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Do I Need to Lube My Keyboard Switches?

Figure 1: Sometime around here is a good time to ask that question...
If you’re new to the mechanical keyboard hobby, I have no doubt that planning your first keyboard build is a bit of a daunting task. To be entirely honest with you, it’s only a tiny bit less daunting for your second or even third keyboard builds should you stay around a little while longer. You’ve got the keyboard itself to worry about, stabilizers, keycaps, and even switches on top of all of the intangible marks you want your dream keyboard to hit. Switches are especially daunting right out of the gate as there’s just so many options out there to pick from – each with their own unique specifications, manufacturers, and more. Yet, in spite of all of these differences between switches, time and time again I find people always asking about lubing switches as one of their chief concerns when it comes to picking some up. With countless numbers of content creators talking about lubing switches, its no surprise that people immediately assume that it is an absolute necessity when it comes to building your first keyboard. However, that may not be nearly as necessary as you may think. Let me extend a helping hand as a rather dedicated switch collector and clarify a bit about lubing switches and just how not that necessary it may be when it comes to choosing your first switches! First of all, it’d probably be helpful to at least clarify what ‘switch lube’ even is! Switch lube, as much of an innuendo as that may sound, is simply a greasy oil-like substance that is applied to various areas inside of a switch to reduce friction in places where there is plastic on plastic contact. If applied correctly, this lubricant acts to coat surfaces like the slider rails in the bottom housings or the stem rails on the stem in order to produce a smoother stroke when a switch is pressed in. However, depending on what type of lubricant is used and how much of it is applied, switch lube can also have an affect on the sound and other parts of the switches feeling as well. While there are quite a few different grades and types of lubricant out there to use for your switches, as I cover pretty in depth in my article ‘The Secret Beginner’s Guide to Switch Lube’, they more or less all do the exact same thing and can be thought of as pretty equal at this high of a level. Generally speaking, you absolutely can choose to open and lube switches of your own regardless of any other specifications and details about them, but it may be useful to first know a bit more about how your switches arrive to you. After all, some switch manufacturers choose to apply lube of their own at the factory and can save you a bit of work if you know what you’re looking for when making your purchases. With rare exception, switches come from the factory with one of three different ‘types’ of lubrication:
Unlubed / Dry
Figure 2: Some common unlubed switches including Novelkeys Creams, Cherry MX Browns, Gateron Hippos, Outemu Blues, and NK 'Drys'
‘Dry’ is often the term that is used to describe switches that are sold by manufacturers without any lube applied to them at the factory whatsoever. With no way to prevent plastic on plastic contact internally, these switches are often referred to as “scratchy”, and feature a pretty strong character to their strokes which is dominated by the type of material used in their construction. Generally, people do choose to do their own lubing of switches that are purchased dry and purchasing them in this fashion allows for an easy way to dial the switches into their own liking without any extra cleaning or preparation work. As well, some people simply prefer their switches to have this gritty, scratchy character in their stroke too. In fact, most prebuilt, off the shelf keyboards don’t feature any factory lubing whatsoever and are what people have come to associate with the feeling of classic switches such as Cherry MX Browns and Razer Greens!
'Lightly' Lubed
Figure 3: Some common lightly lubed switches including NK Silk, Gateron CJ, LICHICX Caramel Chocolate, Drop Holy Panda X, and Kailh Midnight Grey
‘Lightly’ lubed switches are those that arrive from a manufacturer with a very thin amount of lube on the internals of the switch to help cut down on scratch while still leaving some of the raw character of the switch feeling intact. These are my personal favorites as they are usually switches which are good enough to be usable out of the box and are simultaneously able to be easily modified with more lube should I desire to do so. While some people may clean out the lube from lightly lubed switches if they’re going to do modify them to their own standard, the vast majority of the community will simply just add more lube over top of what is present until they reach their own target smoothness. However, it should be noted that not all lightly lubed switches are built equally and that what is “thin” is a bit different from factory to factory.
'Heavily' Lubed
Figure 4: Some common heavily lubed switches including Gateron Oil Kings, Momoka Frogs, Invokeys Black Sesame, Durock/JWK Alpacas, and Wuque Studio Morandi
‘Heavily’ lubed switches are those that come from the factory with a healthy dose of factory lube and almost always no scratch whatsoever. Typically these switches are sought out by people who don’t want to modify their switches at all or one-and-done builders as they can get exceptional performance with no added effort on their end. While this can be a bit different from factory to factory as well, most of the time heavily lubed switches will all more or less feel entirely smooth on their own. You generally will never have to do your own lubing on switches which are factory lubed to this degree, though you can still open them up and clean out some or all of the lube yourself to make changes to your final desires. However, choosing to lube over top of these switches often defeats the purpose of buying these switches as they are often sold at a slight premium to account for this extra effort put in at the factory!
Regardless of what it is that you are seeking out from the switches for your keyboard build, you should always keep in mind how much lube, if any, is present in the switches that you are buying for a build. Given that building a keyboard is an entirely preference-based process, you can choose to modify or add lube to your switches regardless of if they were lubed already or not. There is no wrong answer in that regard. However, knowing if you want switches of a certain type, don’t want to do extraneous amounts of work, or want to sink deeper into the ‘do it yourself’ end of the hobby all can very much help influence your decision on what switches to purchase in the first place. Hopefully this all helps point you in the right direction! If you’re looking for some other pointers, consider checking out my article ‘Switch Marketing Terms: What to Know and What to Ignore’.

May 15, 2024
I don't think I've ever had a scenario where lubing a switch would functionally extend the life of that switch, which is I think the question people are trying to ask but this article does not answer: Does Lubing a Keyboard Switch Increase the Life of that Keyboard Switch?

No: There's a finite amount of force that can be applied to any given switch through direct friction, and there's a finite range of motion that be activated upon each switch to generate indirect friction. As 99%+ of the switch's operation will be within that limited range of motion the amount of measurable damage induced by friction will fall outside the life span of other material components such as metal springs. Or in other words, you are more likely to wear out the springs of a keyboard switch long before you'll induce friction based damage that a lube would prevent. Maybe: Cheaper switches are likely to contain ingress points for debris such as dust or cat hair. Many quote/unquote Box switches are largely resistant to water and dust ingress, but these generally cost more per switch. Also, not all Box-style switches are designed with an enclosed box, such as JWICK's Ginger Milk Linear switches. Just because you bought a box style switch does not mean it will be resistant to debris ingress. If you live or work in an environment where debris ingress is a concern, then lubing a switch may help extend the switch's life due to damage caused by debris ingress. However, there is a caveat here that if you DO live or work in an environment where debris ingress is a problem, do keep in mind that cleaning debris OUT of a keyboard switch may be difficult or impractical. While you certainly can lube a switch that has suffered damage due to debris, lubing the switch does not remove the debris that caused the damage, nor does it prevent additional debris from damaging the switch. So, sure, you CAN lube that switch filled with cat-hair or sawdust... but if you are applying lube just to extend the life of a switch... I find myself needing to point out that you would be wasting labor better spent on just buying new switches and replacing the damaged switches. Hopefully this is a more practical answer to anybody searching for answers on whether or not they need a lubed switch.
Apr 17, 2024
I never bother loobing honestly
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