Which Computer Keyboard Keys Wear Out the Fastest?

Not everyone uses a computer keyboard for the same purpose and with the same predictable patterns, affecting demand for different replacement keys. Westend61/Getty Images

If you spend a lot of time using a computer, you've undoubtedly noticed that over time, some of the letters on your keyboard start to disappear. That leads to the question: Which keys on a keyboard tend to wear out the fastest?

Since keys wear out because of use, it's logical to assume that the keys that wear out the fastest are the ones we use most heavily. So which ones are they? Back in the days before computers, when typewriters and typesetting machines were used to put words on paper, that was a fairly easy question to answer. As a trade publication called The Inland Printer noted back in 1898, it was widely accepted that the most-used key on keyboards was the space bar, followed by the letter E. Some sources still adhere to that convention. A Microsoft product marketing official told Business Insider in 2013, for example, that the most-used key was the space bar, followed by the E and the backspace key.

But if you really want the definitive answer, the source best equipped to give it might be someone who replaces computer keys for a living. Patrick Halcrow is owner/operator of Laptop-keys.com, which supplies keys and parts needed, along with repair instructions, to people who need to fix their broken laptop keyboards. Halcrow explains in an email that, these days, habits have changed. That's because a lot of people who were once casual computer users have switched to using smartphones and tablets with touchscreens to write emails and check out social media and videos, and the people who still use laptops are mostly either workers or computer gamers.

As Halcrow says, gamers mostly order replacements for the W, A, S and D keys, as well as the arrow keys. "These specific keys are used for player movement in RPG-type games," he says, "as well as vehicle control in driving-type simulators."

People who use desktop and laptop computers for work, in contrast, tend to replace the vowel keys — A, E, I, O and U — and the spacebar and the arrow keys, which Halcrow said are the keys pressed most often when typing.

According to Halcrow, people tend to replace keys mostly because of aesthetics — they don't like the look of a keyboard where some of the letters are worn off — and not because of wear and tear on the underlying mechanism. When there is actual damage, he says, it's not because of wear and tear, but rather it's accidental. Think pets knocking a laptop off a table, or children breaking off the keys. And as is the case with accidents, breaking the actual key mechanism is more unpredictable. "There really is no trend with this type [of damage]," he says.

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