Since laptops are made to be used outside of the usual office environments, they tend to get dirty much more quickly than their desktop counterparts. The keyboards in particular are delicate and should be kept clean to ensure proper operation.
About Air Dusters
This article refers to the compressed air that is most commonly found in aerosol cans. Be aware that there are other, greener options as well. The Giottos Rocket Blaster Air Blower is a manually operated pump that can product a suprisingly strong blast of air and is commonly used by photographers to clean their lenses. There are also electric air dusters available should you find yourself needing one often enough to justify the expense.
Cleaning a Laptop Keyboard
Before you start cleaning your laptop’s keyboard, make sure it is unplugged and powered off. (It is always better to have a dirty laptop than to shock yourself or ruin your machine during the cleaning process.) Also, remove the mouse, any discs or CDs, USB drives and anything else that is protruding from your machine.
The process you will use to clean your laptop has to do with how ambitious you are feeling at the time and how hardy your machine happens to be. For example, on some machines it is easy to pop the keys off and put them back on. But on others, it is about as simple as performing brain surgery. In other words, if you’re not confident that you can get the keys back on your laptop’s keyboard, do not take them off. You will still be able to clean your laptop pretty well. Not sure? Check the owner’s manual.
Cleaning your laptop with the keys intact
If you’ve elected to take the easy road and leave the keys attached to your laptop, you can clean in between them by using a can of compressed air. Be aware that a can of compressed air does not simply contain air but contains a toxic chemical. So be careful when handling it and never hold the bottle upside down. Just tilt it at an angle two or three inches away from your key board as you direct the air between the keys. The good thing about having a laptop is that if it is too difficult to tilt the can of air you can always tilt your computer. Just be careful not to drop it.
If you feel comfortable doing it, you can also hold your laptop upside down over a trash can and tap on it lightly to dislodge any remaining debris that might be hiding in there once you’re done spraying.
Cleaning your laptop with the keys removed
If you’ve decided that you would like to take off the keys, use a knife or similar object to gently pop them off. Then store them in a safe place so that they don’t get lost. Even if you’re one of the confident ones, it’s still recommended that you leave the space bar and other larger keys in place. They are a real doozy to get back on due to their design.
Once you’ve pried all of the keys off of your laptop that you will be prying, place them in a small bowl, such as a cereal bowl, 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.) Then follow the rest of the steps below while they soak.
Cleaning the rest of the laptop
Unlike a traditional desktop keyboard, your laptop has many more nooks and crannies that need to be cleaned, such as drives, ports and the touchpad. For any nook and cranny type areas, the best thing to do is just spray inside them with the compressed air. Remember that the air is pressurized so you don’t want to get too close to the surface or this pressure could damage your computer.
For the rest of the keyboard, such as the touchpad, you can use a cloth that will not leave fuzz, such as an old t-shirt or handkerchief, a microfiber cloth, or one made specifically for electronics.
Dampen the cloth by dipping it in a solution of half lukewarm water and half isopropyl alcohol, a bowl of lukewarm water with a drop of dish detergent for hand washing, or just lukewarm water if your laptop is not that dirty. Wring out the cloth (water dripping into your machine, bad thing) and then wipe the keyboard top, sides and bottom. If you’re having trouble cleaning a tight area, such as where the monitor meets the keyboard, you can use a cotton swab. Just be careful that the swab doesn’t shed.
*You can also use electronics cleaner of course. Always spray it on the cloth, not the machine.
If you have the little rubber nub in the middle of your keyboard, known as the pointer, you can remove it from the keyboard and drop it in the cleaning solution or give it a quick onceover with an old toothbrush to remove any gunk from the grooves.
Letting your keyboard dry
Leave your laptop out so that it can dry. Do not shut the lid. Hopefully, since you used the water or cleaning solution sparingly, it should not take very long. If you removed the keys from your keyboard, you can set them out on the counter or table or wipe them dry with your cloth (if it’s not dry, use a new one of course). Then pop them back on when you’re sure that your machine and the keys are both fully dry.
Never plug in and/or turn on your machine until you are positive that it has dried completely.
If you’ve had a major accident with some Starbucks and your laptop is swimming in non-fat latte, you may have to remove the entire keyboard in order to clean up the mess. Of course, this is easier said than done. Consult the owner’s manual or call the manufacturer to determine your best course of action in this situation.
Keeping your laptop’s keyboard clean
Of course, there is no way your laptop will remain spotless with regular use, but you can attempt to keep it from harm by not eating or drinking in its presence. Also, try to find a non-dusty area in which to use it. Not only is this better for your computer, it’s also better for your lungs.
Another way to keep your laptop keyboard clean is to wear one of those surgical-type gloves that fit snugly. Most of the crud we get on keyboards are from our hands.
