In early 2015, Apple debuted their butterfly keyboard on their new “macbook”. Since then Apple has migrated this “feature” to their macbook pro line while several have voiced loud complaints about the shallow, fragile keyboard. Apple has since admitted that there’s a problem and offered to repair keyboards with sticky or unresponsive keys.

But turning your computer in for a repair is tedious and likely requires parting with your computer for a week or more. Also, perhaps you are like me and have already extensively repaired your unrepairable computer and violated the warranty in a number of ways. In these cases, it might make more sense to repair your keyboard on your own.

I’ve been using this dumb keyboard for 3.5 years now (what can I say, I love the romance of having the smallest possible computer that can do the things I need). I’ve cleaned these keys more times than I can count and I’ll document my process here. I know this process works for gen 1 and gen 2 of the butterfly keyboard and I’m guessing it works for the rest.

What you’ll need

  • A metrocard or similar flimsy card.
  • A q-tips/cloth/paper towel to clean out the keyhole.

Step 1: Remove the key cap and switch

Before you do anything, make sure you understand how the key cap and switch connect to each other. The key cap is what I’m calling the black piece with the key printed on int. The switch is what I’m calling the gray-white mechanism inside the keycap that flaps its wings like a butterfly.

There are four points that connect the key cap and switch: two clips on the top and two hooks on the bottom.

When removing the key cap from the keyboard, it is very important that you only lift from the top, where the clips are. The hooks should only be disconnected after the clips have. If you get this wrong, you can break the hooks on the bottom of the key cap or the pins on the bottom of the switch. Trust me, I’ve done this!

The back of the 'U' key cap and butterfly switch. I've marked the 4 points where the key cap connects to the switch. Sorry my potato phone stinks at macros!
The back of the ‘U’ key cap and butterfly switch. I’ve marked the 4 points where the key cap connects to the switch. Sorry my potato phone stinks at macros!

Now, first thing you’ll do is insert one of the corners of your key cap removal tool (metrocard) under the top of the key and pry it up. (video of this below) Sometimes you’ll get both the key cap and switch together, sometimes the key cap will come loose first. The switch is held in by four little pins on the inner rim and you can easily remove it with a fingernail or your key cap removal tool.

Step 2: Clean up your mess

Remove whatever it is you got under there. It can be really small! Take your time here. I’ve typically used a damp cloth to do this but I also have a high tolerance for risk so you do you.

Step 3: Replace the switch and key cap

For this step, a similar word of caution to step 1. It is very important that you don’t squish the hooks in the key cap onto the pins of the switch

  1. If you haven’t already, remove the switch from the key cap.
  2. Insert the switch itself (so, not the key cap) into the key hole. The side of the switch that should face the computer bulges out a bit, while the top should be relatively flat. You’ll press down on the switch until the pins click into the plastic brace.
  3. Start with the bottom of the key cap. Slide the hooks over the pins on the bottom of the switch and then lay the key cap on top of the switch.
  4. You should be able to gently press on the key and hear the top two clips engage.

I have a video of these steps below.