Mechanical keyboards have earned a devoted following among enthusiasts and professionals alike, lauded for their tactile feedback, durability, and customizable nature. Central to the exceptional performance of these keyboards are the switches that lie beneath each keycap.
However, over time, friction and wear from normal use can cause switches to lose their smoothness and crisp actuation, leading to a less satisfying and efficient typing experience. Fortunately, properly lubricating mechanical keyboard switches not only restores their performance but also enhances their overall longevity.
In this guide, we explore the types of switches that benefit from this process and the various lubricants available for the job. You will learn how to properly lube clicky switches, tactile switches, and linear switches with step-by-step instructions on how to effectively apply lubricant to your switches.
What is Mechanical Keyboard Switch Lubrication?
Switch lubrication refers to the process of applying a suitable lubricant to mechanical, electrical, or electronic switches to reduce friction, wear, and noise while improving their performance and longevity. Switches are devices that enable or disable the flow of current in an electrical circuit or control the operation of a mechanical system. These switches often consist of movable parts that come into contact with each other during actuation, and over time, this friction can lead to wear and decreased functionality.
Why do switches need to be lubricated?
By lubricating switches, a thin layer of lubricant is applied to the moving parts, such as actuator stems, sliders, or contacts to create a smooth interface. This lubrication reduces the amount of friction generated during the switch's operation, allowing for smoother actuation, decreased wear on the components, and quieter operation. Moreover, lubrication can prevent switches from malfunctioning or failing prematurely due to excessive friction and wear.
Switch lubrication is particularly important for mechanical switches where users frequently actuate the switches.
In essence, lubing your switches is like an upgrade, a transformation that takes your keyboard from good to exceptional.
What are the benefits of lubricating keyboard switches?
Lubricating the switches on your mechanical keyboard can offer several significant benefits that enhance the overall typing experience and extend the lifespan of the keyboard.
Smoother Typing Experience: Lubrication reduces friction between the moving parts of the switches, resulting in a smoother and more effortless typing experience. The keys feel less scratchy and more satisfying to press, making typing more comfortable and enjoyable.
Noise Reduction: Keyboards with unlubricated switches can produce audible "scratchiness" or "pinging" sounds when keys are pressed. Lubrication dampens these unwanted noises, creating a quieter keyboard that's less distracting.
Improved Responsiveness: Lubricating the switches helps maintain consistent actuation force and reduces "stickiness" in the switches. This ensures that each key press registers accurately and consistently. It also improves typing speed and accuracy.
Reduced Wear and Tear: Friction between switch components can lead to accelerated wear and tear, causing the switches to lose their tactile feel and responsiveness over time. Lubrication helps minimize this wear and extends the lifespan of the switches and the overall keyboard.
Prevents Switch Sticking and Binding: Over time, dust and debris can accumulate within the switches, causing keys to stick or bind. Lubrication reduces the likelihood of particles becoming trapped and ensures the smooth movement of switch components.
Maintenance of Switch Performance: Regularly lubricating keyboard switches as part of maintenance helps to keep the switches in optimal working condition. It helps preserve the original performance of the keyboard.
Customization and Personalization: Some users in the mechanical keyboard hobby experiment with different lubricants to achieve a specific feel or sound from their switches. Lubrication allows for customization, tailoring the keyboard's typing experience to individual preferences.
Enhanced Durability: Well-lubricated switches are less prone to developing issues such as key chattering (where a single key press registers as multiple presses) or inconsistent actuation. By maintaining proper lubrication, the switches are less likely to fail prematurely.
Cost-Effective Maintenance: Lubricating keyboard switches is a relatively simple and cost-effective way to improve keyboard performance and extend its life. It can be done by users themselves, avoiding the need for expensive repairs or replacements.
While lubricating switches can provide significant benefits, lubing your keyboard switches should be done correctly and with the right type of lubricant. Applying too much lube or using the wrong lubricant can have adverse effects such as attracting dust and interfering with switch functionality. Therefore, you should follow proper guidelines and recommendations when you lube your mechanical switches.
