How to Clean Your Trackball Mouse

A Logitech trackball mouse on a desk.

You bought a fancy trackball and you’re loving the trackball life, but one day your mouse seems a little sluggish than you remember. It’s time to clean it up.

Trackballs require simple routine cleaning

From some of the very first mice in the 1960s to the present, the most common mouse type has been a mechanical, reel-style computer mouse. This type of mouse required routine cleaning because you had to constantly drag it (and the weighted coated steel ball on the bottom of the mouse) across your desk. Eventually, dust, stray hair, and other light debris ended up inside, wrapping around the tiny rollers that tracked the steel ball’s movement.

Best trackball mouse

The introduction of the optical mouse, popularized by the Microsoft IntelliMouse, which was the first optical mouse to hit the market in 1999, supplanted the rolling mechanical parts in favor of an LED and photodiodes. There are no moving parts on the bottom of an optical mouse, and no cleaning is required aside from checking the small plastic glides on the bottom for dirt.

Because of this, most new trackball users aren’t used to cleaning their mouse and are surprised when suddenly the amazingly smooth and liberating movements of their shiny new trackball aren’t as smooth.

Luckily, if you know where to look and what to do, it’s easy to clean your trackball and get back to that frictionless mouse-using lifestyle.

what you will need

There’s the way you clean your trackball by the book, and then there’s the “I’ll just tap the dirt off with my finger and wipe it off with my t-shirt” method of cleaning your trackball mouse.

Depending on whether you’re at home with the right tools on hand, or cleaning your mouse while you work between airport layovers, either is acceptable. I can assure you that in decades of trackball ownership I have done both and my mice have survived.

If you want to take a literal approach to the task, it’s handy to have the following things ready:

The dish soap is only necessary if your mouse is particularly dirty and you want to remove any stickiness or debris on the palm rest or similar.

Manufacturers, including Logitech, do not recommend using rubbing alcohol on your mouse because not only can it discolor the mouse’s body, but it can also cause rubber components like the grip on the side of the palm rest, the scroll wheel, or the traction feet on the mouse’s underside degraded by the mouse and become sticky.

If you actually want to disinfect your mouse, use an alcohol- and bleach-free disinfecting wipe.

How to clean your trackball

A person using a Logitech Ergo MX trackball mouse.

We focus on cleaning the thumb-operated bowl-style trackballs popularized by Logitech with the introduction of the Trackman Marble in 1995. It was a best seller then and their current best selling trackball mice including the M570, M575 and MX Ergo retain the same form factor.

But don’t worry, the general process for cleaning a trackball mouse is the same regardless of the mouse. The only significant difference between the brands is how the mouse ball is attached to the body of the mouse. Let’s take a look how to make it clean and working smoothly.

Prepare to clean the trackball mouse

It is ideal if possible to unplug the power source from your mouse before proceeding.

If your mouse is wired, unplug it. If it has removable batteries, open the compartment and remove them. Just be careful with mice that have an internal, non-removable lithium-ion battery, like the Logitech MX Ergo.

In any case, you should use a disinfectant wipe or a microfiber cloth with distilled water and a mild detergent, never apply the liquid directly to the mouse’s body and only use a slightly damp cloth to wipe surfaces.

If you’re going the mild detergent route, a single drop of Dawn dish soap in a bowl of distilled water and a microfiber cloth dipped in the water and then squeezed thoroughly is the way to go. You want just enough moisture to clean the surface, but not enough moisture for water to run into the mouse’s body.

Wipe the mouse body

If your mouse is really clean and your main complaint is that the ball feels sticky or slow, you can skip this step.

But if you’re generally cleaning your trackball mouse, it’s a good idea to start with a general wipe down to remove the dirt. By performing this step before removing the trackball, you can prevent additional debris from falling into the trackball cavity.

Thoroughly wipe the trackball mouse with either a microfiber cloth dampened with distilled water only, a disinfectant wipe, or when trying to remove heavy build-up, a microfiber cleaning cloth dampened with distilled water and a mild detergent.

