Dell Laptop Users Weren’t Crazy, Their Keyboards Really Did Smell Like Cat Urine

Some users speculate that polymers could have been to blame, though others pointed to nitrogen, one of the main components of urine


Back in June, some new Dell Lattitude 6430u laptop users noticed a peculiar smell coming from their keyboard. “The machine is great, but it smells as if it was assembled near a tomcats litter box,” wrote threewest, the user who first sounded off about the problem. Others soon chimed in with stories like this one:

I am having the same issue. When I started using the laptop at the end of last week I thought I smelt something odd. Well.. here I am Sunday doing some work on the couch and my wife says “what stinks like cat pee”. I said.. I think its this laptop.. puts her nose up to the keyboard and BAM! It really stinks.

Dell attendants suggested clients try to clean the keyboard with compressed air. But as one user wrote, “No amount of compressed air is going to help the awful stench coming from the keyboard.” Others reported that after using the machine for about two months, the smell faded.

At 2:50 am last night, Dell finally announced that they had found the problem and were ready to start replacing the offending palmrest, which turned out to be the source of the smell. The cause of the odor, however, was never named. As the BBC writes, Dell officials simply said that something in “the manufacturing process” caused the stench, and reassured customers that neither cats nor hazardous substances were involved.

Some users speculate that polymers could have been to blame, though others point out that nitrogen—one of the main components of urine – has been used as a strengthening agent in manufacturing for years. Here’s Autoevolution on how BMW used nitrogen-rich urine to strengthen inline 4 cylinder blocks, for example: 

The interesting part about it was that the blocks were kept out in the cold and urinated upon in order to strengthen their composition.

While some may laugh at this strange solution by the German manufacturer, the urinating process is based on nitridization (a process which introduces nitrogen into the surface of a material and is widely used in automotive, mechanical and aeronautical engineering, having the property of a case hardening treatment of predominantly steel but also for titanium, aluminium and molybdenum).

Whether nitrogen has anything to do with the Dell situation remains a matter of speculation. But most users probably prefer an odor-free palm rest over a strong but smelly one.

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