Can lubricating switches improve typing experience?
Sure, it might seem like a small tweak. But lubing the switches of a mechanical keyboard can significantly improve the typing experience on mechanical keyboards:
Reduced Friction: Lubricants create a smooth surface between the moving parts of the switches, reducing friction during key presses. This reduction in friction makes typing feel smoother and more effortless, as fingers can glide over the keys with less resistance.
Enhanced Tactile Feel: Some mechanical switches have tactile bumps or audible clicks that provide feedback when a key is actuated. Lubricating your switches can accentuate these tactile sensations, making the typing experience more pronounced and satisfying for users who appreciate the feel of the keys.
Quieter Typing: Mechanical keyboards without lubrication can produce unwanted sounds when keys are pressed. Lubrication dampens these unwanted noises, resulting in a quieter typing experience.
Consistent Actuation: Lubricating switches ensures a more consistent actuation force across all keys. This consistency allows typists to develop muscle memory and a better sense of how much force is required to actuate each key accurately, leading to improved typing speed and accuracy.
Reduced Fatigue: The smoother and more responsive typing experience from lubricated switches can reduce typing fatigue. Typists may find that they can type for longer periods without experiencing discomfort or strain on their fingers and hands.
Improved Accuracy: With reduced friction and improved tactile feedback, typists can better gauge each key press, resulting in fewer typing errors and improved overall typing accuracy.
Preventing Sticking and Bouncing: Over time, dust and debris can accumulate in switches, leading to key sticking or key bouncing issues (where a single key press registers multiple times). Lubrication helps prevent these issues.
How often should you lube your mechanical keyboard switches?
How often do you need to lube your switches?
If you're a heavy user, lubing every 6 to 12 months is a good rule of thumb. However, for the casual typists among us, every 1 to 2 years should suffice.
How to: Lubing Your Mechanical Keyboard Switches
How should you lube the switches on a mechanical keyboard? It's easy, but you also need to take care not to damage the components of the key switch. Here's a guide on how to lube switches properly.
What tools do you need for switch lubing?
You need essential tools you'll need for this game-changing modification!
a switch opener to carefully disassemble your switches.
a small, thin brush for applying the lube evenly.
cotton swabs for cleaning the switches before applying lubricant.
a can of compressed air
a lubricant formulated for switches. Krytox GPL 205 Grade 0 is a community favorite.
tweezers for handling small parts.
a switch puller if you need to remove the switches from your keyboard
Step-by-step guide to lubing keyboard switches
Lubricating keyboard switches can be a straightforward process if done correctly. Before starting, read your keyboard's warranty information. Some manufacturers may void the warranty if the keyboard is opened or modified.
Prepare your workspace: Find a clean, well-lit area to work on your keyboard. Lay down a soft cloth or mat to protect the keyboard's surface.
Remove the keycaps: If you want to apply lubricant to the internal components of the switches, you may need to remove the keycaps first. Use a keycap puller to gently lift off the keycaps. Be careful not to damage the keycaps or the switch housings.
Open the switches: Some mechanical keyboards allow you to access the switch housings easily, while others may require switch disassembly using a switch opener tool. If your keyboard permits easy access, you can skip this step.
Clean the switches: Use compressed air, a soft brush, or compressed gas duster to remove dust and debris from the switches. Alternatively, you can use cotton swabs dipped in isopropyl alcohol to clean the internal components of the switches. Allow the switches to dry completely before proceeding.
Apply the lubricant: Take a small amount of lube on the brush. You're aiming for a thin, even layer on the switch parts. A good starting point is to dip about 1/3 of your brush bristles into the lube. Apply a thin and even layer of lubricant to the moving parts such as the slider and the stem of your switch. Avoid adding too much lube as excessive lubricant can attract dust and affect switch performance.
Spread the lubricant: If possible, actuate the switch several times to help spread the lubricant evenly. Ensure the lubricant covers all necessary surfaces for smooth operation.
Reassemble the switches: If you disassembled the switches, carefully put all components back together, making sure they are aligned correctly.