Remove the mouse ball

The trackball is removed from a Logitech M757 trackball mouse.

Of all the steps involved in cleaning a trackball mouse, the ball removal step is probably the one where you can make a serious misstep. If you heavily arm your trackball mouse with a tool and scratch or chip the surface, you’ll get stuck with an uncomfortable trackball feel, and nobody wants that.

Be sure to read the documentation for your particular mouse to verify how the ball should be removed.

With modern Logitech trackball mice, the ball is held in place by tension. If you have clean, dry fingers and a strong grip, you can grab the ball and slowly pull to pull it out. There is also a hole on the underside of many models that, due to the design, has the diameter of a pencil. If you are having trouble removing the ball by grip alone, you can slide a pencil into the hole, eraser end first, to lift the ball.

Some older trackball mice have a locking ring over the ball. An absolute sign of this design is the presence of a small indentation in the ring (into this indentation you can insert the tip of a pen or pen tip to rotate and unlock the ring).

With thumbless trackballs, the ball is held primarily by gravity, and you should be able to lift the ball straight up out of the socket with little resistance.

Very few trackballs have an actual ejection mechanism, the most notable example currently on the market being the Kensington Pro Fit Ergo Vertical Trackball. Where you would find the “pencil hole” on Logitech mice, the Pro Fit Ergo has a physical button.

Clean the mouse ball

The actual ball part of the trackball mouse is a hard polished plastic and is very easy to clean. In most cases, you can simply wrap a piece of clean cloth, like the microfiber towel mentioned above, around it and gently buff to remove skin oils.

If this isn’t enough, wipe it down the same way you wiped the mouse body.

Clean support bearing

The inside of a trackball mouse with accumulated dirt.
I put that on hold for so long just to get this dirty photo for you. Jason Fitzpatrick

You probably noticed how gross the orb cave was when you removed the mouse orb. Trackball mice have small bearings that support the ball and allow it to roll freely. These bearings are the primary collection point for debris in your trackball.

As you use the mouse, small portions of your skin oil are deposited on the ball. First of all, this is an advantage. You may have noticed that a few days after using your brand new trackball, the movement was even smoother and more comfortable.

But after that initial light lubrication, the oil begins to collect on the small raised bearing points, and dust, tiny bits of skin, and other debris cling to the oil, eventually forming a waxy little disc on each bearing.

Once it gets to that point you start to get that sticky/snapping ball feel like the trackball just won’t spin like it used to.

Go ahead and use an air blower to blow loose dirt out of the cavity, then lift the small dirt disk with your fingernail. It’s useful to do this with the mouse inverted so that gravity will help the disc and other debris fall out (rather than inwards where they could become wedged in a crack).

Then use a slightly damp cotton swab to clean the bearing more thoroughly. No aggressive pressure is required, just twist it slightly and wipe back and forth to get it nice and clean.

Clean the optical sensor window

Inside the cavity you will also see the window for the optical sensor. Depending on the model, it can be a large flat rectangle or a small narrow circular aperture with a recessed lens.

Gently clean the surface again with a slightly damp cotton swab. It’s fairly rare for the window to be coarse enough to actually interfere with trackball mouse operation, but on models with the recessed window, it’s possible that a bit of debris broke off from the bearing spot we just cleaned and the recess has settled. Unless they are normal stains, this type of dirt affects the performance of the mouse.

Clean the edges and crevices

The bearings and window are the main things to clean, but while you’ve got the ball out, run the cotton swab along any exposed cracks and crevices in the plastic, e.g. B. where the cavity meets the body of the mouse. Small bits of debris like to hide in them, and if you don’t clear them out now, they’ll get stuck on the bearings down the road.

Replace the mouse ball

Look at the cavity and blow again with the air blower or a wipe with the microfiber cloth to pick up any stray small parts, then carefully replace the ball.

Be prepared for your trackball to feel weird for a day or so. As the trackball gets dirty, you get used to the increased friction. If you clean it down to the bare support bearings it will feel super fast and maybe even a little “scratchy” for a day or two. However, once a tiny bit of skin oil builds up, it feels just right.

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