How to Clean a Keyboard

A very dirty keyboard.

I’m going to clean a keyboard that has actually made guests forget about checking their email, Facebook, Twitter, and other accounts they usually obsess about. One friend in particular – a germaphobe – had to fight his gag reflex and the urge to faint upon contact. My keyboard was the Typhoid Mary of the electronics world, except it wasn’t locked up for it’s entire life. Luckily, learning how to clean a keyboard is quite easy, which will make me look even more like a lazy, procrastinating jackass. I’m not sure how it got to this point; however, I do spend a lot of time in front of my computer. It is where I work and play – which usually leads to all the sins of keyboard cleanliness. I eat, drink, and sometimes sleep (drool) over my keyboard. These are things we should try to avoid in the future.

Before we start our keyboard cleaning, gather your supplies. You’re going to need isopropyl rubbing alcohol, cotton swaps and/or cotton balls, dish soap, a bowl of warm water, a vacuum with a bristled attachment (or a can of compressed air), a flathead screwdriver or key, a lint-free rag and a towel. You have to be patient with this project, but soon you’ll have a clean keyboard.

How to Clean Keyboard Steps

  1. shaking out the keyboard outsideShut down your computer, unplug your keyboard, and shake off loose debris. This is where slobs stop, assuming that the absence of potato chip crumbs and pebble-sized chunks of filth means they have a clean keyboard. One note – if you have a USB keyboard, you don’t need to shut down your computer to unplug it. If your keyboard is wireless, remove the batteries. Also, if your keyboard is as dirty as mine, you may want to shake loose the debris outside…in the street if you want to worry the neighbors.
  2. digital cameraYou’ll need a way to remember where the keys go before taking them off. A few photos with a quality digital camera or a nice little drawing will prevent chaos later. As most keyboards have the same basic set-up, using a second keyboard for comparison can make things less difficult. There are also keyboard diagrams online. If you want to demonstrate that your balls (or ovaries) are made of solid brass, go ahead and try to remember where all the keys go. For some, this is the fun part of keyboard cleaning.
  3. removing keysUse a key or small flathead screwdriver to remove most of the keys. As you can see, I use the key to my Porche 911 GT (sigh…86 Silverado). DON’T remove the larger keys: the spacebar, shift keys, enter keys – and any other key that isn’t easily dislodged. They have an extra metal bar keeping them in and can be much harder to put back together. If you need to get under there, do it at your own risk. It isn’t too hard, but some people (me) end up breaking things.
  4. keys in soapy waterTo clean keyboard keys, place them in a bowl of warm water with a splash of dish soap. Let those nasty little keys soak for a bit. Once you are finished cleaning the keyboard proper, dry the keys using a lint-free rag or towel. This will remove any remaining filth. Next, place them on a towel. The inner spaces will still need to air dry for awhile – NEVER put wet keys back onto the keyboard. Water has a Jihad out on circuitry. Be patient; you’re halfway clean keyboard.
  5. vacuuming the keyboardNow that the keys are off, clean the keyboard with the bristled vacuum attachment first, and then clean using cotton balls and swabs damp with isopropyl alcohol. If you don’t have a vacuum, a can of compressed air used outside will suffice. You may need a toothpick for sludge scraping. Run cotton balls (I use swabs for the tight spaces) damp with isopropyl alcohol along the rows and around the rest of the keyboard, including the palm rests, large keys, and outer edges. Squeeze excess fluid out of the cotton before application, and never apply the alcohol directly to the keyboard.
  6. reassembled clean keyboardGently pop your keys back into place and bask in the righteous glory of a clean keyboard. You have completed my keyboard cleaning seminar. You are now certified to teach others how to clean a keyboard with aplomb – and even condescension. To keep your keyboard clean longer, you may want to avoid eating, drinking, sleeping, and being naughty at your computer. Easier said than done.

How to Clean a Keyboard Quickly

You need not take the keys off every time you clean your keyboard – sometimes a quick cleaning is good enough. First, shut off your computer and unplug your keyboard (USB keyboards can be unplugged while your machine is running). Next, turn your keyboard upside down and shake out any debris. Be thorough; you’ll be surprised at the sheer volume of filth. Next, use either a bristled vacuum attachment or a can of compressed air to clean beneath the keys. After that, get a cotton swab damp with isopropyl alcohol and move it up and down the rows of keys and over the keys. Finish by wiping the keyboard with a lint-free rag that is slightly damp with the alcohol. This keyboard cleaning method is quick and more practical for moderately dirty boards.

Keyboard Cleaning Aids

cyberclean blobCyberclean. This product is a neat little blob designed to clean electronics. To clean a keyboard, you just smush the glob down over the keys and it kills bacteria and removes filth from deep down under the keys. It is biodegradable, and you’ll know to replace it when it has turned blue. (Just like your hamster.) Best of all, you’ll be the talk of the office when you mold your Cyberclean into a penis and balls. You can order CyberClean from Amazon.

Hands being washedSoap. This actually has nothing to do with how to clean a keyboard. If a bunch of people are using the same keyboard, then it’s a good idea to wash your hands before and after sessions to avoid spreading both germs and cooties.

USB keyboard vacuumUSB Keyboard Vacuum. With how wired we’ve become as a society, this seemingly absurd gadget is a practical keyboard cleaning tool. It’s light. It’s powerful. It’s dorky. However, regularly removing dirt and debris from your keyboard will protect it from wear and corrosion. The vacuum comes with an attachment to get deep down into the keys. I’d unironically crack a vacuum joke here, but vacuum jokes suck.