A Complete Guide to Keycap Shine and How to Prevent It

  • Keycaps 101
  • Posted by: carson-rutz
  • Aug 16, 2023

It’s not a good feeling to see your keycaps shine one day. In fact, every one of us wants to avoid that D-day (with d for destined) as long as possible. Therefore, here is your guide on preventing greasy keycaps. Let’s jump right in!

What is Keycap Shine?

Keycap shine is a state that the keycaps, after using for a while, look greasy or oily on the surface. This happens due to the friction caused by the fingertip when typing. The repetition gradually degrades the keycaps’ surface, and as a result, the polished keycaps look shiny.

This phenomenon is common with ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) keycaps due to their softer material, resulting in a glossy appearance. While keycap shine may affect the aesthetics, it is a natural process and doesn't impact the functionality or performance of the keyboard.

Keycap shine from geekhack
keycap shine from geekhack

Why Does Keycap Shine Occur?

Let’s go into depth about the reasons behind keycap shine!

Keycap Materials

As we have mentioned above, keycap material plays an important part in the keycap shine issue. ABS will show a shiny look much sooner than other materials. But, since it’s cheap and easy to mold, you may mostly encounter them. Hence, you should check out this article to learn its pros and cons for a better decision.

On the other hand, we have trustworthy PBT keycaps for the issue. Theoretically, PBT can be shiny, but you won’t meet that in several years or even the keyboard’s life span with well-made ones.

Xvx anti-shine pbt keycaps
xvx anti-shine pbt keycaps

If your PBT keycaps shine too soon, it may be that you have bought a very cheap set. Or, it may be due to the spacebar or the shift keycaps made of ABS. This situation is quite common for sure. As large PBT keycaps are easily bent or broken during the manufacturing process, some budget PBT sets use ABS for the spacebar or shift keycaps to cut down the cost.

Frequent usage and friction

This is the main factor that causes the keycap shine problem. Typing, rubbing, or even cleaning will create friction that sands the keycaps’ top layer. This is a normal phenomenon for almost any physical thing so obviously, your keycaps cannot escape from it. As a result, the surface becomes both thinner and smoother, as well as shinier.

Frequent typing leading to keycap shine
frequent typing leading to keycap shine

Natural oils and sweat from fingers

Since the human body naturally produces oils for skin protection, your fingertips can stick those natural oils onto your keycaps. The build-up oils will eventually create the keycap shine. However, the effect of this is only short-term unlike the oily keycap caused by physical degradation.

Oily fingers leaving fingerprints
oily fingers leaving fingerprints

Cleaning products and methods

Keycap shine will happen due to frequent usage, and it, as a matter of course, includes cleaning. Rubbing your keycaps too much or choosing the wrong cleaning products can cause the keycap’s layer to be thinner. For example, using acetone to clean ABS keycaps will destroy the outer quickly.

In contrast, you can apply the right cleaning methods to create the keycap shine. But, of course, it will be a polished shiny look, not the worn-out greasy one. Using plastic polish and microfiber cloths or a polishing machine (the one for nail art) can be useful in this case.

Nail polishing machine
nail polishing machine

Impact of Keycap Shine on Keyboard Experience

Now, we will move to some impacts of the keycap shine problem.

Aesthetic Impact

It’s clear that the greasy looks on the keyboard are not nice to the eyes at all. Sometimes, keycap shine is accompanied by faded legends or keycap abrasion, which affects both visual and functional aspects.

Furthermore, since there are a certain number of keys that are used way more than others, keycap shine will appear inconsistently. That contributes greatly to a worn-out keyboard look and really annoys those who have OCD issues.

Let’s take a look at the GMK keycap shine!

Functional Impact

In general, keycap shine does not get in the way of the keycap’s function too much aside from looking ugly. However, it’s a sign of the keycap that starts to wear out. After more time, keycap shines will go with things like abrasion or lost legends. Still, you can keep typing on them and get the result.

But, we suggest you apply our tips on “how to prevent keycap shine” below to postpone D-day. Because even if you can keep typing on them, your eyes may find it hard to look for the right keys when they look oily or even faded.

Worn-out keyboard with keycap shine and lost legends
worn-out keyboard with keycap shine and lost legends

Potential impact on typing experience and overall keyboard appearance

Even though we have said that you can still type on the shiny keycaps, it does not mean the experiences won’t have any issues.

One of the problems we have talked about is the distracting looks. For those who don’t have muscle memory about key positions, a shiny keyboard may be confusing to type on, especially if the legends are not very clear.

Secondly, keycap shines mean the surface has been thinner and smoother. This could cause less friction for your fingers to grip the keys. As a result, your hands can sometimes slip from the right keys and that causes mistyping.

Green keycap shine keyboard
green keycap shine keyboard

Lastly, people can like a shiny appearance. And, ABS is sometimes preferred more than PBT thanks to it looking smooth and shiny. However, we believe most people dislike the greasy looks of keycap shine. It’s a sign of wearing out and moreover, we human in nature do not enjoy things that look oily and greasy.

How to Prevent or Minimize Keycap Shine

Here are the most common measures to tackle keycap shine for those who are not fond of it.

Use PBT Keycaps

The key to “how to prevent keycap shine” is the PBT material. As we have mentioned that PBT keycaps won’t be oily for a very long time, it’s best for you to consider a well-made PBT keycap set. We have here a review of 21 good-quality PBT keycaps that deserve to be on your keyboard, so don’t forget to check it out.

