How to Clean a Keyboard

If you’re like a good number of Americans, you sit and work at your computer most every day. And while you’re sitting at your computer, you don’t want to be typing on a sticky, dusty or grimy keyboard. First of all it’s gross, and second of all it could affect your health. So here is how to clean it.

Note that these instructions are for a regular computer keyboard. For an article with specific instructions for cleaning laptops see “How to Clean Laptop Keyboards”.

Cleaning Your Keyboard By Hand

1. Unplug the keyboard from the computer

It’s important to unplug the keyboard before you start the cleaning process so that there’s no risk of shocking yourself. To further protect the electronic components of the board, you may want to cover the cable with a plastic bag or plastic wrap so that it doesn’t get wet.

While you’re holding the unplugged keyboard, this is a good time to turn it upside down and knock out any loose debris, such as cookie crumbs. Just flip the board over and tap gently so that the crumbs are dislodged. Save yourself some grief by holding the keyboard over a trash can while you do this.

2. Assemble your cleaning supplies

Cleaning your keyboard doesn’t take a lot of materials, and it doesn’t take a long time to do, in most cases. Here is what you will need:

  • A handkerchief, old cotton t-shirt or other cloth that will not shed fuzz
  • A bottle of electronics cleaner or rubbing alcohol
  • Cotton swabs, i.e. Q-tips
  • A can of compressed air OR a screwdriver or knife for prying off the keys
  • A bottle of dish soap for hand washing (optional)

3. Clean betwixt the keys …

There are two ways to clean in between the keys on your keyboard. The faster way is to use the can of compressed air by aiming it in the cracks and blowing out the dust. Be careful with the compressed air can as it contains harmful chemicals. Use it in a well ventilated area and always hold the can upright so it doesn’t leak.

… or remove them

The second way you can clean this area of the keyboard is a bit more thorough and is not necessary every time you clean it. You can remove the keys and then wipe out the area between and beneath them with the rubbing alcohol or cleaning solution. You should be able to gently pry them off with a flat head screwdriver or knife. (Key word: gently. If they don’t come off easily you are doing something wrong).

Make sure to only take the top cover off the key (the part with the letter on it) and not to remove the base or it will be very difficult or impossible to put the key back on when you’re finished. Also, remove only the letter, number and “F” keys unless you are a computer hardware expert. The larger keys, such as the space bar, are more complex in their makeup and are harder to remove and replace. Note: Take a picture of the keyboard before you pop the keys off or you’ll have a heck of a time trying to put them back in the right place.

5. Clean the keys themselves

If you’ve taken the keys off of the board, you can place them in a bowl of lukewarm water and add a couple drops of dish soap for hand washing to clean them with some light scrubbing. (Be sure to plug the drain if the bowl is in the sink.)

If you still have the keys attached to the board, you can use the cloth or the cotton swabs to clean them. Just dip the cloth in the rubbing alcohol so that it is damp but not dripping wet or spray the cloth with the electronics cleaner. Use the cotton swabs for any tight areas that you cannot reach with the cloth.

6. Clean the rest of the keyboard

Keys or no keys, use the damp cloth to wipe off the remaining surfaces of the keyboard. Be sure to get the sides and the bottom as well as the top.

7. Leave the keyboard to dry

If you’ve only used the electronics cleaner or rubbing alcohol, your keyboard should not take long to dry. However, if you used soap and water on the keys, it may take a couple hours for them to dry thoroughly. You can use a dry cloth to help speed up the process, but don’t put the keys back on the computer until you’ve gotten every ounce of water off of them.

8. Reassemble the board and plug it back in

Again, be SURE that the keyboard is completely dry before completing this step!

Cleaning a Keyboard in the Dishwasher

If your keyboard is severely dirty, say you spilled an entire pot of coffee on it, there are a couple things you can try if the above methods failed to work for you.

Put your keys in the dishwasher: Remove each of the keys from the keyboard and then dismantle the keyboard body itself and remove all of the electronics. Make sure you pay attention to where the screws and internals go! Making a diagram or taking a picture will help.Throw the keys into the silverware basket, place the keyboard body’s shell on the top rack and run them through a normal wash cycle with detergent – but watch the heat and pull them before the dry cycle or they might melt!

