For users in healthcare-related settings – doctor and dentist offices, hospitals, labs, etc. – keyboards made out of silicone/rubber materials may present a tempting option for interfacing with computers and machines, but the argument in their favor may actually be full of holes.
What do we mean by silicone/rubber keyboards?
This is a type of keyboard that works by enclosing an electronic switch within a silicone/rubber key. Beneath that are typically three more layers: conductive material, a thin pocket of air or inert gas, and the switch. When a user presses a key, it forces the conductive metal down until it meets the switch, completing a circuit.
The whole thing is usually constructed in a single piece (unlike a traditional keyboard). That makes them relatively easy to wipe down when cleaning. The rubber/silicone material also offers a distinctive soft feel that still provides good tactile feedback, and these keyboards are cost-effective to produce in bulk.
Sounds perfect, right? Hold on: doctors, laboratories, dentists, hospitals, and other healthcare-related offices specifically should think twice about using equipment with silicone or rubber keypads.
Why? Principally, the materials typically used to construct these keyboards are at least somewhat porous. They don’t offer a sufficient seal to prevent or inhibit the growth of bacteria and other pathogens. Worse, while they can be wiped down, users are typically more restricted in what cleaning agents they can use, making it that much more difficult to ensure that infectious microorganisms don’t take root.
The alternative is another type of membrane keyboard: a flat, fully sealed keyboard using PET foil, onto which two circuit layers are printed in conductive ink. When the user presses down, a circuit completes.
These keyboards shine in healthcare settings because they enable a one-two hygienic punch, as we described in an article on “Cleaning and disinfecting input devices in healthcare, food and beverage production, and more.” First, the material composing the keyboard can incorporate antimicrobial properties. Specifically, the sealed PET foil-based keyboard includes a high-end film surface that can be coated with a powerful antimicrobial material (Microban).
Second, not only can users wipe the fully sealed keyboard down, they can use almost any cleaning and disinfecting agent they wish, including alcohol, hydrocarbons, and diluted acids / alkaline. In other words, these keyboards make it easier to ensure healthcare facilities are maintaining appropriate hygienic conditions to protect their patients.
For more information about selecting genuinely washable, medical-grade keyboards, please visit our main Keyboards page.
Sign up for our monthly INNOVATION NEWSLETTER today!
Technical wordsmith and guest blogger for Hoffmann + Krippner.