High-end ducky joker pbt keycaps
high-end ducky joker pbt keycaps

Always Wash Hands

One of the ways to prevent keycap shine from your oily fingertips is washing your hands frequently. Needless to say, after touching greasy foods or consuming sugar drinks, you should clean your hands before typing on your keyboard. Undeniably, good hygiene from you will keep your keycaps unsoiled for a long time before the next keyboard periodic cleaning.

Washing hands
washing hands (source: healthline)

Regularly Clean Keycaps

The next “how to prevent keycap shine” tip is to clean your keycaps routinely. By doing this, you are not only getting rid of the build-up oils but also taking out dirt and harmful chemicals that wear out your keycaps. The cleaning task can be tedious, but it’s necessary to prevent abs keycap shine or prolong the keyboard’s longevity.

Before starting to clean, you should check out the keycaps’ manual to see which chemicals need to be avoided completely. Our tip is to google which chemicals your keycaps’ material is weak against. Thanks to that, you can proceed to pick out suitable cleaning products that don’t harm them.

To save you some time from Googling, here is our quick reminder of some must-be-avoided chemicals for you! 

  • Bleach, as it can fade plastics. 
  • Isopropyl alcohol (IPA), as it can damage some coatings or finishes on the keycaps. Third, 
  • Baby oil, as it has been reported to degrade the legends.
A keyboard cleaner kit
A keyboard cleaner kit

Then, it’s time to move to the cleaning. We suggest you read our guide on deep cleaning the keyboards. Since it can be tricky to know what to start, we have put the steps and some notes on what you should not do.

Use Plastic Polishing

Another suitable method to tackle the keycap shine is to use plastic polishing. You could bring a new look to your keycap with this liquid rather than suffering the greasy, worn-out keycaps. Just a bottle of plastic polishing and a good microfiber cloth will be enough.

First, you clean up your keycaps. Then, pour out the liquid onto the keycap surface and take a microfiber cloth to rub it thoroughly. Repeat the rubbing with plastic polishing one or two more times until you are pleased with the look. For complete instructions, please watch this video from Magniboards.

Use Keycap Stickers

We are also in love with this measure as it proves to be very effective in preventing keycap shine. It is using keycap stickers. You could buy a set of keycap stickers on Amazon and use them to cover your keycap’s surface.

Thanks to that, there won’t be any direct impact on the surface. And, when the sticker is no longer useful, you can take it out and replace it with a new one.

The awesome part about this method is it’s very cheap. Moreover, you can take this as a chance to decorate your keyboard as there are many beautiful keycap stickers out there. If you decide to try it out, we have three tips for you.

A transparent keycap sticker
a transparent keycap sticker

Firstly, you should dust off the keycap surface thoroughly before putting the sticker on. Secondly, you should repeat the process of cleaning - sticking with each keycap as a set of cleaned keycaps can be dusted over quickly. Thirdly, we recommend you use a tweezer to put the sticker on top of the keycap. This will prevent fingerprints from showing, especially for transparent stickers.

Choose lighter color keycaps

Our next suggestion is for you to choose a light color keycaps. Well, the method we mention now is not preventing the problems from happening. In fact, it is for distracting your eyes from not seeing the greasy surface obviously. You see. Black and other dark colors will allow the shiny effect to be seen clearly.

That is why getting light and neutral tone colors like beige, light grey, or matte white will be great for not showing the shine visibly.

21kb retro beige keycaps
21kb retro beige keycaps


We believe the oily keycaps are a big letdown to many keyboard lovers when it shows up on your beloved keyboards. After going this far with us, we hope that we can provide you with some useful information about the problem and also how to prevent keycap shine from happening.

If you have more great tips, please share them with us. As we, the fellow keycap enthusiasts, would die to know other good ways of preventing this unwanted issue. Now, it’s time to wrap up our article on keycap shine, and wish you have enough “tools” to treat it. Peace!


What is shine on keycaps?

Keycap shine is the phenomenon that after being repetitively degrading through physical contact, the outer layer becomes shiny or greasy.

Do PBT keycaps still shine?

Yes, PBT keycaps can shine one day, but it will take a very long time to get to that stage. In addition, the high-quality PBT ones won’t be oily even after the keyboard meets its ending.

Can I prevent keycap shine?

Normally, you can completely prevent the keycap shine but can push back the phenomenon considering that you apply the right measures. But, you can avoid the keycap shine completely by buying high-end PBT keycaps as they may wear down only after several years.

Which keycap material is more prone to shine?

ABS material suffers from keycap shine more easily than other materials, especially cheap ones.

Does keycap shine affect the performance of the keyboard?

The early stage of keycap shine does not interfere with the typing performance too much besides the unsightly look. However, after a while, it may show slippery which may lead to mistyping.

What causes ABS shine?

There are several factors causing ABS to shine. The key factor is the friction from frequent usage sands the surface and then makes it shinier. Other causes are the released oils from fingertips or the damage from harmful cleaning chemicals.

Which types of keycaps are prone to shine?

The type of keycap that suffers most from the greasy look problem is the ABS keycap. Due to the material’s nature, it’s easy to be polished just by frequent contact with people’s fingertips, thus, becoming shiny.

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