Two cents. 😉
I was gonna say, if you can find one for your laptop – a silicone keyboard protector.
I have a cat and a dog. I was absolutely amazed at the pet hair that was stuck between the keys of my laptop. But rather than using a can of compressed air and possibly spraying dirt and pet hair down into the keyboard, I simply used a vacuum cleaner attachment which pulled the hair and dirt out. Worked great!
If you check with one of your electrical engineers, I think you’ll find the keyboard operates on very low voltage and does not represent a shock hazard to people, although the key board itself may not be as fortunate.
(It is always better to have a dirty laptop than to shock yourself or ruin your machine during the cleaning process.)
You could also lay a piece of plastic wrap (i.e., Saran wrap) over the keyboard. Tape it down on the outside edges if you want. Just be sure not to cover any air vents.
I don’t use an expensive, “optical mouse.” The old fashioned connected one still works fine, plus, I don’t have to worry about the batteries going dead at a critical time or finding it at the bottom of the fish tank.
I have my tower on a 3″ high raised platform that offers space under it to hold my “Speedstream” monitor, so I use a (15 cent) non-electronic spring clip to hold the mouse cable up, out of the way. 78-year-old guys like saving money and practical gadgets like this. It’s not just winning, it’s how you play the game.
I find a paintbrush between the keys tidies it up a bit. 🙂
F. L. Merkowitz says
To clean any keyboard:
1: Turn off the PC/remove batteries if portable.
2: Vacuum between the keys.
3: Either use 91% isopropyl alcohol or “Magnetic Head Cleaner” spray. Pour or spray it onto a paper towel until saturated (don’t be chintzy).
4: Turn the keyboard/portable upside down (to prevent runoff from entering keyboard/portable). Hold upside down in air.
5: Wipe the keys thoroughly in every direction until clean.
6: Place the keyboard/portable upside down on a clean double layer of paper towels for an hour (to make sure all the alcohol has evaporated) before powering up/replacing the batteries.
B J Turner says
Baby wipes work great too for cleaning the laptop. Just damp enough and no lint.
My Dad spilled a partial cup of tea on his keyboard, which unfortunately had both cream and sugar in it. He was quick enough to turn the laptop upside down so very little if any of the liquid seeped inside the case, however, after drying, several keys were stuck.
My solution was to take a baking sheet and add just enough rubbing alcohol to cover the keyboard completely. I then let the keyboard soak for about 15 minutes, while every few minutes giving the keyboard a good swish back in forth in the alcohol. I then rinsed the keyboard in very hot water, and let it dry overnight.
Placed the keyboard back in the laptop, and all was well. Hope this helps somebody.
I have a white laptop, so it is very difficult not to have any kind of dust at the end of the month. One day I just experimented using rubber, a simple piece of rubber, and used it all around the keyboard. And it worked, the rubber cleaned all the surface. With the keys, I use a vacuum cleaner and a paint brush.
If you don’t want to fork over the money for a can of compressed air, just use an air compressor. I also take isopropyl alcohol and a few Q-tips and wipe between keys on my (rather dated and second-hand from a person I don’t even know) laptop.
I was seeing my laptop getting dirty, but didn’t have the courage to open up all the keys. So, I used a tooth brush to dust away the dirt, then a cotton bud dipped in a very diluted solution of soapy water to rub between the keys, then a cotton cloth dipped in the same solution to wipe off the top, and now I’m not ashamed to take my laptop to meetings!
It just came to me and I haven’t tried it yet but a good idea might be to use one of those Always wipes that come on the top of menstrual pads or that you can buy separately. You could just wipe your keyboard down with that, they don’t shed lint (if they did, while you were using them for their original purpose then you could get an infection) and they smell pretty good too. Just a thought.
My youngest daughter spilled Kool-aid by accident all over my lap top…my neighbor came over took my lap apart and told me soak my keyboard in distilled water. Now my keyboard doesn’t work at all. Is my keyboard ruined??
Before you dismantle anything, take a picture of it so you remember how to put it back together!
William, I think cans of compressed air are cheaper than air compressors, don’t you?
I would not suggest to go ripping off keyboard keys like the article suggests. It is very easy to break these fragile keys if you don’t know what you’re doing. You’ll end up paying a pretty penny for some new pieces of plastic.
When the cat’s away… aughhh. My children secretly used my laptop while I was away for the evening and all would have gone well except they spilled hot chocolate onto my prized possession! It was fortunate that I arrived home literally less than 10 minutes after the accident. I immediately unplugged the laptop, removed the battery and turned the entire thing upside over a bed of white rice. I had to position the laptop using pillows (be creative) so as not to damage the screen while making sure the keyboard was pressed against the rice. 48-hours later… my laptop was back in working order! Thanks to rice, which is great at absorbing liquid. I’m going to now follow some of the other tips listed to further clean my laptop. I’d heard this trick when I accidentally dropped my cell phone in a glass of water. It worked in both instances!
