Why Your Most-Used Keyboard Keys Get Shiny

Jeff Gamet on Mastodon:

Know why you can’t clean the greasy spots off your compute keyboard? Because that isn’t grease. Lots of computer keys are made from ABS plastic, which is soft and cheaper than PBT plastic. Those shiny spots are where you polished the keys by typing.

I’m at least somewhat of a keyboard nerd, but somehow I only learned this a few years ago. The way worn-down ABS keycaps looks greasy, even though they’re not, reminds me of how snakes look wet, even though they’re not.

Over the last 30 years I’ve primarily used two Apple Extended Keyboard II’s at my desk (the “e” key’s switch died on my first one in 2006) and the only key that’s gotten a tad shiny on either of them is the space bar, where my right thumb hits it. You can literally see how the space bar eroded on the one I used from 1992–2006, which, not coincidentally, was a time when I played a lot of games on my Mac. The Extended Keyboard II I’ve been using since 2006 — which I’m using to type this sentence — shows some shine on the space bar, but no erosion.

Those old keycaps clearly weren’t made from cheap ABS plastic. But in recent decades, Apple’s keyboard keycaps have been made from ABS plastic (or, at least, some sort of plastic that develops a greasy-looking shine through use). I’d love to see Apple fix this problem. Apple’s just not known for cheaping out on materials.

Update: Follow-up post.

Wednesday, 24 April 2024