Of Mice and Mishaps

You don't have to be a klutz to benefit from this washable computer equipment.

SPILLS happen. You're reaching to turn a page or grab the stapler, and--oops! Depending on what kind of computer equipment you have, the resulting seepage of water, juice, mocha cappuccino, etc. into your mouse, keyboard, and other peripherals can vary from a momentary mop-up hassle to a work day-stopping disaster. What if you could just take the equipment to the sink, spray it down, dry it off, and get back to business?

That is the simple but potentially day-saving idea behind a line of washable keyboards and mice developed and distributed by Dallas-based Unotron Inc. and its U.K.-based parent company Unotron Ltd. The devices are made with patented SpillSeal® technology that allows them to be dunked, scrubbed, sterilized, and ready to function all the better for it. But Unotron Director Joseph H. Carabello says it should not take a desktop splashdown for you to want to head sinkward with your equipment.

"Typically, your mouse and keyboard are breeding grounds for germs," he says. "With people coughing, sneezing, wiping their noses, and using the computer, those germs are easily spread in any office. In industrial settings there is the added problem of a lot of dust and dirt getting in there. Dust is a big killer of the keyboards in the industrial setting."

Spraying a standard keyboard and mouse with disinfectant and wiping them down is an option, Carabello says, but eventually even that causes buildup that can fizzle the circuitry. Air sprayers can be useful on standard-issue equipment in most cases, but probably not where some of the latest Unotron devices have found themselves. "One of the world's largest food processing companies is using our equipment in its manufacturing facilities," he says. "You can imagine what it's like. I don't know whether they're cutting up thousands or tens of thousands of chickens a day, but that stuff is flying all over the facility. . . . Come the end of the day, they're able to wash everything down, including the keyboard and mouse. The produce marketplace is another big area for us. Think of those machines that sort out potatoes, for instance, and all the dirt that's flying around that equipment. It's the same thing: At the end of the day, they can just hose down all their equipment and not have to worry about not getting the keyboard and mouse wet."

The Offal Truth
I know what you're thinking, and I agree that having a separate room away from the flying chicken parts and/or potato dirt probably would be more conducive to good data entry and word processing. But even if your workplace is equipped with the equivalent of that separate room, chances are good that it, too, has flying particles (though of a less chunky variety) that settle down into the catch-all world between the keyboard keys and scroll wheel crevices. If, like mine, your keyboard "hygiene" consists of occasionally flipping the unit upside down and giving it a vigorous shake, creating an instant desktop "snow" globe, you've seen some of it. Remnants of at-desk lunches and snacks, along with settled dust, dandruff, and other offal bits are on display, and, as Carabello notes, not all of it has fallen out.

"Just with the daily use in an office environment, with the dirt and dust and whatnot that's getting all over the keyboard and mouse, it just makes a lot more sense if you're able to wash them," he says. "As with anything, you can dust them off, but if you're able to take them to the sink, immerse them in water, wash them with soap, and get all the residue and germs out of the deep recesses, it becomes that much better, and you're not going to have a problem with keys sticking or corrosion."

Douse Your Mouse
All Unotron mice use optical technology (relying on infrared sensors rather than crud-collecting rollerballs) and have removable scroll wheels for easy flushing and cleaning. For the wireless versions of both mice and keyboards in the line, even the battery compartments are sealed for protection, so removing the batteries during washing is not necessary. Each keyboard key is individually sealed with a welded, waterproof dome that somehow maintains the touch and feel of a standard keyboard. The SpillSeal technology enables immersion in either water or antibacterial solutions and use of soap and/or commercial-grade detergents.

Available in black or gray, the devices' prices range from $49 to $79 each, depending on whether they're corded or wireless. The wireless versions require at least a Windows® 98 operating system. All of the units are rated to NEMA4X and IP66 certifications, meaning the National Electrical Manufacturers Association and the International Electrotechnical Commission say they are suitable for indoor and outdoor use and are protected against the ingress of dust and high-pressure water jets from any direction, as well as external ice formation.

Now, if only someone would develop technology to remove the coffee stains from the documents ruined by those spills!

This article originally appeared in the May 2007 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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