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A waterproof keyboard is designed to withstand various levels of exposure to moisture. Keyboard models can offer protection ranging from the occasional spill to total immersion in a liquid. A welcome boon to those of us who regularly spill coffee or soda across our desks, the waterproof keyboard also serves an important function in medical, marine, food preparation and industrial environments.
Early waterproof keyboard models were difficult to get used to, as they did not provide the tactile typing response which users expected from typing on a keyboard. Newer models provide this tactile response and are easier to become accustomed to.
There are two basic types of keyboards that provide protection from water: flexible and solid-body. Flexible keyboards are constructed of a sealed sheet of silicone or polyurethane. They can be rolled up into a ball or folded and put into a pocket. Solid-body keyboards are made of the same silicone or polyurethane, but offer a rigid construction. Both can be loaded into a dishwasher or washed down with sudsy water for cleaning.
Rubber keyboards are used in food and beverage manufacturing, marine environments such as ships and ocean-going laboratories, and health-care facilities. Totally silent flexible keyboards are used in military operations.
Flexible keyboards treated with special anti-microbial technologies are used in patient care and medical research facilities to provide a contamination-free computer interface that is both resistant to microbes and capable of being totally disinfected with hospital grade cleaning solutions. As computer-aided diagnosis and treatment become more and more common, the ability to disinfect equipment present in patient rooms is paramount.
When purchasing a waterproof keyboard, it is important to determine the level of protection that is required in any given environment. Since the term waterproof has many ambiguous meanings to many people, it is helpful to refer to a rating guide.
The National Electrical Manufacturer Association (NEMA) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) provide industry-standard sets of ratings. The main difference between them is that IEC Ingress Protection (IP) codes are primarily used in Europe and Asia and NEMA standards are primarily used in the US. Most keyboard manufacturers automatically test for, and list, both standards.
Both NEMA standards and IP codes define the environment in which an electrical enclosure, in this case a sealed keyboard, can safely operate. Tested situations range from occasional exposure to damp air to immersion to hose-directed streams of water.