s vital to distinguish this noise and thocky sound from the noise switches create when some of its parts aren’t working correctly. For example, the spring beneath the switch can get noisy after prolonged use. Lubing the switch helps smoothen the spring’s movement making it quieter.
Reducing Wear and Tear
As you know, any mechanical part that requires movement, like keyboard switches, experiences wear and tear, especially when exposed to unnecessary friction. Lubing your switches will help improve and ease the movement of the keys, reducing friction.
Overall, lubing will help improve your keyboard switches’ functionality, responsiveness, and durability.
Besides these critical lubing benefits, lubing your switches is also a ritual for some. They do it because it’s an enjoyable experience. Whatever your reason, lubing your keyboard switches requires several tools. We explain in detail the exact tools you need in the section below.
Tools You Require For the Lubing Process
Let’s go over the tools you’ll need for the lubing process:
The lubricant is the most essential item for lubing your switches. There are different types of lubricants, but the most common are greases and oils. The main difference between oil and grease lubricants is their viscosity. Viscosity refers to the ease at which a liquid flows. In this case, grease will be denser than oil. If you’re a beginner in lubing keyboard switches, both components may be confusing.
The standard practice is to use an oil-based lube on clicky and tactile switches and a grease-based one on linear switches. This practice is, however, still subject to preference. If you’re unfamiliar with viscosity, you’ll notice both oils and greases have grading numbers like 10x or 20x. A 20x grading is assigned to highly viscous grease lubricants, while a 10x grading is for oil lubricants with less viscosity.
Some lubricants may also have grades in grams, for example, 205g or 3200g. An essential thing to remember is the higher the number, the more viscous the lubricant is. There are lubricants graded g0. These lubricants are light, smooth, and suitable for lubing keyboard switches.
Besides oil and grease lubricants, there are also water-based lubricants. However, water-based lubricants aren’t suitable for lubing switches. They evaporate too fast compared to oil or grease and require frequent re-application. Additionally, they are more susceptible to leaks into the PCB, which causes conductivity problems that can lead to the malfunctioning of the keyboard.
Here’s a better breakdown of the best type of lubricant depending on your switch type:
- Linear Switches: linear switches are heavier and require a more viscous lubricant for a smooth and accurate projection. If you’re working with this type of switch, it’s best to use a grease-based lubricant with an average 200g grading.
- Tactile switches: Most people using tactile switches prioritize the responsiveness and the tactile bump pointing to the key’s actuation point. Even with its benefits, a viscous lubricant can lessen this type of switch’s tactility and bumpy feel. It’s best to use an oil-based lubricant because it’s light and less dense.
- Clicky switches: Unlike tactile or linear switches, the primary focus of these switches is the clicky sound. This can be confusing for a beginner because lubing is meant to improve the noise and reduce the friction of switches. However, even clicky switches still require regular lubing for optimum performance. The best choice with this type of switch is to go with an oil-based lubricant. It’s light enough to smoothen any rough bumps without interfering with the clicky sound many gamers enjoy.
Switch Puller or Soldering Iron
The next item on the list is a switch puller. It’s easier to lube keyboard switches in hotswappable keyboards because you only need a switch puller to pull out the keys. Many hotswappable keyboards include a switch puller in the packaging, but you can also get one online or in a keyboard accessories shop. However, if your switches are soldered onto the PCP, you’ll need a soldering kit or iron. Besides a soldering iron, you’ll also need a soldering iron to resolder the switches on the PCB after lubing them.
You’ll need a small brush to apply the lubricant onto the switches. I recommend using a 2 to 5-mm paintbrush for this exercise. Its small size is perfect for getting into all the switch’s hidden corners, ensuring all the parts get lubricated.
Switch Opener or Flathead Screwdriver
A switch opener helps open the switch’s top cover to lube them. You can substitute with a flathead screwdriver if you don’t have a switch opener. Other screwdrivers might not work because most are rounded and can’t get into the switch’s cover opening.
Tweezers help pick up the small components of a switch without losing them or getting lube on your fingers. They are also easier to work with because you can rotate the component you’re lubricating to ensure you cover all areas.
A Clean Work Area
The last item on the list is a clean workspace. Ensure you clear the work area so no items distract your view. The surface should also be flat so nothing is rolling over. It also helps to cover the work area with a disposable cloth or newspaper to prevent it from getting grease or oil.
Now that we know your required tools let’s begin the step-by-step guide to lube keyboard switches.
