How to Fix an Unresponsive Escape Key

So you wake up one morning, ready to watch a short film before getting started with a day’s work, and you can’t get out of full-screen mode in your favorite media player. Your “Escape” key doesn’t work! In a panic, you attach an old spare keyboard you were saving in case of an apocalypse. The key still doesn’t work! You can’t have such bad luck, can you? Either both the keyboards just decided to break or, as would be the obvious conclusion, your computer is not interpreting the “Escape” key at all. The last thing you can do now is panic, though. I have some solutions you can try.

Understanding The Problem

When one key on your keyboard is not working, despite all the other keys responding properly, you have one of two possibilities: Either something in your computer is intercepting that particular key, or the key is broken. If you tried a spare keyboard and the key still doesn’t work, this almost eliminates the possibility of a malfunctioning keyboard. You still can’t rule it out, though, by the off-chance that both keyboards have the same defective key. As unlikely as it seems, it’s still possible. Let’s see how we can determine that…

The Ultimate Diagnosis

The keyboard is a device that sends signals to your computer by means of eight timed pulses that are interpreted by the processor on your computer. Keyboard input sends something known as an “interrupt signal,” meaning that the computer interrupts a large number of the things it’s doing to interpret what you typed. When the signal doesn’t reach the computer, it’s most likely because something’s wrong with the keyboard. There are two possibilities here: Either the signal is reaching the computer and the computer somehow ignores it, or the signal doesn’t reach the computer and you have a defective keyboard.

To determine what problem you’re facing, click the “Start” menu and type “mskey”, then press “Enter”. If you’re not on Windows 7 or 8, hold down the “Win” key and press “R”, then type “mskey” and press “Enter”. This takes you to Microsoft Keyboard Diagnostics. The input-monitor should show you everything that your keyboard does, like this:

Press the “Esc” key. Did it show up on the input-monitor? If it did, and your programs don’t respond to the key, it’s a problem with your computer. If it didn’t, then your keyboard has a defective “Escape” key. That was simple! Here are a few solutions to the former problem:

  • Close Photoshop. While this program is open, it might interfere with the “Escape” key’s function in other programs. This happens because it sometimes establishes a “hook” with your keyboard.
  • Close running programs one by one and test the key after each one closes. If your keyboard works after closing one particular program, this might be worth looking into. Comment below on this and we might be able to figure it out.
  • Access the task manager (Ctrl+Shift+Esc or Ctrl+Alt+Delete) and start closing processes under your username in the “Processes” tab. Don’t close anything with the “System” username. Those are essential programs, usually. Try not closing anything too foreign to you at the moment. Start off easy. After a while, you might be able to pinpoint exactly what’s causing your keyboard not to work. Once you find the problem, you can take steps to remedy the issue by preventing the program from running on your computer. If you really need the program to run, then contact the support persons for that particular program.
  • If nothing works, you’ll just have to stick to using “Shift+Esc” as a substitute for the “Esc” key.

Has this helped you in any way? Got something to add to the discussion? Leave a comment!

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  1. AJ :

    MSkey does not open anything and gives an error message. I am running on windows 8.1. Any other method to open Windows keyboard detection tool?

  2. Grant :

    I have windows 7 vista and mskey does not exist on my PC

  3. RH :

    Very helpful. I had no idea this facility was available.

  4. NoHow :

    I’m using windows 7 and also have no such command as “mskey”. However, if I go to the ‘start’ button and type in ‘keyboard’ the first entry that arrives is the ‘on-screen keyboard’. Using the ‘esc’ key there to see if the ‘escape’ function works at all (and it does) at least gives me the option of using the escape key for … well, escaping. I have no idea how to restore the function of the key on the keyboard itself.

  5. NoHow :

    P.S. If the escape key on the keyboard doesn’t work, the statement that “If nothing works, you’ll just have to stick to using “Shift+Esc” as a substitute for the “Esc” key” will not work either. Any command with “ESC” as part of the equation will not work.

  6. Bobby :

    MSKEY is part of Microsoft Intellitype. You need to download it from the Microsoft website if you don’t already have it. Once you install Intellitype, you will be able to access MSKEY via the technique mentioned by the author.

  7. Steve :

    Thank-you. I was going crazy as I’d tried multiple keyboards, and ESC still worked when I was at the log-in screen.

    Sure enough, I had Photoshop Elements open.

    • Melissa :

      This was my issue too. Thanks for including it – it was driving me crazy!

  8. Shivaram Pamujula :

    yes, it is working now when i closed the adobe photoshop as mentioned above. Thank you so much.

  9. Tauras :

    My ESC key works only with fn (function) key, not alone. It’s fn + ESC = ESC on my laptop.

  10. bharath :

    Great Job Tanmay. I have found the issue.

  11. MMP :

    Thanks. As soon as I shut down Photoshop, my escape key worked.

  12. NG :

    Thanks for mentioning the Photoshop interference!

    Sure enough, that was my issue.

  13. ... :

    “Esc+Shift” is so helpful, considering that my esc key doesn’t work…

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