How to Clean Your Keyboard

This how-to tells you how to clean your keyboard whether it's a routine cleaning or an emergency spill.
Published: Jan 8, 2006
Author: Michael E, Callahan

This question submitted by Donna Swain, Thomas Yee, James Reed, Iris Bolinger, Carmen Tormeno, Ed Goodall and numerous others

I could identify with this question in all the different ways it was phrased. Some asked about just general cleaning of a keyboard. They do tend to get dirty from daily use. Another factor to consider is that debris and dust tend to accumulate in a keyboard. If you've never taken a keyboard apart you might be surprised to find what you'll find in it. Other questions dealt with what to do when you spill something on your keyboard. So, I'll try to cover both aspects of cleaning a keyboard - routine and emergency.

Today most keyboards are relatively inexpensive, especially when compared to the early keyboards. Back in 1982 I spilled a soft drink on my keyboard. I took it to the computer store and they cleaned it with industrial solvents. Even so, the keyboard was never the same and I had to buy a new one. If you take good care of your keyboard it can last you a very long time. So, find a keyboard you like using and take good care of it and it will serve you well.

Basic Cleaning

The first thing I'd do is turn off the computer. Remember, your computer is an electronic device and your keyboard is plugged into it. Once the computer is off you can unplug the keyboard. There are a few thing you might want to buy to make your job effective.

  • Can of compressed air
  • Q-Tips or other cotton-tipped swabs
  • Mild cleaning solution
  • Paper towel or soft cloth

In the "old days" you just about had to take your keyboard apart in order to get the junk out of it, but today compressed air generally makes that step unnecessary. You can get compressed air at office stores like Office Depot and OfficeMax. Blast the compressed air in between the keys, keeping the nozzle of the can at a slight angle and that will remove debris and dust. What do I mean by "debris?" Well, cookie crumbs, sugar from the donut you had last year, hair, dust, pollen and more. I generally hold my keyboard with they keys facing the floor while I spray the air. That way the debris goes down to the floor and not in someone's face.

Once you've removed the crud from under the keys you'll want to use a mild cleaning solution to get dirt and grime off the keyboard body and the keys. I've used a number of things including Windex, Cinch, 409 - you get the idea. I've seen people spray it right onto the keyboard, but my personal opinion is that it's better to put the cleaning solution on the cloth. Once you've done that just wait until the keyboard is totally dry and then plug it back in. You're good to go.

Emergency Cleaning

At some point, no matter how careful you are, you or someone else will spill something on your keyboard. Things with lots of sugar like soda, iced tea with sugar, lemonade and so on are harder to clean than something like water. If you just spill water or black coffee it's not too bad. Unplug the keyboard, lay it keys down on some paper towel and let it dry. And I mean really dry. A blow dryer can speed up the process, but I'd let it dry at least overnight. Say, 18 to 24 hours.

The problem with liquids containing sugar is that the sugar coats the contacts on the keys. It's sticky. Besides gumming up the contacts it can also cause the keys to stick. So, if what you spilled had sugar in it, you'll have to get into some more intensive cleaning.

Unplug the keyboard. You might need to remove some of the key caps so you can get at the surfaces more easily. I'd use a screwdriver for the job. Key caps come off fairly easily. Just use steady, gentle pressure as you lift up. Then get your Q-tips and start cleaning up the liquid. I'd also wet the cotton swabs with a bit of water so it dilutes any sugar. If you remove key caps, put them in a sieve and run them under hot water to remove sugar. Dry them off and put them back on. Now, keep your fingers crossed and wait at least a day.

If all this sounds like too much work and your keyboard cost $19.95 you may just want to get a new one. Another question I received multiple times dealt with laptop computers. IF you simply spilled or splashed any substance that didn't contain sugar, like water or black coffee, then you can try to dry it out. I'd turn the laptop upside-down on a bath towel and let it sit for at least 18 hours. I've been told that you can use a blow dryer or an air compressor to help remove the water. Makes sense although I personally have never had to try it. You can also check the Web site of your laptops maker and see if they can tell you how to remove the keyboard.

Summing It Up

The keyboard is the way you enter information into your computer. Some are very inexpensive, and some are fancier and a bit more expensive. With a little basic maintenance your keyboard can work perfectly for years. If you spill fluids that contain sugar on your keyboard you've got some cleaning to do. If it's just water or coffee you may be just fine drying it off. A good policy is not to have beverages close to your keyboard. Another way to go is a keyboard protector which you can purchase for a reasonable price.

I'd like to thank Donna Swain, Thomas Yee, James Reed, Iris Bolinger, Carmen Tormeno, Ed Goodall and numerous others for asking this question.

If you have a question on how to do something on the computer you can submit it via e-mail by clicking HERE. You will not receive a reply, but all topics will be considered.

About Michael E, Callahan

Michael E. Callahan, known around the world by the trademarked name Dr. File Finder, is regarded as the world's leading expert on shareware. Dr. File Finder works with software programs and developers full-time, and in the average year he evaluates 10,000 programs. Since 1982 he has evaluated over 250,000 software and hardware products. Mr. Callahan began evaluating software online in 1982 and no one has been at it longer. He currently works doing online PR and marketing for software companies, and is the Senior Content Producer for Butterscotch.Com.

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