Keeping your keyboard clean

The easiest way to keep gunk out of your keyboard is to work in a clean environment. Don’t eat or drink around your keyboard if you have a habit of spilling. Also, keep sloppy coworkers away. If you can ‘t help typing in a dirty environment, such as a sawdust-filled warehouse, or you won’t get by without your Starbucks at your side while you type, consider investing in a keyboard cover.

Comments

  1. Jill says:

    My tip isn’t exactly about cleaning a keyboard as much as dusting it daily.
    I bought a make-up brush and as it’s soft, it doesn’t damage anything, but gets into small places without removing the keys.

  2. Bruce says:

    I serviced typewriters in another life. You can clean the keyboard by wrapping a soft tightly woven cloth around a thin flat tool, such as a screwdriver or butter knife, and running it between the keys. Only dampen the cloth with a mild soap/water solution. Make sure the tool doesn’t have sharp edges that will cut through the cloth and scratch the keys. After dumping the crumbs, run the tool between all the keys, then finish by wiping the tops. The computer should be off when you do this.

  3. Rita says:

    I just pick mine up and shake it upside down daily; this is not a thorough clean, but it gets lots of tiny pieces of dust, etc. out. It is fast and easy and can be done when you are finishing something up or just need a break from working.

  4. Katrina says:

    I just blow it out with a can of air. Also, never try to type with anything but clean fingers.

  5. JnG says:

    I’ve cleaned my keyboard by taking every key off and that takes way too long.

  6. Georgi says:

    I shake it upside down daily and clean the keys with a cotton ball and alcohol when they need it.

  7. Valerie says:

    Once a week, I turn my keyboard upside down and blow dry the board with my hairdryer, set on the low and cool settings.

  8. Terry says:

    Sometimes when I turn my computer off, I will take a soft cloth and run it over the entire keyboard. I also blow away dust during the day if I see it on the keyboard.

  9. Ruby says:

    I usually turn the keyboard upside down and lightly tap it. Then, I use a damp cloth to clean the tops of them.

  10. Kathy says:

    I’ve tried every single one of the cleaning tips. Even though taking the keys off a few at a time and cleaning the keyboard takes a long time. I find it’s the best way to clean your keyboard. You get to remove all of the dirt from under the keys. And until I removed the keys I didn’t realize how much dirt got under them. I find that if you use a cotton swab & alcohol without removing the keys only gets half the dirt. Blowing it with air doesn’t get half the dirt either. And wiping the keys with a damp cloth only gets the top half of the keys. I think I’ll take my time & clean my keyboard once a week the long way. That way I know it’s free of any dirt & germs. Also give the keys a wipe down everyday with an antiseptic wipe to prevent some of the germs.

  11. Timi says:

    I bought a makeup brush and use it to brush out between the keys. This type of brush is fuller and doesn’t seem to lose bristles as much as other brushes.

  12. Anna says:

    I hold my keyboard upside down and shake all the crumbs and dirt out of it and occasionally blow the dirt out with a can of air. This is much faster and easier than taking all the keys off it and washing them!

  13. Rhonda says:

    I shake my keyboard upside down to get the crumbs out. I think use a Swiffer wipe or a microfiber cloth to get remove the dust. I think the Swiffer wipe is better than the microfiber cloth, but both work.

  14. Shauna says:

    If you’ve spilled liquid on the keyboard, turn it upside down after you disconnect it to let the liquid drain out. If there’s a lot of liquid, or if the liquid is sticky, wash out the spill with running water. (Do not immerse the keyboard.) Let the keyboard drain for 72 hours.

  15. Jane says:

    I’ve been using rubbing alcohol since 1988; it cleans, sanitizes and evaporates easily. I also tried using the vacuum cleaner one time. Warning: suction was too powerful and took off a couple of letters!