Step-by-Step Guide To Lube Keyboard Switches
Lubing keyboard switches is relatively easy if you have the correct information. This guide provides the exact steps:
1. Remove The Switches From The Keyboard
The first step to lubing keyboard switches is to pull the switches from the keyboard using the switch puller. As noted above, the removal process is straightforward for hotswappable keyboards because the switches are temporarily placed on the PCB. To remove switches from a hotswappable keyboard, hold the switch puller at the base of the key, then lift the puller. The switch will pop from the keyboard.
The process is more complicated for keys soldered on the PCP. As noted in the section above, you’ll require a soldering kit with the following items:
- A soldering iron with a brass cleaner and stand
- A soldering wire
- A solder sucker
- Ample outdoor space or indoor space with proper ventilation
- The keyboard with the switches you want to lube
- A switch and keycap puller
- A precision screwdriver
After getting the soldering kit together, follow this basic guide to pull the soldered keyboard switches:
- Disassemble your keyboard. This means separating the PCB and the case. Put them away from your primary workstation to avoid melting the plastic with your soldering iron.
- Place your PCB on a heat-insulated mat if you’re not working on a heat-proof surface like wood. It’s essential to wear eye protective gear like glasses to prevent the fumes from getting into your eyes.
- Map out the switches you want to desolder. It could be all of them, in case you plan on lubing all the switches.
- Turn on the desoldering iron. The temperature should range between 350° and 380°C.
- Prepare your solder sucker and wire.
- Next, heat the PCB where the switches you want to remove are. Apply medium pressure for about 2 seconds for each pin. If the solder doesn’t turn to liquid in 2 seconds, add a few more seconds or increase the temperature.
- Use the solder sucker you had prepared to suck the molten solder.
- Repeat these steps until you remove all the switches from the keyboard.
- Note that you may need to add a soldering wire to the solder if it doesn’t melt quickly after a few seconds. Adjust the soldering iron’s temperature until you determine the best temperature to remove the switches.
2. Pull The Switch Apart
After removing the switch from the keyboard, the next step is to pull individual switches apart. Before pulling a switch apart, it’s essential to learn the components of a switch so you don’t lose any in the process. Switches have four parts: a bottom and top housing, a spring, and a stem.
You’ll need a switch opener or flathead screwdriver for this process. If you’re using a switch opener, you’ll notice it has two surfaces corresponding to the top and bottom of a switch. Follow the steps below to open the switch:
- Place the switch on the right side up on the switch opener.
- Ensure the top part of the switch lines with the opener.
- Press the top of the switch to push down the stem.
- This will cause the sides of the switch to press against the opener forcing the switch open.
If you’re using a flathead screwdriver:
- Place the edge of the screwdriver between the upper switch housing and the switch body to loosen the clips.
- Exert medium force of the screw to ensure the housing pops open, and the switch opens.
Please note using a flatbed screwdriver can be initially challenging, especially if the housing keeps snapping back in place after pushing the screwdriver. The trick is to stick your fingernail between the top housing and the switch cover, then press the screw further until the switch opens.
3. Lube The Spring
After pulling the stem apart, you’ll separate and lubricate the components individually. I prefer to start with the stem because the lubricating process differs from the other parts. There are two ways to lube the springs, separately or together. To lube each stem:
- Place your springs on one end and the lube on the other.
- Ensure the workspace is protected with a disposable cloth or newspaper to avoid getting the lube on it.
- Take your small paintbrush and dip it into the lube.
- Take your tweezers and grab one spring.
- Brush it lightly and evenly until the exterior is shiny with lube.
To lube the springs together:
- Place all the springs in a small, inflatable plastic bag.
- Drop about 5-7 droplets of the lubricant into the bag or enough to coat all the springs.
- Inflate the bag, then hold the top tightly so no lubricant or springs pops out.
- Shake the bag well, moving it in all directions. This should take about 1 or 2 minutes.
- Empty the bag into a bowl.
- Use tweezers to separate the springs.
- Check that each spring is well-coated and shiny.
The bag method is more convenient and saves you time.
4. Lube The Bottom Housing
After lubing the springs, the rest of the components follow in the order you prefer, but I like a system where the bottom housings are next. Lubing bottom housings is pretty straightforward:
- Hold the bottom housing with tweezers on the right side up.
- Dip your brush into the lube.
- Wipe the excess from the brush using the rim of the lube container.
- Begin coating the interior sliders of the bottom housing with the lube.
- Brush on each slider one or two times until the lube coating is even.
- After the sliders are coated, take your brush and brush over the plastic interior of the bottom housing.
