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Discovering How to Remove Lubricant from Keyboard Switches

Adding lubricant to mechanical keyboard switches has become a popular technique among enthusiasts, as it can enhance smoothness and sound quality. However, what should you do if you need to remove the lubricant? This may be necessary if you want to undo a previous lubing job or remove factory-applied lubrication. In this article, we will explore the reasons and methods for removing lubricant from your switches.

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How to Remove Lubricant from Keyboard Switches

Why You Should Remove Lubricant From Keyboard Switches?

There are several reasons why removing lubricant from your switches could be beneficial:

  • The switches may have come pre-lubricated from the factory with a lubricant you don’t like or want to change. Unlubing the switch will allow you to apply your preferred lubricant.
  • You may want to use a different type of lubricant or start from scratch due to a poor previous lubrication job.
  • In the case of tactile switches, lubricant applied to the stem legs and leaf can affect the switch’s tactility. Removing the lubricant can help restore the switch’s original feel.

Essential Tools for the Job

To perform the task, you will need the following tools: a switch opener (tweezers or small flathead screwdriver can also suffice), a lubing station (optional), and paper towels, microfiber cloth, or any type of cloth.

Approach 01: Using Alcohol Swabs

For this method, you will require Q-Tips, isopropyl alcohol with a minimum concentration of 70%, a small plastic bag or container, and salt (optional).

Approach 02: Soap and Water Technique

To carry out this method, you will need a strainer and bowl, soap, a brush (an old toothbrush will suffice), and hot/warm water.

Approach 03: Ultrasonic Cleaning (For Those Who Seek Spotless Results)

If you are a clean freak, this method is for you. To perform this approach, you will need an ultrasonic cleaner (method 3), distilled water, and dishwashing liquid.

Step 00: Disassemble the Switches

Cleaning your switches while they are still assembled will not yield the best results. Therefore, the first step in thoroughly removing all the lubricant and achieving a pristine result is to take apart the switches into their individual components.

For Cherry-MX style switches, there are two tabs on either side of the housing that need to be pried apart to open the two halves of the switch. You can use a small flathead screwdriver to pry these tabs apart one by one, a set of tweezers to open two tabs at a time, or a dedicated switch opener to open all four tabs simultaneously.

However, for Kailh Box and Outemu switches, the two tabs are encircled by a larger ring tab, which makes it a bit more challenging to open the box housing. Nonetheless, you can easily do this with a dedicated Kailh-style opener.

Once you have opened the housing, separate and organize the components into four groups: top housing, bottom housing, stem, and spring.

Alcohol Swabs Method

The first approach involves using alcohol to completely remove the lubricant from the switch components.

While some lubricants, such as Krytox, may not be significantly affected by strong solvents, using alcohol is more effective than simply wiping or washing the switches.

However, it is crucial to exercise caution while using strong alcohol for an extended period as it can dry out and discolor the plastic. Moreover, different plastics may react differently to alcohol, so it is best to avoid soaking the switches in alcohol for an extended time.

Step 01: Remove Excess Lubricant

Although we are using a strong solvent like alcohol, much of the work can be accomplished by wiping away any surplus lubricant with a dry q-tip, microfiber, or paper towel, depending on the component. This allows the alcohol to concentrate on the surface directly.

Step 02: Dip Q-Tip in Alcohol

Dip a cotton swab into the alcohol and press it against the side of a container to remove any excess liquid. It is preferable to use a small dish or cap for the alcohol to prevent contamination of the entire bottle.

The q-tip should be drenched with alcohol but not dripping. Now, we can proceed to clean each switch component individually.

Step 03: Remove Lube from Bottom Housing

The bottom housing is the most complex component because it comprises not only the plastic housing but also a copper metal leaf.

The leaf can be delicate and easily damaged if not handled with care, which could result in a malfunctioning switch.

Use the alcohol-drenched q-tip to clean or scrub the walls, floor, and stem tube of the bottom housing.

If the q-tip is too large, remove some cotton or use a piece of paper towel instead.

You may need to repeat this step several times or alternate with a dry cotton swab.

Step 04: Remove Lube from Top Housing

The top housing is a simpler component made entirely of plastic, so you don’t need to worry about damaging any crucial copper parts that may affect the switch’s performance.

Dip your q-tip in alcohol and wipe every surface of the top housing to remove all traces of lubricant.

Step 05: Remove Lube from Stem

Now it’s time to clean the stem. Unlike the housing components, it’s best to use a paper towel or microfiber cloth to clean the stem.