Seriously, you can get one for $5! I never used one since I thought it would interfere with my typing, but if you get one that is molded to the keys, it’s perfect. I learned the hard way after spilling drinks and my baby vomited on my keyboard. Not easy pulling apart a keyboard. If you drink, eat, or are just plain careless around your keyboard, trust me, a silicone keyboard skin is the way to go. Just Google it.
I used a toothpick to really get around and under the keys. It got a lot of the hair out and just other gunk.
I was surprised on prying off my notebook keys just to find the major culprit apart from the normal crumbs and wine stains, were eyelashes!
Random person says
OK, I was in a hurry when trying to clean my laptop keyboard and didn’t turn it off before using a can of air on spray the keys. Now, all the keys on the left side of the F key do not work except the shift and windows key. Is there anything I can do to fix it?
I wonder if the alcohol approach will work for sticky keys?
Find a diagram of a keyboard (or take a picture of your own), and make sure all your keys are back in the right place. Replace a laptop keyboard from nearby express supplier. Depressing the raised corner will be enough to pop it into place, should you find a loose key during use. They are also visible because they lie at an angle, not parallel to the other keys.
Thank you for your information. I find spray cans are expensive, so I’ll use the suggestion of wiping the keyboard. Popping off the keys just seems too messy for me.
Don’t ever use a vacuum near your computer. Take it apart, or let someone else take it apart.
One of the easiest ways to clean a laptop keyboard is to just buy a small hobby brush (similar to a makeup brush). They are cheap, running around 35 cents. Keep the brush in your laptop bag and occasionally brush in-between and under the keys. It takes three minutes and gets under and between keys.
Take your time with cleaning. My tip for cleaning keyboards: when you remove the keys from the keyboard look up the keyboard picture for the keyboard. This will help you to replace each key where they are suppose to be.
I use a Swiffer duster that is for dusting soft material. It gets in-between the keys and is something that people have around the house. It works great!
Cleaning a laptop keyboard properly means writing down the key placement on a sheet of paper, then
– remove the number keys 1-9
– the letter keys a-z, [, ], ;, ‘, the comma, period, and slash key.
– leave the others because they have special hinges underneath and are complicated to put back. (although it is easy to do, at least for me)
– Use a vacuum cleaner with the pipe attachment (aka wand crevice attachment) to focus funnel the vacuum force, and clean up all the pet hair, crumbs, everything. Spend time to do this part because you only want to remove the keys once in a blue moon.
– wash the keys separately in a spaghetti strainer with real dish soap.
– dry all the keys with paper towels, and blow dry.
If you have pets you have to remove the keys because there is going to be so much pet hair trapped beneath the keys into the laptop keyboard assembly, and you need a vacuum cleaner with wand/crevice attachment.
I don’t recommend taking apart your laptop unless you know 100% what your doing, otherwise you could do more harm than good.
Listen to John, not this idiot. Do not take apart your keyboard. I broke two key switches…and I only took out two keys. Morons like this should not be this high on Google search.
I have been trying for ages to clean my laptop keyboard; I got a special brush and cleaner for it, I tried dusters and even got the mini desk Hoover on it. However, none of those things really worked. I never even thought to turn the thing upside down and give it a tap! As soon as I saw that tip, I tried it and now I have a much cleaner laptop keyboard. Thanks.
I personally find that Clorox/baby wipes work best. My keys tend to be dirtier then the rest since I tend to have sweaty hands; there is usually a residue or gunk on the keys. I know that many people have this problem as well and are just embarrassed to talk about it, so I understand and I hope this helps. 🙂
I just finished cleaning my laptop keyboard. I used compressed air, an alcohol-based cleaner, a soft cloth, 2 small soft artist’s brushes (1 angled, 1 narrow and pointed), and a paper towel to tamp the brushes. Turning it off and unplugging it seems obvious to me. First, I wiped down the surface with a slightly damp, soft cloth. I then used the compressed air to loosen up debris under the keys, then took a small, dry, angled artist’s brush to further loosen and remove now loosened debris. I then dampened the small angled brush (tamping it on the paper towel to remove excess) and went around each row of keys first from side to side, then from top to bottom. I then took the second narrow brush, leaving it dry, which works to lift the loosened dirt and also absorb some of the moisture from what the first brush leaves behind, and went around each key with it. Now you can see if there are any problem areas. Dampen the angled brush again and using gentle pressure, scrub around the keys and on the edges if there are little ledges like mine. I again went over it with the compressed air and a damp cloth. I took considerable time cleaning mine even though I keep mine fairly clean because I am meticulous. My keyboard/laptop, other than showing shiny wear patterns on the keys, looks almost new even though it is over three years old.