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How to Repair a TV Remote Control or Alarm Keypad With Kitchen Foil

Updated on September 22, 2016
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Eugene is a qualified control/instrumentation engineer Bsc (Eng) and has worked as a developer of electronics & software for SCADA systems.

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How Do I Fix a Remote Control or Keypad That Won't Work?

Rubber membrane keypads are widely used on burglar alarm panels and remote controls for TV, audio, satellite boxes etc. Keyboards on laptops are now often rubber membrane types, with dome switches mounted on top for tactile feedback. If you look inside one of these keypads, there are lots of little rubber pads on the underside of the buttons which push against a circuit board when you press a key. The surface of these rubber pads is impregnated with carbon to make them conductive, so that when the pad makes contact with pairs of metal contacts on the PCB (Printed Circuit Board), it completes a circuit, triggering the circuitry to do something (e.g. send out an infrared signal to a TV, or register a digit on an alarm panel). Over time, the conductive coating can deteriorate and also the contacts on the PCB can become dirty.

If you can't source a new remote control or alarm keypad, or don't want to use a universal remote, you can try cleaning or repair the keypad.

If you find this guide useful, please share it with your friends on Facebook, Pinterest or other social media. Thanks!

Getting Keys to Work on a Remote Control

There are several steps to getting a remote back working again:

  1. Open the remote, it may be held by screws, clips, or the two halves could be plastic welded or glued together
  2. Clean the control with washing up liquid or rubbing alcohol. This may temporarily restore functionality
  3. If cleaning doesn't work, you can repair the keypad with electrically conductive ink or graphite, replace the pads, or use aluminum foil

First Things First - Check the Batteries!

If your remote doesn't work, check first that the batteries aren't exhausted. You can use a battery checker, or simply try inserting fresh batteries. Also the electrical terminals in the battery compartment which make contact with the batteries can become tarnished and fail to conduct current. Try cleaning them with wire wool, fine sandpaper, a nail file or similar.

Is the Remote Control Sending Out an Infra Red Signal?

The key fob for your car transmits a radio signal to operate locks, however remote controls for TVs and other consumer electronics send out an infra-red signal when you press a button. The signal is emitted by an LED at the front of the control. You can't see this with the naked eye, however if you view the remote with a digital camera or phone, it is possible to detect this signal which appears as a flashing light. If this isn't apparent, check for any loose soldered connections when you open the control.

You can check the control is emitting an infra-red signal with a phone or digital camera
You can check the control is emitting an infra-red signal with a phone or digital camera | Source

Opening a Remote Control or Alarm Keypad

First things first, remove the batteries!

Remote controls can be held together with screws, clips, by using a plastic welding/glue bonding technique, or a combination of these methods. Screws are often located in the battery compartment, but sometimes can be hidden under rubber pads which you can prize out with an awl or narrow bladed jeweler's screwdriver. Once you've done this, try and pull the two halves apart. If they don't come apart easily or if there are no screws apparent, slide a blunt dinner knife into the crack between the two halves of the control to undo the clips, starting at one end. Hold the tip end of the blade between your thumb and forefinger. This gives more control and lessens the danger of the knife slipping out and stabbing you in the other hand! It's very easy to break the clips, so take care and prize the halves apart bit by bit. You need to feel your way along the crack and with a bit of practice its possible to locate a clip by sliding and pushing in at the same time (the tip of the knife sinks into an indentation). Twist the blade to undo the clip. Work your way all around the perimeter, and separate the two halves.

Remote alarm keypads generally have a faceplate held on by screws, so you don't need to do any of the above steps.

You may need to remove screws before splitting a remote
You may need to remove screws before splitting a remote | Source
Membrane keypad from remote control
Membrane keypad from remote control | Source
The rubber pads are electrically conductive......
The rubber pads are electrically conductive...... | Source
...and make contact with groups of copper tracks on the PCB
...and make contact with groups of copper tracks on the PCB | Source

Cleaning a Remote Control

If the control is really dirty and sticky, e.g. someone has spilled sugared tea, coffee or soda on it, it will need to be cleaned. After taking it apart, you can wash the two halves of the shell, membrane keypad and circuit board in warm soapy water. I reckon its safe to do this because usually there's only one chip on the board and a few passive components and unlike a cell phone, no complex, high density, surface mounted electronics, or other modules which water could lodge in. Rinse the board, shell and keypad after cleaning, and allow to air dry, or dry with a hair drier.

If the control is unresponsive but hasn't got dirty as described above, you can try cleaning the conductive rubber pads with isopropyl alcohol. This is also known as rubbing alcohol or IPA. You can buy it in bottles or aerosol cans. Its sold in electronic or hobby shops as a cleaning product for circuit boards. Spray a little onto a small piece of paper kitchen towel and clean each pad and the corresponding tracks on the PCB. As an alternative, you can use a cotton bud soaked in alcohol for cleaning.

