How to clean keyboard

High quality mechanical keyboards can last for decades, and Das Keyboard products are no exception. There is one catch: dust and grime will overtake a keyboard long before its switches or electronics begin to fail. Cleaning, the most important keyboard maintenance task, will keep contaminants in check. Spills are another matter entirely, so they’ll get their own section.

dirty-keycapsclean-keycapsThe keycaps above aren’t from the same keyboard, but they illustrate the difference that this guide can make nonetheless. Without further ado, let’s look at three keyboard cleaning tiers.

What You Will Need

  • A laptop
  • Isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol, preferably 90% or higher
  • A microfiber cloth
  • Cotton swabs
  • Compressed air
  • Opening Picks or something else to pry keyboard keys off your laptop
  • Q-tips

Your laptop keyboard (aka: the place where your fingers hang out all day) is probably dirty. 

Step 3: Grease & Grime

In our experience, this is the most common type of laptop filth. It’s easy to forget about how grimy your keyboard is until someone else points it out, or one of the keys gets stuckkkkkkkkkk. The solution is simple: a little isopropyl alcohol! Wet a microfiber cloth or a cotton swab with the alcohol, and start wiping. You may have to go over trouble spots a few times, but you should be able to get rid of most residue (and bacteria!) this way. After this step, your keyboard should look good-as-new!

Note: Isopropyl alcohol over 90% is generally free of impurities, so you don’t need to worry too much about getting it where it shouldn’t be, but it’s still a good idea to be careful! Whatever you use to wipe the keyboard should be damp, not dripping wet.

Nothing beats a relaxing full-course meal with your laptop—just make sure to wipe it down afterward!

Step 4: Icky Stic-keys

If you’ve got a sticky key or large debris stuck under one of your keys, find something thin that you can pry with (we use our Opening Picks, but a flathead screwdriver will do the job in a pinch) and carefully pry off the key in question. Techniques vary from keyboard to keyboard, but even thin keys can come off in one piece if you are careful. The exception here is spacebar keys, which can be extremely difficult to pry off without breaking. Proceed with caution! Once you have the sticky key removed, use a Q-tip with some alcohol on it to carefully wipe away sticky residue where the key was, as well as any residue on the key itself.

Underneath the key you’ll find the actuation hinge, (also known as a key retainer, or “that white plastic thing”). This hinge can also be a source of stickiness. If yours looks goopy, wipe it down with alcohol or soak it for a minute in some hot, soapy water—just make sure it’s dry before you put it back on the keyboard! If you do take out the hinge (or if it comes out with the key) make sure you take note of the way it is oriented in there—they can be a pain to put back if you don’t know how they are supposed to go in.

If you do happen to lose (or break) a key or a hinge during this process, don’t stress! It’s easy and fairly cheap to replace an individual key, or the whole assembly.

Be careful removing thin keys from your laptop, especially the spacebar!

Preventive Cleaning

You should clean your keyboard lightly on a regular basis. Preventing grime accumulation is important, and it is even more critical if you eat next to your keyboard. Over time, dust and food will partially fuse to the painted metal plate that supports each keyswitch. That’s both nasty and inconvenient, as the particles must be brushed away once attached.

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1. Unplug your keyboard.

2. Use a vacuum to remove dust from its plate. Gently pressing the vacuum’s attachment tube down on the keycaps, ultimately actuating each key on the keyboard, will give the best results. Small handheld vacuums without rotating brushes work well.

vacuum3. Wipe the entire keyboard down with a slightly damp microfiber cloth.

cloth4. Dry it with another cloth. Do not use a paper towel, as paper towels will shed particles on the keyboard and create tiny scratches in its surface.

Avoid canned air at all costs when cleaning keyboards, as two negative side effects are possible. First, canned air is quite cold when it is released. That can cause condensation to build on scratches or worn metal surfaces, which could lead to corrosion or fused grime. Canned air can also blow dust directly into a keyboard’s switches, resulting in an unpleasant gritty feeling. Vacuum cleaners overcome those issues by pulling room temperature air, and therefore dust, away from the switches.

