The Escape key on a keyboard has been the standard “get me out” key for computer software since the beginning of computers.
This was a very easy method of exiting different scenarios on a computer but for the last 10 years developers have started to focus on usability features, and having a single key on the keyboard that if pressed by accident can close an application is a big no-no.
In this article, we’ll discuss how we can troubleshoot the Escape key in Windows 10 in different scenarios.
What can I do if ESC key won’t work on Windows 10?
- Use SHIFT + Escape
- Test your keyboard
- Check your driver
- Check for viruses
- Run the keyboard troubleshooter
- Uninstall Synaptics Pointing Device driver
- Turn off Filter Keys
- Uninstall recently downloaded software
- Check the keyboard for dust or foreign matter
1. Use SHIFT + Escape
Like I said in the first paragraph, the ease with which the Escape key could be used in the past posed a lot of problems if it was pressed by accident.
This is why most of the newer applications have now switched to using the SHIFT + Escape keys combination.
For example, Google Chrome uses the SHIFT + Escape keys combination to give you access to its internal task manager, as you can see in the image below.
2. Test your keyboard
Sometimes the problem isn’t with the operating system but with the hardware. Keyboards and mice are probably the most used and abused input components on a computer, meaning that they tend to break more often than other components.
If your keyboard is connected to your computer using a USB or PS/2 socket, than you can disconnect it and install it on a different machine. This way you can test if the problem is with your computer or with the keyboard.
You can also try connecting a different keyboard to your machine and try using the Escape key on that one. Or simply purchase a new keyboard.
3. Check your driver
The keyboard driver translates the input from the keyboard so it can be read by the operating system. Drivers, like any other computer files, can get corrupted by different software or viruses.
This can also be caused by upgrading or downgrading your operating system, if the installed driver isn’t fully compatible with the new version.
The method that we usually recommend to try and fix this is uninstalling the current driver and letting Windows reinstall it again:
- You can achieve this by right clicking on the Start button and selecting Device Manager.
- From here expand the Keyboards list, right click on your current keyboard and select Uninstall, like in the image below.
- Confirm this by click OK on the next dialog.
Once the keyboard has been removed from the list reboot your computer to reload your operating system and force it to detect the keyboard. It will then proceed to reinstall the driver and hopefully fix problem.
NOTE: Newer USB keyboards are more complicated than they used to be. Now they have LED lights with 16 million colors, USB and Audio connections and even trackpads or special keys.
In order to use them at their full potential you will need to install the driver provided by the manufacturer. You can find this either on the CD/DVD that it came with or by downloading it from the manufacturers’ website.
Update drivers automatically (suggested)
The safer and easier way to update drivers on a Windows computer is by using an automatic tool. We strongly recommend Tweakbit’s Driver Updater tool.
It automatically identifies each device on your computer and matches it with the latest driver versions from an extensive online database. Thus, you will keep your system safe from downloading and installing the wrong driver versions.
Here is how it works:
- Download and install TweakBit Driver Updater
- Once installed, the program will start scanning your PC for outdated drivers automatically. Driver Updater will check your installed driver versions against its cloud database of the latest versions and recommend proper updates. All you need to do is wait for the scan to complete.
- Upon scan completion, you get a report on all problem drivers found on your PC. Review the list and see if you want to update each driver individually or all at once. To update one driver at a time, click the ‘Update driver’ link next to the driver name. Or simply click the ‘Update all’ button at the bottom to automatically install all recommended updates.
Note: Some drivers need to be installed in multiple steps so you will have to hit the ‘Update’ button several times until all of its components are installed.
Disclaimer: some features of this tool are not free.
4. Check for viruses
Viruses have gotten really complex over the years and can even take control of hardware components. Actually most of computer software problems are caused by different types of viruses.
If you have a 3rd party antivirus software installed than you can use that to scan your computer.
If not, Windows 10 comes with Windows Defender, Microsofts own antivirus solution. You can access it by clicking on the Start button and selecting All apps. Under Windows System you’ll find Windows Defender which you can open by clicking on it.
Another way to remove viruses from your computer is by using Malwarebytes Anti-Malware. This antivirus software is free for personal use and can be downloaded from here.
5. Run the keyboard troubleshooter
Windows 10 features a series of troubleshooters that you can use to fix various issues in no time. There is also a dedicated keyboard troubleshooter available, so do use it if the ESC key is still not working.
- Go to Settings > Update & Security > click on Troubleshoot in the left hand panel
- Navigate to ‘Find and fix other problems’ > scroll down
- Select the keyboard troubleshooter > run it and then check if the ESC key is working.
If you’re having trouble opening the Setting app, take a look at this article to solve the issue.
6. Uninstall Synaptics Pointing Device driver
If your default driver comes into conflict with Windows 10, certain keys may fail to work. You can fix this problem by uninstalling the Synaptics Pointing Device driver.
Simply navigate to Control Panel and go to the ‘Uninstall program’ section. Uninstall Synaptics Pointing Device driver from there.
7. Turn off Filter Keys
Filter Keys is an option that tells Windows 10 to simply ignore certain keystrokes or repeated keystrokes. Sometimes, your computer may enable this feature by itself.
Make sure that Filter Keys is not preventing you from using the ESC key. Here are the step to follow to disable this feature:
- Go to Control Panel > type ‘ease of access’ in the search box and open Ease of Access Center.
- Navigate to Make the keyboard easier to use option.
- Scroll down and select Filter Keys. Uncheck the Turn on Filter Keys option > hit Apply > OK.
8. Uninstall recently downloaded software
If you can’t use the ESC key after installing a particular app or software, try removing the respective program to see is this workaround solves the problem.
- Go to Start > type ‘control panel’ > double click on the first result to launch Control Panel
- Go to Programs > Uninstall a program
- Select the software that you recently installed > click on Uninstall
- Restart your computer and check if the ESC key is responsive now.
For additional info on how to uninstall programs and apps in Windows 10, check out this complete guide.
9. Check the keyboard for dust or foreign matter
Make sure that your keyboard is free of dust, dirt or other foreign matter. You can simply turn it upside down so that any specs of dust or debris may fall out.
You can also use compressed air to blow out dust from the crevices on your keyboard. If you’re a tech-savvy person, you can disassemble the keyboard.
However, keep in mind that this approach may void the manufacturer’s warranty, so proceed at your won risk.
If the steps above failed to fix your Escape key, please provide more details about your problem in the comment section below and we’ll try to help as best as we can.
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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in April 2016 and has been since completely revamped and updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.