Cleaning the pads with alcohol usually works for a time but sometimes a remote becomes unresponsive again. Possibly this has something to do with the conductive layer on the pads permanently breaking down. The only solution then is to use conductive ink or alu foil to repair the pads.

You can use IPA (Isopropyl Alcohol) for cleaning
You can use IPA (Isopropyl Alcohol) for cleaning | Source
Clean the rubber pads and the traces on the PCB also
Clean the rubber pads and the traces on the PCB also | Source
A cotton bud can also be used for cleaning
A cotton bud can also be used for cleaning | Source

Repair Option 1 - Using Electrically Conductive Ink or Graphite Repair Kits

There are several products available for restoring keypads which either involve using electrically conductive silver ink/paint or graphite loaded compound to create a new layer on the rubber pads. You need to clean the pads thoroughly, apply a primer and/or super glue and then paint the pads using the supplied applicator.

Graphite repair kit for keypads
Graphite repair kit for keypads | Source

Repair Option 2 - Use Replacement Pads

Another option is to buy a kit of replacement pads and glue. After cutting off the existing pad, you apply a small dab of glue to the membrane and stick on a new pad, pressing it down to make sure it is attached properly. You can buy these pads here: Attilasebo Shop

Source

Repair Option 3 - Use Aluminum Foil

The third option which costs virtually nothing and works quite well is to use aluminum kitchen foil ("tin foil") You need to have nimble fingers to do this and it can be a little tricky, but not overly difficult.

Step 1 - Cut the Foil Into Small Squares

With a sharp scissors, cut the foil into squares roughly the size of the pads. You don't have to be overly fussy about this, just don't make the squares too large.

Cut a strip of aluminum foil
Cut a strip of aluminum foil | Source
Cut the strip into small squares
Cut the strip into small squares | Source

Step 2 - Apply a Blob of Glue to the Pad

Super glue works quite well, but you can also try using contact adhesives or any other type of craft glue. Don't squeeze glue directly from the tube onto a pad, because too much is likely to squirt out, instead apply some to a pinhead, match stick, jeweler's screwdriver or similar, and spread it evenly over the pad.

Apply some glue to a screwdriver
Apply some glue to a screwdriver | Source
Spread glue on the pad
Spread glue on the pad | Source

Step 3 - Attach the Foil Square to the Pad

Super glue bonds within seconds, so it's important to position the foil properly on the pad. You can use a tweezers, small snipe/needle nose pliers or suction pickup to pickup the foil.

Position the square with a tweezers
Position the square with a tweezers | Source
You can also use one of these sucker pickup tools available from DealeXtreme for lifting the foil (or other small parts)
You can also use one of these sucker pickup tools available from DealeXtreme for lifting the foil (or other small parts) | Source

Step 4 - Press Down Firmly on the Foil Squares

Press down on the square and firm the edges of the square around the pad.

Press down on the pad
Press down on the pad | Source

Did You Find This Article Useful?

Was the info in this article useful and instructive? How can I improve it? Would you like to ask me any questions?

Please provide some feedback below, and also I would appreciate it if you could rate it and pin it on Facebook or Pinterest.

Thanks!

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    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 22 months ago from Oklahoma

      I've actually done this before. It works.

      Great hub!

    • eugbug profile image
      Author

      Eugene Brennan 22 months ago from Ireland

      Thanks Larry! I used foil to repair a remote keypad for my burglar alarm. Unlike a TV, a universal remote wasn't an option, and I couldn't find a replacement. The pad is still working fine over a year later.

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E. Franklin 22 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      This looks like great info for repairing a remote. If I ever need to do that job, having seen this will give me some confidence about doing it.

    • eugbug profile image
      Author

      Eugene Brennan 22 months ago from Ireland

      Thanks Ronald, glad you liked it!

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 21 months ago from Home Sweet Home

      you are a clever techno guy

    • eugbug profile image
      Author

      Eugene Brennan 21 months ago from Ireland

      As Newton would say, "just standing on the shoulders of giants", learning from those who went before me!

    • molometer profile image

      molometer 16 months ago

      Great hub Eugene, I learned something new (smart phones detect infra red signal) and found the whole article very useful. Sharing it to my twitter followers.

    • eugbug profile image
      Author

      Eugene Brennan 16 months ago from Ireland

      Thanks Michael. You don't even need a smart phone, any phone with a camera or a digital camera will do. Thanks for the tweet!

    • agvulpes profile image

      Peter 13 months ago from Australia

      Thanks for the tip on checking the IR output of the remote and replacing the contact with foil.

    • profile image

      Henry 10 months ago

      Very helpful!! I learned something new!

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