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How to clean your keyboard the right way

Keeping your keyboard clean, is not only deeply satisfying, it is also a healthy lifestyle choice. And yes there’s more to it than just blowing hard on the keys.

Flashback to a few years ago when you first got your keyboard. You probably had a smile on your face the entire time as you unpacked it and placed it front of your PC. Then you traced your fingers along the keys and typed your first words on the new hardware, getting a feel for what would be your companion in the coming years. Ok perhaps we’re exaggerating a little, but you get the picture right? Skip to the present, and now your keyboard is a veritable ecosystem harbouring all manner of germs feeding on the pizza crumbs or potato chips left inside it. Most of us started off with a membrane keyboard and cleaning them was definitely a pain in the backside. You had to open up the entire keyboard chassis to reach the inner housing where most of the filth got collected. Whereas, mechanical keyboards are comparatively easier to clean because the key caps can be easily removed. Majority of the dust is collected around the switches right below the key caps and to reach them, you don’t need to open up the keyboard.PC keyboard cleaning

This brief guide will show you how easy it is to clean your keyboard. You should, because according to a recent study, your dirty keyboard might have about 20,000 times more bacteria than a toilet seat! This might not kill you, but if you have weak immunity, you will fall sick frequently. To begin, we’ll go through a couple of regular keyboard cleaning habits that you should incorporate in your life. This will not only keep you healthy but will also improve your keyboard’s life.

Weapons of mass cleanliness

  • Compressed air can / air dust blower/vacuum cleaner
  • Swab / Q-tips
  • Toothbrush / small brush
  • Paper towel / napkin / cotton
  • Warm water
  • Liquid soap / detergent
  • Isopropyl alcohol (diluted; in extreme cases)
  • Keycap puller

Shake it off

You have no idea how effective jerking your keyboard is until you see bits and pieces of your food from the last six months dropping down. All you need to do is lift your keyboard, turn it upside down with the keys facing your table or floor, and start shaking it. Your preliminary cleaning for large particles is done here.

Blow it away

Having a can of compressed air handy or even a small vacuum cleaner can prove quite useful. Compressed air cans make it super easy to blow away chunks of dirt or snacks stuck between the keys. You can also use air dust blowers instead which are usually found in camera cleaning kits. For particularly rebellious dirt, do not show mercy! Suck them out with a vacuum cleaner.

PC keyboard cleaning
Rubbing the filth with cotton buds dipped
in solutions

Swab it out

You can use normal napkins or paper towels to clean the dust on the keyboard. If the dust has settled, you can also use cotton buds by dipping them in warm water and then wiping the dust off. The gaps between the keys are favourites when it comes to places where dust collects. Your best solution to cleaning it away is to either use a soft toothbrush or swab the gaps with Q-tips. If the gap is wider, you should definitely use the swabs to reach deeper. You can either dip the swab in plain water or in a solution of liquid soap and water. The same should be followed if you’re using a toothbrush.

These are some of the cleaning habits you should follow every month or two. If it has been a really long time since you cleaned your keyboard, here are a couple of tips.

Wash those key caps

This is only applicable to keyboards where the key caps can be removed, especially mechanical keyboards. Dry dirt can be swabbed out easily but if the dirt has settled on the keys over the months of negligence, then they definitely need more than that. Use a key cap puller to remove all the key caps and submerge them in a mixture of warm water and liquid soap or detergent. Do NOT use hot water since it might warp and damage them. Scrub the key caps with a soft brush or toothbrush. Allow them to dry.

Rub off the beverage

In case you’ve spilled any kind of beverage, your first step should be to unplug the keyboard right away. If it’s a membrane keyboard, your best bet would be to disassemble it and individually clean or wash the internal components. If it’s a mechanical keyboard, then remove the key caps and use the previous method to wash them. For the base plate, use the swabs to clean off the residue from the plate. Start off with warm water and then move on to the soap water solution. If the residue still refuses to go away, only then should you move to a diluted Isopropyl solution. Use the same method to clean the switches with the swabs.

PC keyboard cleaning
Rescuing a keyboard from spillage can be difficult but not impossible

Drown it

Another important tip to remember when you’re trying to save your keyboard from a spill is patience. Complete submersion isn’t recommended for mechanical keyboards but there are few membrane keyboards that can survive a full dip under water. Some keyboards, especially mechanical keyboards will require some re-lubing after being soaked in water.

PC keyboard cleaning
Some liquids like Acetone will dissolve the surface of ABS plastic hence avoid using them

Hence, it’s best to avoid complete submersion unless it’s your only option. If you’ve washed your keyboard, whether it’s with warm water or soap solution, you need to let the keyboard dry for 2-3 days.

Bonus

Never use unknown or strong solvents to clean your keyboard. Few liquids such as nail polish remover (acetone), ethyl alcohol, kerosene, etc., might damage your key caps and keyboard permanently. Also, if you HAVE to use Isopropyl alcohol, don’t use it directly on the keyboard. It’s always best to dip swabs into the diluted solution and then scrub the parts.

This article was first published in the August 2017 issue of Digit magazine. To read Digit’s articles first, subscribe here or download the Digit app for Android and iOS. You could also buy Digit’s previous issues here.

Abhijit Dey

Abhijit Dey

While indulging deep into conspiracy theories surrounding comic book movie plots, he can be found rewatching them looking for easter eggs. Otherwise, his weekends are spent on gaming and browsing memes.