Clean Clicking

By Sharon Naylor

December 20, 2012 5 min read

With so much use, computer keyboards can get dirty, dusty, sticky, oily, and embedded with crumbs, pet hair and other debris. In order for your computer to work well, it's important to clean your keyboard on a regular basis. After all, that debris lodged between and underneath your keys threatens the functionality of your very expensive computer.

Always check the owner's manual for your computer or laptop to find out the manufacturer's advised methods of cleaning. Different keyboards have different internal mechanisms and some cleaning methods may be strictly prohibited for the warranty to remain in effect.

Here are several methods for cleaning your keyboard keys:


1. First, unplug your computer to eliminate the fear of being electrocuted. Since you may be using damp cleaning cloths, moisture can drip into the keyboard itself, causing a short.

2. Turn your computer keyboard upside-down over a sheet of newspaper, and give it a few gentle taps against the back of the keyboard to shake loose any crumbs or other debris.

3. Using a clean, soft-bristled brush -- like a manicure nailbrush -- dust along the lengths of your key lineups, removing dust, crumbs and particles.

4. Next, use a specialty USB-port handheld vacuum to remove remaining debris from between keyboard keys. If you do not have a specialty computer vacuum, the brush attachment from your regular vacuum will work.

5. If any particles remain, hold a can of compressed air -- found at stores like Staples and other office supply stores -- at a 45-degree angle and spray debris away in short bursts of compressed air. Since air is pressurized, you never want to spray too close to your keyboard or deliver too-long bursts, as this could damage the internal structure.

Moisture-based Cleaning

Follow steps 1 and 2 above, for the safe removal of loose debris and dust.

1. Avoid using harsh chemicals on your keyboard and definitely do not spray your keyboard with regular household cleaning sprays that can drip moisture into your keyboard. You will find computer-cleaning products at the office supply store as well.

2. Or, use a solution of half water and half 90 percent isopropyl rubbing alcohol -- not ethyl-based rubbing alcohol that can remove the letter and number marks from your keys -- on a damp cloth or microfiber towel, as well as on cotton swabs, to clean off the tops and sides of your keyboard keys. The alcohol is also useful to remove any bacteria build up on your keyboard, as well as oils from your fingers.

3. Use the damp cloth to swipe along the tops and sides of your keyboard around your keys to remove dust, dirt and oils from those surfaces as well.

4. Allow your keyboard to dry completely before plugging it back into your computer. If you're cleaning the keys of a laptop, leave your laptop open to dry completely and avoid moisture damage.

Be very careful if your keyboard's condition is such that you need to remove your keyboard keys to clean them individually. Again, refer to the owner's manual to see if this is even advised, since some models' keys are not meant to pop off, and some of the larger keys like Enter and the space bar are very difficult to re-attach. Before removing any keys, take a photo of your keyboard so that you know exactly where each number, letter and function key goes for when you put it back together.

Then clean each key using your damp cloth and chosen cleaning solution, allowing all keys to dry completely before re-attaching them to the keyboard.

Since removing keyboard keys on your computer or laptop is a risky proposition, often requiring a screwdriver or other sharp object to pry them loose, it's often far wiser to call the manufacturer for advice about the removal of keys. You never know if it has been discovered after the manual was printed that popped-back keys don't perform as well. Current advice is always best, and you may be instructed to take a keyboard that is almost beyond repair to a professional computer repair technician so that he or she can use specialty equipment and solutions to return your technology to like-new.

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