  16. Dan says:

    I am a retired aerospace engineer who has been trained and involved with critical cleaning for space applications for 20+ years. I will share with you technical data used in space and missile electronics. All electronics components and boards that I am familiar with are washed in aqueous (water-based) cleaning solutions, so don’t worry that water will damage your keyboard. There are different levels of cleaning so lets identify the tools and materials and you determine the frequency and level of cleaning. 1) Mr. Clean original formula. This agent does not have residue in it to stay on the surface after it is rinsed thoroughly. Simple Green is also a non-residue cleaner. This cleaning agent has been tested by a major defense contractor and is used to clean space and satellite hardware. Dilute to 50/50 in DI water. 2) Small spray bottle. 3) Flat stiff artist brush that is 1/2 the width of a key. 4)S oft microfiber cloth with very tight knit loops 5) Canned clean air 6) DI water.
    1. Turn keyboard upside down and shake out all particles. Use canned air to force those that are trapped.
    2. Key cleaning and surface cleaning. Moisten cloth with cleaning agent, stand keyboard on end and wipe the surfaces clean. Change the spot on the rag frequently so it will absorb the dirt.
    3. Heavy cleaning. Disconnect the power from the keyboard, spray the entire surface heavily with the cleaning agent. Use the brush to clean all surfaces of the keys and grooves in your keyboard. Flush rinse the keyboard with DI water. Turn upside down, shake out excess water, blow dry with canned air and turn upside down and dry at least 8 hours above 70 degrees. There are various drying methods depending how big of a hurry you are in. Use a second rinse with a mix of 20% isopropyl alcohol to 80% DI water, shake excess water from the board, blow out excess water with canned air, then dry with a hair drier set on low.

  17. Elena says:

    I usually tip the key board upside down and lightly shake it. Then, with a little brush that came with my son’s electrical shaver, I clean between the keys. I also dust it often with a Swiffer duster. I can’t imagine the work of taking off all the keys.

  18. Michelle L. says:

    Although it takes a little getting used to, I use a clear keyboard cover to keep my keyboard clean. I also flip it upside-down daily to remove any dust that had accumulated.

  19. Sandy says:

    I use a clean, dry paint brush to clean between the keys. It’s easy and works great.

  20. Lori says:

    I only use a laptop and I find that the best way to clean the keyboard is to use a can of compressed air. I also make sure I wash my hands before using the laptop and I use a small brush (actually a child’s wide paint brush) to keep dust and crumbs off the keyboard.

  21. Susan says:

    I’m very particular about my computer and don’t allow anyone near it with food or drink, so I don’t have to worry about that getting in the keys. I do have to use compressed air on the keys occasionally to get out dust and cat fur though. Since my computer is a laptop, when I clean out the keyboard, I also shut down my laptop and take off the back cover to clean out the fan with compressed air and tweezers. With two cats, the fan tends to collect cat fur fairly often, so it’s a good time to clean out both the fan and keyboard.

  22. Meredith says:

    I use a Q-tip and alcohol to clean the mouse. Turn the mouse over and turn the clip around the ball on the bottom. Remove the rubber ball from inside the mouse. Gently swab the inside and then replace ball. The mouse will work much better!

  23. Elaine says:

    I turn the keyboard upside down over my trash can and then use a post-it note and run it between the keys.

  24. Nichole says:

    I always use canned air to get the dirt from underneath the keys and then use a disinfecting wipe for the top of my laptop. Easy-peasy!

  25. Cynthia says:

    I used to use my Swiffer cleaner, but now I use the Pledge multi-surface duster. It does a great job, but please make sure your electronic equipment is turned off or unplugged before using.

  26. Cyndi says:

    I tip the keyboard upside down periodically or use a can of air. Occasionally I wrap a piece of soft cloth around a screw driver to clean between keys.

  27. Renee says:

    I use canned air to disinfect. Why take all the time I don’t have.

  28. Jill says:

    I use an artists paint brush. You can angle it around under the keys. I also slide a sticky note down to grab any stray hairs or fuzz; it also gets in tight spots.

  29. Jeanneron says:

    My son takes off all the keys and cleans them with a old T-shirt and alcohol and I vacuum it. I have never sucked up any keys.

  30. Penny says:

    When you spill coffee or soda in your keyboard and mess it up, you can unplug it and after knocking the loose crumbs, etc. out, you put it in your sink and with your hose, wash it out good. I have saved 2 keyboards using this method. I have lost one (it doesn’t always work), but when all else fails, it doesn’t hurt to try. :)
    P.S. Be sure to let the keyboard dry THOROUGHLY for at least three days over a vent or in front of a fan before plugging it back in. ;)

  31. Kim says:

    An FYI to Renee – canned air does not disinfect anything – it simply blows the loose dirt out. To disinfect, you must use a disinfectant sprayed lightly on a lint free cloth to wipe the keys.

