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Solving Common Mouse Problems

written by: John Lister•edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 6/9/2009

Despite the popularity of the optical or cordless mouse, many computer users still have a traditional computer mouse. We explain how to solve some common problems with this device, including tangled cables, sluggish responses caused by a build up of dirt, and using a mouse when left-handed.

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    My mouse is responding sluggishly

    This is usually caused by dirt in your mouse. It’s fairly simple to clean your mouse: if you turn it over you will find a disc around the ball which can be turned anti-clockwise to release the ball. (It’s safest to unplug your mouse before doing this just in case you mistakenly click on the wrong menu while cleaning it!) Give this ball a wipe with a wet cloth and then dry properly before putting it back in.

    In the meantime, look inside the hole the ball comes from. You’ll see two rollers and a wheel, which will likely have a ring of gunk around them – this is dust and dead skin which has been gathered up by the ball! You can remove this by turning the rollers right around while using a fingernail, pencil or paper clip to scrape the gunk off. The wheel may be a bit trickier to maneuver, so if your fingers aren’t nimble enough (and you don’t have a useful child standing by), try gripping it with a pair of tweezers. When you’ve finished, give the mouse a good shake to make sure all the loose gunk has come out.

    You should clean your mouse fairly regularly as dust and dirt will inevitably get back in to it. It’s also worth replacing your mouse mat every so often as dirt can build up and become so ingrained that it’s difficult to clean effectively.

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    I have a twisted or coiled cable

    This usually happens when your mouse cable is longer than you need it and thus the loose cable bunches up as you move the mouse around. The trick to uncoiling it is to suspend the mouse so that its weight pulls the cable back into place. If your computer is on a desktop, you can usually simply dangle the mouse off the edge of the table for a half-hour or so. Don’t leave it too long as it will put undue strain on the mouse plug and socket.

    If your computer isn’t in a suitable place for this, another method is to tie the end of the cable loosely around a door handle. Be careful not to tie it too tightly or you may damage the wiring inside the cable.

    Be warned that both these methods are to be avoided if you have toddlers or cats which can get in the room: to them your mouse is either a toy or a tasty snack!

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    I’m left handed

    If you use your mouse with your left-hand, you’ll likely find it irritating and counterproductive that the main left-click button is underneath your middle finger. Fortunately you can go into the Control Panel, select the Mouse menu, and tick the ‘Switch primary and secondary buttons’ option. This will now make the right-hand button perform the main clicking option.

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    I want to use a mouse on my laptop but there’s no socket for it

    You can get round this problem with a special adaptor which you can find for a few dollars at most computer stores and online sites. It’s usually listed as a ‘PS/2 to USB convertor’ and will allow you to plug both a keyboard and mouse into a single USB socket. Your computer should automatically recognise them.

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    My mouse is completely broken and I need to use my Windows computer before I get a new one

    In this case you’ll need to open the Control Panel (without a mouse, you can do this by pressing the Windows key, waiting for the Start menu to appear, then pressing C). From here use the arrow keys and Enter button to select Accessibility Options, and then use the arrow and Tab keys to select the Mouse tab and tick the box marked ‘Use Mouse Keys’.

    You’ll now be able to use the numeric keypad on the right-hand side of your keyboard to move the arrow, and the Enter key to simulate the mouse button. You’ll probably want to change the settings in the same menu to increase the Top Speed and Acceleration settings, else the arrow movement may be painfully slow.

    (On some computers, you may be able to turn this option on and off simply by pressing the left ALT key, left Shift key and Num Lock key at the same time.)

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    Related reading

    >>> The 10 Best computer mice for $50 or Less

    >>> Choosing the Right Mouse

    >>> How to Build the Perfect Gamer PC - Part 14: Choosing the Right Mouse

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    HP illustration of cleaning a mouseA PS/2 to USB adapter

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