Note that the sliders are evenly coated when you can barely see them through the lubricant. Avoid using too much lube; you’ll need to clean it off if it’s dripping. It’s best to start with less lube than you need, then layer another coating on top. Wiping off the excess lube can be tedious because you might wipe the entire coating.
Avoid dipping your brush into the lube when coating the plastic interior. Usually, the remaining lube on the brush is sufficient. Cleaning off the excess lube in this section is also more challenging. Avoid lubing the metal leaf inside the bottom housing, as this could damage it.
5. Lube The Stem
The next component of lube is steam. The stem is the part that holds all the switch housing and components together. Here’s how to do it:
- Use your jewel tool or tweezers to hold the stem in place.
- Dip the brush into the lube, coating it lightly.
- Begin coating parts of the stem with the lube starting with the stem’s face.
- Next, brush over the sliders gently and evenly.
- Finish lubing the stem by brushing over the legs.
Remember when the stem’s legs are essential in the actuation of a switch as they are the part that comes into contact with the metal leaf on the bottom housing. This means lubing the stem legs can have different effects. The stem legs on linear switches are smooth, while those on tactile ones have bumps to provide the bump you feel when you actuate a key.
Lubing the stem legs of a tactile switch can reduce or eliminate its tactility. For tactile switches, lube the flat surface and the sliders. Linear switches may sometimes require lubing the legs, especially if you’re experiencing friction and less responsiveness when you press the switch. The trick is to brush over lightly without dipping the brush into the lube but using the lube on it instead.
6. Lube The Top Housing
Lubing the top housing is not always necessary, and some people prefer to avoid this step altogether. However, it still may be a viable option, especially if your switches are making any unusual sounds besides the clunky ones for such switches. Unusual sounds usually stem from the additional friction from the steam or leaf rubbing against the top housing. This means lubing it could help reduce the noise and smoothen the contact process.
Like the bottom housing, lubing the top housing is relatively easy. Follow the steps below:
- Use your tweezers or jewel tool to hold the top housing in place.
- Dip the brush into the lube, coating it lightly.
- Brush the upper housing rails that come into contact with the stem.
- Brush over the interior lightly or ignore this step, as it doesn’t significantly impact the switch’s mechanism.
7. Reassemble The Switches
Now that lubing is over, it’s time to reassemble the switches. Here’s how to do it:
- Use tweezers to place the bottom housing firmly in place.
- Put the spring in place, then place the stem on the spring.
- Ensure the stem’s legs are facing the metal leaf spring.
- Put the upper housing on top and snap it into place.
The most critical step of reassembling the switches is to note where the metal leaf is and then place the stem appropriately. After reassembling, rub the switch to ensure everything is intact and no loose or wobbly components are inside.
8. Install The Switches on The Keyboard
Now that the switches are lubed and reassembled, the next step is to install them into the keyboard. This step will also be more convenient with hotswappable keyboards as you only need to place a switch in the corresponding keyboard holder and then push it back.
If your keys were soldered onto the PCB, you’d have to resolder them onto the keyboard using the tools discussed in the previous sections. Remember to check the pressure and temperature when resoldering the switches, as badly soldered switches are challenging to fix.
9. Test Your Keyboard
The final step of lubing keyboard switches is to test them to ensure they are all working. Check the accuracy, responsiveness, and tactility to see how much lubing the switches improve their overall function. It’s essential to test the keys using available online testers as you assemble them to ensure they are all working and installed correctly.
It’s inconvenient to assemble everything and test your keyboard only to find out some switches are not working. However, if you follow this guide, there’s a minimal chance of damaging any switches or making missteps in your reassembly process.
If the keyboard is working correctly and efficiently, you can store your tools until the next time you need to lube them again.
Lubing keyboard switches is essential when you’re looking to maximize the switches’ functions. This process helps reduce friction, eliminate unusual sounds, and improve durability. The most crucial thing to consider when lubing your switches is the lubricant. The best lubricants are oil or grease-based. Oil-based lubricants work for tactile switches because they are light and smooth and won’t affect the projection of the tactile bump. On the other hand, grease-based lubes work for tactile switches because they are smooth and buttery.
How Frequently Should You Lube Your Switches?
This generally depends on how regularly you use your keyboard. Avid gamers might need to lube their switches every 6-8 months while regular users can wait up to a year before lubing.
Which Is The Best Type of Lubricant for My Switches?
The best type of lubricant for keyboard switches is grease or oil-based. However, the specific one will depend on your preference and switch type. The standard is oil-based lubes are best for tactile switches, while grease-based lubes work for linear switches.