  32. Kickylee says:

    Several years ago, I was a single mom and on a very tight budget. My keyboard quit. Two people suggested giving a shower. I did just that. What did I have to lose? Use the shower head and very warm water and drench it. I let it air dry for five days. It worked perfectly! I’ve done it three time since. Once when a rescue dog jumped up and dumped a large Pepsi on the keyboard and another time when yet another dog dumped another drink on it. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, but if all else fails, it is worth a try!

  33. Brenda says:

    Pop was spilled on my laptop. I shut it off immediately and turned it upside down. Later, I blew it out with my air compressor. It worked fine for a couple of months, then I experienced periodic power failure (it would not turn on). When it does turn on, it works fine. Is the spilled liquid (pop), causing the power on failure?

  34. Peter says:

    I vacuum the keyboard then clean the keys with a soft cloth and electronics cleaner. Works great.

  35. Rupert says:

    Last two weeks, I was on duty and sought something to do. As all facilities I touch everyday are completely clean and tidy except my keyboard. It looks dirtier than others. I just used a brush and a wet cloth to clean after prying off keys by a screwdriver. Now it looks shiny!

  36. Neil says:

    Just use the cobweb attachment (small round nozzle surrounded by a soft-bristle brush) and run it over the keyboard slowly. Sucks any surface and the accessible under-key dust and crumbs out.

    Then wipe the key surfaces with an alcohol handy wipe (or screen-cleaner wipe, if like me, you keep a package on your desk). Takes 30 seconds, and doesn’t require powering-down or lengthy drying out time. Works on a laptop too.

  37. Twisted Tech Geek says:

    I saw one person say he uses an artist’s paintbrush. I have found the small soft to medium paintbrushes about 1-1//2 inches (even 2 inches) works great for taking dust and dirt out between the keys. Brush while the keyboard is right-side up and upside down. You can get the surface dust, as well as the dust down below in the cracks. One thing, try to get a soft brush. Don’t use the stiff bristle paintbrushes; they are too abrasive and don’t get into the crevices as well.

  38. The 209 says:

    You can always wash a standard USB or PS/2 keyboard in a dishwasher. They will work perfectly as long as you let them dry for two days after washing.

    I do not suggest doing this with a wireless keyboard.

  39. Andrew says:

    I just bought some “Cyber Clean” putty from ThinkGeek. Works GREAT for cleaning keyboards. Just push the gunk into the keys, lift it off, and it pulls all the dirt & grime right now. Seriously, it works incredibly well.

  40. Hugh says:

    I have cleaned all my keyboards in the dishwasher. Full cycle with soap and other dishes.

    I place them in upside down for better drainage, and shake them thoroughly when first removed.

    24 hours drying (upside down) has always been enough, but I’ve used forced-air vents and hairdryers to speed this up.

  41. Leigh says:

    Tools Needed: One of those long spiral brushes used to clean the coils on refrigerators.

    Bottle of Windex or substitute.

    Paper towels

    _________________

    Take your keyboard (unplug it first), then hold it inverted and level. Using a spray bottle of Windex or something similar, spray the keyboard so that the mist runs horizontally along the keys. Do not spray up and into; you just want to mist the keys. Continue to hold the keyboard upside down till all drips have stopped then turn it over and take the brush and scrub the keys vigorously in all directions with the refrigerator brush. Wipe off the keys with a wad of paper towels and leave to dry for a few minutes. Your keyboard will be spotless!

    Total time: less than one minute.

  42. Jayda says:

    I use a fine-tip paint brush to clean between the keys, then I get a very soft piece of cloth and wipe the surface. If you find that’s too hard or too much to do, you can always just vacuum the keyboard.
    P.S. Lower the speed of the vacuum to low or medium.

  43. Jayda says:

    I use a fine-tip paint brush to clean in between the keys, then I get a very soft piece of cloth and wipe the surface.

  44. Anonymous asker says:

    Does this work with the wireless apple keyboards?

  45. Life of grime says:

    I never clean my keyboard; just swap it with an OCD colleague while they’re not looking every once in a while. That way you get a nice clean keyboard with minimal effort.

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