You can start by using a dry cloth to remove any excess lube and then use a cloth soaked in alcohol for a deeper clean. If you prefer to be more precise, you can use a q-tip to clean around the stem legs.

Be gentle and careful not to break off any of the legs as it can affect the functionality of the switch.

Step 06: Remove Lube from Springs (Reverse Bag Lube)

To remove the lube from the springs, we will be using a technique similar to bag lubing.

Start by taking a small plastic ziplock bag or plastic container with a lid, and place your springs inside.

Next, pour enough alcohol into the bag or container to cover the springs completely.

You can then agitate the bag or container by shaking it gently or rolling it between your hands.

Note that if your springs are lubricated with a thicker grease like Krytox 205g0, this method may take more time and effort to remove the lube completely.

For switches with clickbars, you can use any of the above methods to clean them as well.

Step 07: Allow Components to Dry

After cleaning all switch components, it’s essential to let them air dry completely.

Since alcohol evaporates quickly, the drying process should not take too long.

You can leave them to air dry for around 10 minutes, but feel free to let them dry longer if necessary.

Step 8: Salt and Alcohol Solution

If you notice that your switch components still have stubborn grease or oil residue, particularly on the springs, you can enhance your bag-unlubing process by adding salt to the mix.

Salt can serve as an abrasive element that can help scrub off the remaining lubricant. The benefit of using salt in this process is that it doesn’t dissolve in alcohol, unlike in water.

To add salt, simply put a teaspoon or two into your plastic bag or container with alcohol and switch components, then shake the bag to distribute the salt.

However, be careful when doing this to your plastic components, as salt could potentially damage or roughen up the texture of the plastic.

After shaking, you may need to give the springs one final rinse to remove any remaining salt particles. Allow the components to air-dry as usual.

Soap and Water Method

Using soap and hot or warm water along with a brush is an alternative method for cleaning switch components if you prefer not to use alcohol, but it is not recommended for cleaning bottom housings unless you are particularly careful and allow for thorough drying.

Step 01: Cleanse the Stems

Prepare a large bowl and a strainer that fits inside it. Put the stems in the strainer and place it inside the bowl. Add enough soap and water to fill the bowl halfway. Avoid filling the bowl to the top to prevent the stems from floating away.

Use your hands to move the stems around in the soapy water. To remove the oil, use a brush to scrub them thoroughly. Ensure that you create some suds and lather, as this helps to remove any remaining oil or grease from the surface.

Step 02: Wash your Bottom Housings

Repeat the same process as in Step 01 with the bottom housings. Use a strainer and a bowl large enough to fit it, place the bottom housings in the strainer, the strainer in the bowl, and fill the bowl halfway to the top with soap and water.

Be extremely careful with the bottom housings as they are more delicate and have metal leaf contacts that can be easily damaged. Use a soft brush to scrub away any dirt or grease from the surface of the plastic and metal leaf contacts.

Step 03: Clean Top Housings

Cleaning the top housings with water and a brush can be risky, so it’s recommended to use the alcohol method instead.

Step 04: Cleanse Springs

To avoid damaging the springs, it is recommended to skip washing them in soapy water and instead use the alcohol bag-unlubing method mentioned earlier.

Step 05: Dry the Components

Gently wipe off any excess water from the switch components and allow them to air dry. If you washed the top housings, the drying time may be longer due to water on the leaf. It is important to ensure that all parts are completely dry before proceeding with reassembly, so it is best to wait for sufficient time.

Using an Ultrasonic Cleaner Method

Although this method may seem impractical, it can be the most effective and least troublesome of all the methods if you have access to a small ultrasonic cleaning machine.

Ultrasonic cleaners use sonic waves to clean any submerged item in its tank, making them super effective for cleaning keyboard switches.

Step 01: Prepare Cleaning Solution

Most ultrasonic cleaners require a pH-balanced solution to clean your items, so distilled water is a common choice. You may also add a small amount of dishwashing liquid to help with surface tension and oils, which can be beneficial in this case.

Step 02: Submerge Housing Parts

Ultrasonic cleaners typically include a plastic or metal basket to contain the items being cleaned, but your stems and springs may be too small and fall through the holes. In this case, use a small mesh bag or wire mesh to contain them.

Step 03: Run the Cleaner

Follow the instructions to run the cleaner. There may be multiple preset timed options to choose from.

Step 04: Dry the Switch Components

After cleaning, it’s time to dry the components.

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