Replace keycaps: After lubricating the switches, put the keycaps back onto the switches, making sure they are properly seated.
Test the switches: Once the switches are reassembled, test the keyboard to ensure all keys are functioning correctly and that you are satisfied with the lubrication feel.
What type of lube should you use for mechanical switches?
There are several types of lubricants commonly used for mechanical switches, each with its properties and applications. Here are some popular types of lube for mechanical switches:
Silicone Grease: Silicone grease is a versatile lubricant that works well for most mechanical switches. It has good temperature stability and provides a smooth and consistent feel to the switches. Silicone grease is relatively easy to apply and offers decent longevity.
PTFE (Polytetrafluoroethylene) Lubricants: PTFE-based lubricants such as Krytox and Tribosys have become popular among mechanical keyboard enthusiasts. They offer excellent lubricating properties and are known for their low friction. PTFE lubricants can enhance switch smoothness and reduce noise effectively.
Dielectric Grease: Dielectric grease is a silicone-based, non-conductive lubricant commonly used for electrical components, including mechanical switches. It provides a smooth feel and helps prevent oxidation and corrosion in electrical contacts.
Nano-Oil: Nano-oil is a synthetic lubricant known for its nano-particles that can fill microscopic imperfections in surfaces, reducing friction effectively. It comes in various viscosities, allowing users to choose the level of smoothness they desire.
Super Lube: Super Lube is a brand that offers multi-purpose synthetic lubricants suitable for mechanical switches. They provide good lubrication, are non-toxic, and can withstand a wide range of temperatures.
Silicone Oil: Silicone oil is another option for lubricating switches, especially for linear switches. It is generally lighter than grease-based lubes and can provide a smoother keystroke.
When choosing a lube, consider the following factors:
Switch Type: Some lubricants work better with specific switch types. For example, PTFE-based lubes are popular for linear switches, while tactile switches might benefit from a slightly thicker lubricant to maintain the tactile bump.
Viscosity: Different lubricants come in various viscosities (thickness). A lower viscosity results in a lighter, smoother feel, while higher viscosity provides a slightly more dampened feel. Experiment with different viscosities to find what suits your preferences.
Application Method: Some lubes come with applicator brushes or syringes, making them easier to apply, while others may require more precise application using a small brush or toothpick.
Compatibility: Ensure the lubricant you choose is safe to use on plastic and metal components, as some lubricants can cause damage or degradation to certain materials.
When it comes to brands, Krytox GPL 205 Grade 0 is a popular choice for lubing linear switches. It's thick and smooth, giving your keys that buttery feel.
For lubing clicky switches and tactile switches, you might want to go for something thinner like Tribosys 3203.
Can you lube switches without desoldering them?
It is possible to lubricate mechanical switches without desoldering them. However, the process may be more challenging and less effective compared to lubing switches that have been desoldered. Lubricating switches without desoldering is commonly referred to as "switch modding" or "top housing lubing" as you apply the lubricant to accessible parts of the switch without disassembling the entire switch.
Note that lubing keyboard switches without desoldering method might not be effective. Desoldering provides a more thorough job although this requires a bit of skill and precision. After all, desoldering switches from the PCB is a delicate task.
Can you lube hot-swappable keyboard switches?
You can lubricate hot-swappable keyboard switches. Hot-swappable keyboards are designed to allow users to easily remove and replace switches without soldering. This feature provides a convenient way to customize the keyboard's typing experience by trying different switch types or, as you mentioned, lubricating the switches.
When lubing hot-swappable switches, the process is similar to lubing non-hot-swappable switches, but with some important considerations:
Switch Removal: Before lubricating the switches, make sure to remove them from the hot-swappable keyboard. Follow the manufacturer's instructions. If you need a switch puller, do it gently to safely extract the switches.
Lubrication: Apply a small amount of lubricant to the moving parts of the switch, such as the stem and sliders. Use a brush, toothpick, or applicator specifically designed for lubing switches.
