Tidy MouseReview date: 4th July 1999. Last modified 03-Dec-2011.
Optomechanical mouses get filthy. There's no way around it. As you use the mouse, skin flakes and oil and scurf come off you and go onto the mousemat, and these delectable ingredients, plus dust (a lot of which is also human-flakes, not to mention tiny arachnids busy eating the flakes), are transferred by the grippy rubber-coated mouse ball to the plastic or metal rollers. Mousemats like 3M's excellent Precise Mousing Surface or EverGlide's even better units can reduce the amount of crud-transfer, but not eliminate it.
So unless you work your computer inside one of those atomic-biological-chemical-shield boxes with the built-in gloves, your mouse will eventually gum up.
When this happens, the traditional course of action is to chip and swab and tweeze the muck off the rollers. This works, but it's fiddly, and it's easy to scratch the rollers (see the column to the right). Clearly, What The World Needs is a simple, automatic mouse cleaning system.
Enter Tidy Mouse. For $US12.95 plus shipping, Tidy Mouse promises quick, simple, even clean-it-while-you-use-it mouse de-crudding.
What you get
The Tidy Mouse idea is simple enough. It comes with a funny, spongy mouse ball, an absorbent mousemat, and a two ounce (57mL) bottle of cleaning solution, which seems to basically be just a water-and-detergent mix. The solution should last for a good few cleanings, and should be easily enough replaced with something similar when it runs out. The makers inform me that the detergent is "optimized to dissolve hand oils and similar materials" and is biodegradable, but, to be honest, I think that goes for a lot of detergents, although not necessarily dishwashing liquid (I'm not sure that I want a lemon-fresh mouse...). They also point out that the liquid is formulated to clean properly without being too soapy.
You can buy replacement bottles of fluid from them for not much, and they'll shortly be selling four ounce bottles for about $US3. So it's not as if they're profiteering, here.
Tidy Mouse say the ball and mat should last for ages, which I can believe. You'll need to wash them occasionally.
The idea with Tidy Mouse is simple enough. You wet the ball with the cleaning solution, you put the ball in your mouse, you move the mouse around on the mouse mat. The instructions tell you to move the mouse in large circles on the mat for two minutes, which is both very boring and will make you look like the Person Most Obviously Pretending To Work if you do it at the office, but the mouse actually works pretty much normally with the cleaning ball in it - certainly, as well as it probably worked with all that muck on the rollers - so you can just go about your normal computing business for a while and, with any luck, have a clean mouse at the end of it.
So how'd it work for me?
For the first time I can remember, I was happy to see that my mouse rollers were dirty. Not hopelessly clogged; the mouse still worked perfectly, with no sticking or skipping. Just the normal rings-o-crud that all frequently-used conventional optomechanical mouses collect. The Tidy Mouse site specifies that dirt rings may be more than the cleaner can handle, and it may just loosen them so you can easily pick them off with tweezers. It also points out that regular Tidy Mousing will prevent the rings from recurring.
Since you can actually use the mouse with the cleaning ball in place, I did, rather than just wave it around. Two minutes is probably less time than I'd spend picking and swabbing muck out of a mouse, but it's a fair while to move one in a circle. I found my Logitech USB mouse was annoyingly inaccurate when I put the ball retaining ring back in place (which the Tidy Mouse instructions don't tell you to do); without the ring, you can't lift the mouse and relocate it easily, lest the ball fall out, but it seems to track fine.
After a few minutes of mouse-waving, some of the crud was indeed gone, presumably vanished undetectably into the grey surface of the special mousemat, but the rings were still there, as the Tidy Mouse site said they might be. They were now nice and loose and easy to tweeze off, and I can believe the Tidy Mouse claim that periodic preventative cleaning will prevent them from coming back. Tidy Mouse will take longer to clean a pretty dirty mouse than the pick-and-tweeze method, but then again, you don't need picks and tweezers.
If you're thinking of replacing the Tidy Mouse cleaning fluid with something harder, stop.
The usual cleaning solution in everything from cassette tape head cleaners to monitor-swabbing kits is isopropyl alcohol, because it works better than water and detergent, doesn't short things out or cause rust, and evaporates quicker than water-based cleaners. Unfortunately, Tidy Mouse specify that alcohol will damage the cleaning ball (although it may apparently take a while to do it) so it's something water based or nothing. The makers say their detergent solution cleans as well as isopropyl, anyway, and is less toxic.
Tidy Mouse is not an amazing instant fix for dirty mouses, but it performs as advertised, is pretty cheap, and wouldn't be a bad thing to add to your stationery cupboard, for periodic use by every mouser in the house or office. I've got to say that as exciting products go, this isn't one, but it serves a need and serves it quite well.
The Tidy Mouse
(...which doesn't seem to exist any more. I think you've now officially missed your chance to buy Tidy Mouse products.)
There were sections of the Tidy Mouse site which struck me as not entirely serious. Like the part where it says you can clean a keyboard or even a monitor with the Tidy Mouse cleaning ball, for instance. It'd work, but since the contact patch is smaller than that of a pencil eraser, it'd take a pretty darn long time.
I suspect someone at Tidy Mouse was amused by the idea of the world's more trusting people scrubbing their monitors with a mouse-ball.
Frankly, I am, too.