Deferred Cleaning

Some grime is stubborn, binding to the plate in spite of regular vacuum treatments and wipe downs. In addition, a layer of finger oils will gradually build up on your keyboard’s keycaps. Thankfully, there are tried and true methods that resolve those issues.

1. Unplug your keyboard.

2. Use a keycap puller to remove the keycaps from your keyboard. Most big keys are stabilized with wires (space, enter, shift, etc.), which makes them more difficult to remove. If you aren’t comfortable with removing and reseating them, it’s best to wipe them clean with a slightly damp microfiber cloth.

keycap-puller3. Clean the keycaps with denture tablets or dish soap.

Place the keycaps in a container, cover the keycaps with warm water, and place two tablets in the bath. Soak for at least 6 hours, rinse thoroughly, and lay the keycaps out stem up to air dry. It will take some time for the water to evaporate from the keycaps’ plus (+) shaped recesses. Dish soap is the second best choice, as it is difficult to rinse away.

Denture tablets are an ideal keycap cleaner. They remove oils, sterilize, and leave little to no residue.

keycap-cleaning4. While the keycaps soak, use a small stiff-bristle brush (or a dry Q-tip, which might deposit a few bits of undesirable fuzz) to loosen particulate matter that has adhered to the plate. Avoid getting the brush bristles near switch stems. The bristles could push dust deep into a switch, preventing vacuum removal.

plate-brush5. Vacuum the plate thoroughly with a handheld roller-less model or the attachment tube of a full size machine. If there is loose debris that the vacuum won’t pick up, turn the keyboard upside down and let it fall off.

plate-vacuum6. If there is a goo covered spot on the plate, use a slightly damp cloth or a Q-tip to wipe the mess up. Other small cleaning tools are viable as well. Avoid moistening the keyboard switches if possible.

7. Place the keyboard face down while the keycaps dry to prevent dust buildup.

8. Replace all keycaps.

9. Wipe the case down with a slightly damp microfiber cloth.

10. Dry it with another cloth, not paper towels. Paper towels leave particles and scratches behind.

Advanced Cleaning

Perhaps you chose to purchase a used keyboard. Let’s say that the previous owner used it in a dank basement and liberally sprinkled Cheetos between the keys. Maybe you’re that previous owner. We aren’t here to judge, especially if you’re looking to get things cleaned up. This guide is for keyboards that are filthy internally and externally. Following it will void your warranty, assuming that it is still active.

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Follow steps 1 and 2 in the Deferred Cleaning guide, then continue with the following:

1. Consider using an ultrasonic cleaner to remove grime from the keycaps. They also work great for other household tasks like jewelry and toy cleaning. If you aren’t interested, just use the keycap soaking method described in step 3 of the Deferred Cleaning guide.

Add half your keycaps to the cleaner, cover them with water, plop two denture tablets in, and run the machine for 6 – 10 minutes. If your machine has additional instructions, like a minimum fill line, be sure to follow them. Stir at 2 minute intervals to ensure that each keycap is exposed to the ultrasonic transducers.

Ultrasonic cleaners work by vibrating water at high frequencies, which results in supercavitation that blasts grime away without harming substrates.

You can purchase ultrasonic cleaners from many stores, but eBay tends to have the best prices. Cleaners with at least 120 watts of ultrasonic power and a minimal volume (around 3 liters) perform well. Many have heating elements that can be used to warm up water. Some unscrupulous sellers advertise the combined heating and ultrasonic power as the total power. As always, purchase carefully. You should expect to spend $60 to $90 US for a passable household ultrasonic cleaner.

ultrasonic-cleaner2. When the keycaps are finished, lay them out to dry with the plus shaped stem facing up. It may take some time for remaining water to evaporate completely.

3. Carefully open the keyboard case. Be sure to place its screws in a container. If they are different sizes, organizing them will help during the reassembly process. If there are cables that need to be detached, carefully do so. Take photos using your cell phone if you have trouble remembering what goes where.

screwdriver-keyboard4. Once the keyboard is disassembled, set the PCB and plate aside. If the dirt and grime are somewhat mild, you can clean the case halves by vacuuming the inside with a brushed attachment. Follow that up with a damp cloth.

apart-keyboard5. If the mess is severe (and there are no electronics attached to the case whatsoever) you can scrub the case halves with a medium-stiff bristle brush in a dish soap solution. Rinse thoroughly and dry both halves with a cloth, then allow water to evaporate from areas that cannot be accessed (like screw holes).