Reinstalling the Switches: After lubing the switches, carefully reinstall them back into the hot-swappable sockets. Make sure each switch is seated properly and securely in its socket.
Testing: Once all the switches are lubed and reinstalled, test the keyboard to ensure that all keys are functioning correctly and that you are satisfied with the typing experience.
Note that lubing hot-swappable switches may not be as effective as lubing switches that have been desoldered and disassembled. Hot-swappable keyboards have limitations in terms of access to internal switch components, which may prevent you from lubricating certain areas (such as the springs or bottom housing) that would be accessible in a desoldered switch.
Tips and Tricks for Lubing Your Keyboard Switches
Getting lube in your switch can be a delicate process. Here are some tips and tricks to ensure that you're doing the right way to lube your keyboard switches:
Start with a small batch: If you're new to switch lubing, start by lubing a small batch of switches first to get a feel for the process. Test different lubes if you're unsure which one you prefer.
Clean Switches Thoroughly: Before applying lubricant, make sure the switches are clean and free from dust and debris. Use compressed air or isopropyl alcohol to clean the internal components.
Use the right lubricant: Choose a lubricant suitable for mechanical switches. Common options include silicone grease, PTFE lubricants, and dielectric grease. Consider the switch type and your preferences when selecting a lubricant.
Apply a thin and even layer: Use a small amount of lubricant and apply it evenly to the appropriate parts of the switch. Avoid lubing your mechanical keyboard switches with lubricant. This can attract dust and negatively affect switch performance.
Disassemble switches if possible: For the best results, consider desoldering and disassembling the switches before lubing. This allows you to apply the lubricant to all relevant parts of the switch. Lube the bottom housing, springs, stem, and other components.
Use a lube station or tray: Lubing stations or trays can hold switches in place while you apply lubricant, making the process more organized and efficient.
Lubricate stabilizers if applicable: If your keyboard has stabilizers, consider lubing them as well. Stabilizer lubing can improve key stability and reduce rattling noises.
Take your time: Switch lubing requires precision, so take your time during the process. Rushing may lead to uneven lubrication or mistakes.
Stay organized: If you're lubing a large batch of switches, keep them organized to avoid confusion. Consider using small containers or trays to separate lubed switches from unlubed ones.
Test lubed switches: After lubing the switches, test them to ensure they function correctly and that you are satisfied with the typing experience. Make adjustments if needed.
How to deal with excess lube during the lubing process?
Here are some tips on how to manage excess lube effectively:
Wipe off excess lube: If you notice that you've applied too much lubricant, use a clean cloth, paper towel, or cotton swab to carefully wipe off the excess from the switch components. Be gentle to avoid damaging the switches.
Use a Q-tip or brush: Dip a cotton swab or a small brush in isopropyl alcohol and gently clean off any excess lube. Alcohol can help dissolve and remove the excess lubricant without damaging the switch components.
Actuate the switches: After applying the lube, actuate the switches several times to help spread the lubricant evenly and remove excess lube from the switch's contact points.
Focus on specific areas: When applying lube, focus on the areas where it's most needed such as the stem, spring, and sliders of the switch. Lubing the upper housing is a waste of time and lubrication.
Clean your lube applicators: If you're using a brush or other applicator, periodically clean it to remove excess lube and prevent it from being transferred to other switches unintentionally.
Blot with a paper towel: If you notice excess lube pooling on certain switch components, gently blot it with a paper towel to absorb the excess.
By now, you understand the importance of switch lubrication in preserving the performance and longevity of your mechanical keyboard. Properly lubricated switches offer smoother actuation, reduced noise, and enhanced tactile feedback, ensuring that each key press is met with precision and comfort.
Chris Greiner, a Mechanical Keyboard specialist, boasts a solid educational background with dual bachelor's degrees in Computer Science and Business Management from Lewis University. His additional certification in Mechanical Keyboard Design showcases his dedication to staying on the forefront of keyboard technology. Chris primarily writes for keyboard enthusiasts and has been featured on platforms like Jestik, solidifying his reputation as a thought leader in the mechanical keyboard community.
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