How to Clean a Laptop Keyboard

A person cleaning a laptop keyboard.

I don’t know anybody that hasn’t wanted to perform destruction therapy on their computer at one time or another. All is well when our computers work well. But once something goes awry, we’d rather use a hammer to relieve the machine of its duties than thoughtfully plan routine hardware maintenance.

No one ever suspects the keyboard, but it’s perfectly reasonable that the part of the laptop that we touch the most should require the most frequent care. Fortunately, when the keyboard is the problem, it is generally an easy fix. The more regularly you clean a laptop keyboard, the easier the cleaning will be. Listed below are steps to clean a laptop keyboard. Do this routinely and you could avoid needing to perform the deep cleaning method noted at the bottom.

Ways to Clean a Laptop Keyboard

  1. laptopkeyboard-1Identify the degree of dirtiness. Is your laptop keyboard thoroughly soiled or is this a routine cleaning? If you spilled something on your keyboard, you might consider the “deep” cleaning method given at the bottom of this page. Be sure to check your warranty or manual concerning tampering further with your machine.
  2. laptopkeyboard-2Turn off your computer. Don’t just set it to “sleep” or “hibernate.” A taxidermist wouldn’t work on a sleeping or hibernating bear, right? The same goes for you and keyboards. Shut it down and unplug all cords connected to the laptop before beginning.
  3. laptopkeyboard-3Hold the laptop upside down. This may not do too much, but you might just get some excess matter to fall out. You could gently shake or tap on the bottom to help gravity, but don’t beat the machine. Make sure this is done above a trash can so you don’t have to clean this up twice. Reposition the laptop and continue.
  4. laptopkeyboard-4Use a can of compressed air. Tilt the can or laptop in a manner such that the nozzle of the air can is at a forty-five degree angle to the keyboard. The tip of the can should be several inches away from the keys. Aim for the crevices and use short bursts of air. Moisture will come out if you hold the trigger down too long. Be sure to follow the safety instructions on the label of the compressed air can.
  5. laptopkeyboard-5Clean the laptop keyboard. Use a fine tweezers to grab any dust or noticeable material from between the keys. Another idea would be to use a small paintbrush to free up debris. If you feel like you loosened some remaining material, feel free to use the air can again.
  6. laptopkeyboard-6Wipe the keyboard with a cloth. Use a small amount of isopropyl alcohol on a clean cloth (old t-shirt or what have you) and span the entirety of the keyboard. This will clean the tops and sides of the keys.Don’t use too much alcohol; you don’t want seepage beneath the keys.

Alternate “Deep” Cleaning Method

It’s important to note that this is not the only other cleaning method available. Laptops differ in the way they are made and how they are taken apart. Some keys can be popped off, and other laptops need to have a panel removed to clean underneath. When in doubt, take it to an expert; you wouldn’t want to void a warranty to protect your pride. The following is a method for laptops with keys that can be popped off.

First, make a map of your keyboard. Take a few high-resolution digital photos of your keyboard or draw a diagram so you can remember where each key goes once finished. Next, pop out the smaller keys one by one and store them in a safe location. Do not remove the larger keys as they can be difficult to reapply. Spot clean each key if need be upon removal. These small keys should pop right out fairly easily, but exercising care is always a good idea. Next, clean the area where the keys used to be. Use lightly dampened cotton swabs. Do not use wet swabs as excess water could negatively affect your machine. If the swab gets too wet or starts to fray, use a new, slightly damp swab, and continue. Be sure to get all accessible areas. Finally, pop the keys back into place. Refer to your photo or diagram, align each key to its location and press it into position.

Laptop Keyboard Cleaning Aids

laptopkeyboard-7USB Vacuum.These nifty little gadgets are fairly cheap and they literally suck. Powered by connecting to a USB port, this tool works well at getting free debris out of the key cracks. It has a flexible rubber attachment that can get between the keys and vacuum underneath them. You can find these for a good price, like this USB vacuum from Amazon.

laptopkeyboard-8Air Blaster.Typical compressed air cans contain air mixed with toxic chemicals that, if not used properly, can be expelled. Giottos AA1900 Rocket Air Blaster is nontoxic and environmentally friendly. It shoots a mighty burst of air similar to a can of compressed air, but without the safety considerations. This rocket-shaped tool is fun to launch as well.

laptopkeyboard-9Cyber Clean.After pressing this blob into the keyboard, simply peel it off and it will take with it the gunk your laptop keyboard formerly bore. This blob will never relinquish its grime, however, and will need to be replaced in time. On the plus side, the blob can be used on any electronic device.