6. Use a small stiff-bristle brush to loosen particulate matter that has adhered to the plate. Avoid getting the brush bristles near switch stems. The bristles could push dust deep into a switch, preventing vacuum removal.

7. If there is a goo covered spot on the plate, use a slightly damp cloth or a Q-tip to wipe the mess up. Other small cleaning tools are viable as well. Avoid moistening the keyboard switches if possible.

8. Place the clean plate and PCB face down to prevent dust buildup while the other components dry.

9. When everything is dry, reseat all stabilized keys that are adjacent to the edge of the case. Space bar, keypad plus, and keypad enter are examples. You can lubricate the stabilizers if they rattle bothers you.

10. Assemble the keyboard.

11. Replace its keycaps.

Once you deep clean your keyboard, it should look professional and work like a charm.

Wrapping Things Up

You’ve learned how to maintain mechanical keyboards. Have you considered picking one up? The Das Keyboard website offers high quality options for everyone from office workers to gamers. If you happen to have a mechanical keyboard, consider sampling another model with different switches. Amazing variety is part of the fun!

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Before you start cleaning your keyboard

First thing’s first – you need to unplug your keyboard from the computer. While most of the cleaning techniques are harmful, some may damage your keyboard if it’s still plugged in. Moreover, unplugging it offers you better handling for cleaning.

Secondly, you need to identify the culprit. Regardless of your work or office setting, there are a few common causes of dirty keyboards: dust, spills, grease, and germs.

Although less common than germs, dust becomes a lot more visible after a few days of work. If your keys are dusty, rest assured that so are the small gaps between the keys. Pick up a piece of cloth or a duster and scrub the surface of your keyboard. Then, take a can of compressed air and point the muzzle between the keys. Don’t hesitate to spray as many gaps as you can. This will ensure that there’s little to no remaining dust or debris left beneath your keys.

clean office keyboard

cleaning office keyboard

Dealing with a keyboard spillage

Spilling your coffee or juice on your keyboard can be very annoying. Especially because it might affect the electrical wiring, but most often because the keys become sticky.  To clean your office keyboard tackle the spill immediately after you’ve spilled the liquid, unplug your keyboard or power it down and remove the batteries. Turn it upside down and release the remaining liquid as much as possible. The majority of modern keyboards have detachable keys. In order to detach the keys, place a thin instrument beneath the edge of the key and gently prise upwards. Remember to make a note or a photograph of your keys for when you have to reattach them. You can scrub the keys with a piece of cloth or you could submerge them in warm water. Let the keys dry out and then carefully place them back on in their places.

Dealing with food stuck in your keyboard

Everybody loves eating while on the computer. Grease and food particles are something every keyboard has seen. However, if you don’t pay enough attention, your keyboard will get sticky and the food particles might even prevent certain keys from working. You’ll need to remove the keys again, and use a combination of methods to thoroughly clean it. A can of compressed air and some alcohol wipes should do the trick.

Why not try these keyboard cleaning wipes from Amazon UK?

Germ-free and clean keyboard

Last but not least, you have to keep your clean office keyboard germ free. Our hands spend a lot of time on the keyboard, but we also use them for eating, rubbing our eyes, and so on. Keyboards are a great spot for germs. Although there are hundreds of types of disinfectant sprays, I would definitely suggest the use of simple isopropyl alcohol solution. Most of these have a concentration of over 60%. That’s more than enough to kill the majority of germs that would be on your keyboard. Don’t directly pour alcohol on your keyboard. Instead, use a piece of cloth or fabric, moistened in the alcohol solution.

You can easily thoroughly clean your keyboard if you follow these few tips. It shouldn’t take you more than 30 minutes from start to finish. You can’t have a clean office and desk without a clean office keyboard.

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