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Mouse : The Care and Cleaning of your Digital Hand

by Oscar Sodani
February 22, 2003

Oscar Sodani is a founder of Help2Go and owner of Help2Go Networks, an IT consulting firm in the Washington D.C. area. Oscar holds the CISSP certification as well as industry certifications from Microsoft, Cisco and Novell.

Mice. Everybody's got one, but it is very surprising how few know how to take care of it. After a few months of use, your mouse won't move as well as it did when you first got it. It is an extremely simple process to restore it to "mint" condition, and we are going to show you how.

In this article, we address:

  • How a mouse works
  • How to clean your mouse
  • How to keep your mouse working perfectly

A Little Rubber Ball

Mice come in different sizes. Some have three buttons, some two. Some have an integrated "scrolling wheel". Some aren't mice at all -- they're trackballs. However, they all work in essentially the same way.

The heart of your mouse is a little rubber ball. When your mouse is placed on your desk, the rubber ball rests on the desk surface. Moving your mouse makes the rubber ball roll in different directions. Inside your mouse, the rubber ball is touching two metal rods, each about half as thick as a pencil.

The rods are placed so that if you move your mouse up or down, the rod marked "A" rotates in place. If you move your mouse left or right, then the "B" rod rotates in place. The rod will rotate as long as you move the ball, and thus it measures how far you move your mouse. This may be a bit confusing now, but it will all become clear when we open up your mouse in the next section!

Mice are Dirty Animals

Unless you are the cleanest person in the world, your mouse is going to get dusty. Why? Well, as it rolls across your desk, the rubber ball picks up all the dirt and lint it can find. Then, the dirt and lint attaches itself to the metal rods, where it stays unless you manually clean the rods. If you've been using your mouse for years without a cleaning, you can imagine how much lint has accumulated on those rods!

As you can see in the image below, the dirt tends to accumulate in the center of the rods, where the rod touches the rubber ball.

As the dirt accumulates, the ball loses its grip on the rods. Slowly but surely, your mouse becomes harder and harder to move around. Sometimes you move it, but nothing happens. This is because the rods aren't rotating like they once did.

Some very dirty mice will even feel "chunky" as you move it across your desk. It's as if you're driving on potholes! If any of this has happened to your mouse, it's time for a cleaning...

Unlock the Safe

Step one is to open up the mouse and take out the rubber ball. Once we remove the rubber ball, we can get to the rods and clean them.

1) Turn off your PC
We don't want you to accidentally click on things while you are cleaning.

2) Turn your mouse upside down
The bottom of the mouse will look like one of the two pictures below:

In both cases, a small plastic piece covers the rubber ball.

3) If your mouse looks like the one to the left, then you have to push the plastic piece downwards (in the direction of the arrow), to remove it. If your mouse resembles the picture on the right, then you will have to turn the plastic covering in the direction of the arrow (it's like opening a childproof bottle of pills). Be patient, as this part can sometimes take a bit of strength and persistence -- especially if the mouse is old and has never been opened.

4) Once you have the plastic piece off, the rubber ball will fall right out. Take care not to lose these two things -- you need them to put the mouse back together!

Scratch, But Don't Sniff

Now you can take a look inside and check out the metal rods (the rods are plastic in some cheap mice). Chances are, you are going to see the dirt right away, covering the center of the metal rod like a black ring.

Here's a picture:

and a close-up of the dirt ring:

At this point, you will need either a screwdriver with a flat head, some tweezers, or your fingernail to scratch the dirt and lint off the rod. This may take some doing -- remember that the dirt may have been encrusted there for years. Repeat the cleaning with the second rod. Do a good job!

Next, you should look inside your mouse and clean out any other dirt or lint that is hiding in there. If you don't clean out the extra lint, your mouse will soon re-form that dirt ring and you'll have to do this all over again.

Putting it all together

That's it -- now you have to reconstruct your mouse. Place the rubber ball inside. You may want to clean the ball with a damp cloth, but make sure it is dry before you place it back inside. Then, reattach the plastic piece. Reattaching the plastic may be a little difficult. Just think of how you took it off, and do the exact opposite. Once reattached, you are ready for business.

Turn your PC back on, and feel the smoothness. It's like a whole new mouse (I hope). If you did a good job cleaning the dirt, then you should feel some marked improvement.

Care Tips

1) Use a mousepad if you can
Mousepads usually stay cleaner than an ordinary desk surface. And the less dirt that touches the ball, the better.

2) Clean your mouse regularly
Don't be afraid to pop open your mouse whenever you feel the need to clean it. I clean my mouse as often as twice a week. (I also have a very dirty office)

3) If your mouse is beyond all hope, buy a new one
Replacing a mouse that is behaving badly (despite cleaning) is a good idea. New mice are smooth and silky, and the scrolling wheel is a cool feature I highly recommend.

4) Trackballs
At home, I use a trackball. I find it easier to use, clean, and maintain. But if you have never used a trackball, then it will take a lot of getting used to. They're not for everyone.

5) Button problems
If you are having trouble with your mouse buttons, then it is time to get a new mouse. I've opened up many mice with button problems, and I have never been able to fix one successfully.

6) Spend the extra cash
When shopping for a mouse, the name brands are worth it. Mice by Logitech and Microsoft are leaps and bounds more reliable than the generic mice. They break a lot less often, and so are worth the extra cash. Take my word for it (what can I say, I'm frugal).

Your mouse is used and abused more than any other part of your PC, except your keyboard. Taking decent care of it is easy, and will save you time and frustration in the long run. (i.e. "Why won't the @%#$ mouse cursor MOVE??!!!")

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