You’re working on your laptop, and all of a sudden, the “I” key stops working. Or maybe a whole section of keys is taking forever to respond. Worse yet, the keyboard cuts out entirely. While this can be a hassle, particularly when you have work due, there are a few things you can try yourself to get back to the job at hand.
Is the Problem Hardware or Software?
Before you attempt random fixes, try to narrow down your problem: is there something wrong with the keyboard hardware itself, or is a software glitch preventing Windows from recognizing keystrokes? Figuring this out can save you a lot of time later on.
Reboot your computer and try to enter the UEFI or BIOS—usually by pressing “Delete,” “Esc,” or some other key as your computer boots. (It will tell you which key to press along the bottom of the screen.) If you’re unable to enter the BIOS and navigate it with your keyboard, there’s a good chance you’re dealing with a hardware problem. If you can enter the BIOS, and the problem key(s) work fine within that menu, your problem lies within Windows itself.
Exit the BIOS without saving your changes and continue to some of the fixes below. You may have to hook up a USB keyboard to troubleshoot.
Reboot Your PC
If you followed the above advice, you’ll have already done this, but just in case: have you tried turning it off and on again? A reboot corrects a thousand ails, as my old IT manager used to say. If you can’t use the trackpad or mouse to reboot the PC, just hold down the power button for about 10-15 seconds to turn the PC off, then turn it back on.
If that doesn’t fix the problem, try booting into Safe Mode and see if that works—it won’t fix the problem permanently, but it will help you determine whether your keyboard is faulty or not.
Reinstall Your Keyboard Driver
Sometimes the driver managing your keyboard can run into problems, particularly if you install third-party software often and/or you turn your machine off all the time without using the Shut Down command.
Open the Start menu and type “Device Manager.” Press Enter, and expand the Keyboards section. If any of the items in this section have a yellow exclamation point next to them, it can indicate a problem. Even if you don’t see an exclamation point, though, I recommend right-clicking your keyboard in this menu and choosing Uninstall Driver. Reboot your PC, and Windows should automatically grab the generic drivers for your keyboard, which may cause it to work again.
If that doesn’t bring the keys back to life, or if the Keyboard icon isn’t even visible in the Device Manager, head to the laptop manufacturer’s support page and install the latest drivers for the keyboard. (If there’s no keyboard driver, try reinstalling the chipset and/or USB drivers.)
Adjust Your Keyboard Settings
Certain software settings can cause your keyboard to behave erratically, even if they were intended to be beneficial. For example, if your keyboard’s Repeat Delay setting is too short, pressing a key might type two or more characters. Head to your keyboard’s settings by opening the Start menu, typing “Control Panel,” and searching for Keyboard in the upper-right corner of the Control Panel window.
If, on the other hand, you notice a delay between pressing a key and that character appearing on screen, you may want to adjust the Filter Keys setting. From the Start menu, search for Ease of Access, enter that menu, and click on “Make the keyboard easier to use.” If Filter Keys is turned on, uncheck that box and press OK to see if it helps. (Similarly, if your keyboard is behaving strangely, make sure Sticky Keys is also turned off in this menu.)
Change Your Keyboard Layout
If your keyboard keys work but produce different letters than the keys indicate, it’s possible your language or keyboard layout got changed accidentally (or someone in your office pulled a decades-old prank).
Open the Start menu and type “Language” to find Windows’ Region & Language settings panel. Click on it, then head down to your list of languages. Click on the one you want to use—for most US users it’ll be English (United States)—and click the Options button. Make sure US QWERTY is available under Keyboards on the next page, and remove any keyboard layouts you aren’t using.
If none of the above solutions solve the problem, it’s possible that your keyboard is the victim of a virus. Run a malware scan by using one of our top antivirus protection picks.
Check for Crumbs
The above solutions are all software-based, but if you followed our initial instructions and suspect your problem is hardware-related, you’ll need to get your hands dirty…literally. You may have to clean your keyboard.
Hold your laptop upside down, or at the very least at a 45- to 75-degree angle from horizontal and give the laptop a good shake. Sometimes crumbs from working lunches or your last snack break can get stuck under the keys. This is more of a problem for older laptops, but it’s worth a shot even on a new one.
If you have a keyboard vacuum or a can of compressed air, give the nooks and crannies of your keyboard a quick cleaning. If one or two keys are stuck because of soda spillage, pop the offending key cap off the keyboard and try to clean as much dried liquid from the key switch as possible. Dab some rubbing alcohol or soapy water on a rag—not onto the keyboard—and clean away the sticky residue. A cotton swab can also come in handy here, just be careful and don’t disassemble the key switch unless you know what you’re doing.
If an extensive section of the keyboard is stuck because of liquid damage, like a spilled cup of soda or coffee, your best recourse may be to have the keyboard assembly replaced.
Remove the Battery (If You Can)
Occasionally, a laptop’s battery—which resides under the keyboard—can cause problems. If your laptop has a removable battery, try shutting down the laptop, removing the battery, then plugging in the power cable. Try to boot the laptop without the battery installed, using only AC power.
If the keyboard only works when the battery is removed, you may need your battery replaced. (Just be sure to get an official battery from the laptop’s manufacturer—we do not recommend third-party laptop batteries for safety reasons).
Reseat Bad Connections
Sometimes the keyboard loses connection with the laptop’s motherboard, and you have a keyboard that either works intermittently or not at all. If you’re an IT pro, removing the outer case and reconnecting the ribbon cable on the bottom of the keyboard should be child’s play.
If not, check your laptop manufacturer’s site for instructions on disassembling your laptop so you can reconnect that ribbon cable. If you aren’t comfortable disassembling your laptop, bring it to a service depot so a professional can take a look at it.
If you’re still in your warranty period, try your laptop manufacturer’s tech support line. If they determine you’re using a defective keyboard, you should be able to get it replaced at a service depot without too much hassle.
Before you send your laptop in or surrender it to a service tech, however, it’s always advisable to back up your hard drive or remove it entirely and hold onto it. That way you’ll still have your data, which is the most important part of your laptop.
Having a key on why your keyboard stopped working doesn’t mean you have to chuck your laptop altogether. Our fixes above should address the majority of possible issues, but if you can’t get it to work, use a USB keyboard for now and get your laptop looked at by a professional when you have time.