You bought a fancy trackball, and you’re loving the trackball life, but one day your mouse seems to be a bit more sluggish than you recall. It’s time to clean it.
Trackballs Require Simple Routine Cleaning
From some of the very first mice back in the 1960s well into the present, the most common type of mouse has been a roller-style mechanical computer mouse. This kind of mouse required routine cleaning because you were dragging them (and the weighted coated steel ball in the bottom of the mouse) across your desk constantly. Eventually, dust, stray hairs, and other lightweight debris would end up inside and wrapped around the tiny rollers that tracked the movement of the steel ball.
Best Trackball Mouse
The introduction of the optical mouse, popularized by the Microsoft IntelliMouse, which was the first optical mouse to market in 1999, ditched the rolling mechanical bits in favor of an LED and photodiodes. There are no moving parts on the bottom of an optical mouse and save for checking the little plastic “glides” on the bottom for gunk, there’s no cleaning required.
Because of that, most new trackball users aren’t in the habit of cleaning their mouse and are surprised when suddenly the amazingly smooth and liberating motion of their shiny new trackball isn’t so smooth anymore.
Fortunately, if you know where to look and what to do, it’s easy to clean your trackball and get back to that smooth flick-of-the-finger mouse lifestyle.
What You’ll Need
There’s the by-the-book way to clean your trackball, and then there’s the “I’ll just knock the gunk off with my finger and wipe it off with my T-shirt” way to clean your trackball mouse.
Depending on whether you’re at home with some proper tools handy or you’re cleaning your mouse while getting some work done between layovers at the airport, both are acceptable. In decades of trackball ownership, I can assure you I’ve done both, and my mice have survived.
If you’d like to tackle the task with a by-the-book approach, it’s handy to have the following things ready:
The dish detergent is only necessary if your mouse is particularly dirty and you’d like to remove any stickiness or built-up residue on the palm rest or such.
Manufacturers, including Logitech, recommend against using rubbing alcohol on your mouse as it can discolor not only the body of the mouse but also cause rubber components like the grip on the side of the palm rest, the scroll wheel, or the traction feet on the bottom of the mouse to degrade and become sticky.
If you wish to actually disinfect your mouse, use an alcohol-free and bleach-free sanitizing wipe.
How to Clean Your Trackball
We’ll focus on cleaning the thumb-operated shell-form trackballs popularized by Logitech with their introduction of the Trackman Marble introduced back 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 of cleaning a trackball mouse is the same regardless of the mouse. The only significant difference between brands is how the mouse ball is secured into the body of the mouse. Let’s take a look at how to get it clean and operating smoothly.
Preparing to Clean the Trackball Mouse
It’s ideal to remove the power source from your mouse when possible before proceeding.
If your mouse is wired, unplug it. If it has removable batteries, open the compartment and remove them. In the case of mice with an internal non-removable lithium-ion battery, like the Logitech MX Ergo, simply use caution.
In all cases, should you use a sanitizing wipe or a microfiber towel with distilled water and a mild detergent, never apply the liquid directly to the body of the mouse and only use a lightly dampened cloth to wipe surfaces.
If you go 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 thoroughly squeeze out is the way to go. You want just enough dampness to clean the surface but not enough dampness that water can run into the body of the mouse.
Wipe Down the Mouse Body
If your mouse is really clean and your primary complaint is that the ball feels sticky or slow, feel free to skip this step.
But if you’re giving your trackball mouse a general cleaning, it’s wise to start with a general wipe-down to clean off the crud. By doing this step before removing the trackball, you can avoid any extra dirt falling into the trackball cavity.
Wipe down the trackball mouse thoroughly with either a microfiber cloth dampened with just distilled water, a disinfecting wipe, or if you’re trying to get some serious buildup off, a microfiber cleaning cloth dampened with distilled water and a mild detergent.
Remove the Mouse Ball
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 strong arm your trackball mouse with a tool and scratch or chip the surface, you’ll be stuck with an unpleasant feeling trackball, and nobody wants that.
Be sure to read the documentation for your particular mouse to double-check how the ball should be removed.
In the case of modern Logitech trackball mice, the ball is held in by tension. If you have clean dry fingers and a strong grip, you can grasp the ball and pull slowly to extract it. There is also a hole located on the bottom of many models that is, by design, the diameter of a pencil. If you have trouble removing the ball by grip alone, you can push a pencil, eraser end first, into the hole to lift the ball up.
Some older trackball mice have a locking ring placed over the ball. A dead give away for this design is the presence of a little dimple in the ring (that dimple is for you to insert the tip of a stylus or a pen tip to rotate the ring and unlock it).
For non-thumb 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 eject mechanism, the most notable example currently on the market is 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 very easy to clean. In most cases, you can simply wrap a piece of clean cloth, like the aforementioned microfiber cloth, around it and get a gentle polish to remove any skin oil.
On the off chance that isn’t sufficient, wipe it down the same way you wiped down the mouse body.
Clean the Support Bearings
You likely noticed how gross the ball cavity was the second you removed the mouse ball. Trackball mice have little bearings that support the ball and allow it to roll freely. Those bearings are the primary collection point for grime inside your trackball.
What happens is that while you use the mouse, little bits of your skin oil are deposited on the ball. At first, this is actually a benefit. You might have noticed that a few days after using your brand new trackball, the motion was even smoother and more pleasant.
But after that initial bit of slight lubrication, the oil starts to build up on the little raised bearing points, and dust, tiny bits of skin, and other crud stick to the oil, eventually forming a waxy little disc on each bearing.
Once it gets to that point, that’s when you start getting that sticky/dragging ball feeling like the trackball just doesn’t spin like it used to.
Go ahead and use air blower to puff out any loose debris from the cavity, then lift the little crud disc with your fingernail. It’s useful to do this with the mouse inverted so gravity helps the disc and any other buildup fall out (instead of inwards where it might end up wedged in a crack).
Then use a slightly dampened cotton swab to more thoroughly clean the bearing point. There’s no need for any aggressive pressure, just spin it lightly and wipe back and forth to get it nice and clean.
Clean the Optical Sensor Window
Inside the cavity, you’ll also see the window for the optical sensor. Depending on the model, it might be a large flat rectangle or a little narrow circular opening with a recessed lens.
Again, using a slightly dampened cotton swab, gently clean the surface. It’s pretty rare for the window to be gross enough to actually impede the operation of the trackball mouse, but in models with the recessed window, it’s possible that a bit of debris from the bearing point we just cleaned could have broken off and become stuck in the recess. Unless regular smudges, that kind of crud will impact mouse performance.
Clean the Edges and Crevices
The bearings and the window are the most important things to clean, but while you have the ball out, run the cotton swap along any exposed cracks and crevices in the plastic, like where the cavity meets the body of the mouse. Little bits of debris like to hide in there, and if you don’t wipe them out now, they’ll just end up stuck to the bearings down the road.
Replace the Mouse Ball
Give the cavity a look over and another blast with the air blower or a swipe with the microfiber cloth to pick up any stray little bits, and then gently replace the ball.
Be prepared for your trackball to feel kind of weird for a day or so. As the trackball slowly gets dirty, you get used to the increased friction. When you clean it back to the bare support bearings, it’ll feel super fast and even, perhaps, a little “scratchy” for a day or two. Once a tiny bit of skin oil builds up, though, it’ll feel just right.