Cleaning a Keyboard is possible but...
 

Keyboards are cheap, why would you want to clean it?

Before you throw your keyboard in the dishwasher maybe you should read this page?

It will give you some insight on how, when, and why you should go about doing it. This article applies to either desktop or laptop computer keyboards, of course you would not take the keyboard out of a laptop just to clean it.

Keyboards are made up of four distinct substances, plastic, wire (spring steal), copper, and carbon. The plastic is the most visible, the case, the keys, and most of the stuff in side are made of different grades or types of plastic. The spring steal is the return spring (most common way to return the key) under the key that returns it to the up or open position when you let go or move your finger off of the key. The carbon is the contact point under the key that makes contact with the pcb (see my glossary for what a pcb is and what it is made of) that has the electronics to tell the computer you pressed a key.

As you use your trusty keyboard you leave things on the keys, oil, dirt, sweat, but that is only the tip of the ice berg. Other things that float around in the air fall and drop down between the keys. Then there are people that have pets, birds, dogs, cats, and other things that lose hair, skin, or feathers. These objects also have a way of being attracted to the keyboard.

Then there is the good stuff that gets spilled or dropped on the keyboard, coffee (with cream and sugar), soda (coke, pepsi, Mountain DEW), milk shakes, breakfast, lunch, dinner, midnight snack.

You name it I have seen it inside a keyboard. Paper clips, staples, even found a ladies diamond from her ring (well she thought it may have dropped in the keyboard that is why I had it apart).

Cleaning a keyboard facts:

Things that can not be cleaned out of a modern day keyboard:

  • Soda (coke, pepsi, Mountain DEW)
  • Coffee with sugar or cream
  • Any oil based product
  • Ice cream

Things that can be cleaned out of  a keyboard:

  • Coffee (Without sugar or cream)
  • Water
  • Dust
  • Dirt
  • Any hard object that a can be shaken or vacuumed up.

Tools:

  • Window cleaner or soapy water
  • Soft absorbent cloth
  • Small stiff brush
  • Vacuum cleaner
  • Canned air

Cleaning a Keyboard Precautions:

Before cleaning your keyboard power down your computer, then disconnect the keyboard (except notebooks or laptops, the rest of this information will apply). This will preclude a possible short if you are using soap and water. Also when you are cleaning the keyboard you will be pressing the keys, you don't want an inadvertent key press doing damage to your files or you computer desktop setup.

Note: For laptops before cleaning a keyboard remove the AC adapter and the battery. Some laptops have a sequence of key presses that will power the laptop up and you do not want the laptop to power up while cleaning the keyboard.

There are two ways of cleaning a keyboard, one way is wet the other is dry.

Wet cleaning a keyboard: Using a cleaning agent to clean the keyboard (soap and water or window cleaner)

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When cleaning a keyboard power down your computer, disconnect the keyboard from the computer (except notebooks or laptops). The reason you are powering down the computer is if water gets between the key and the pcb you will have a short if electricity is present. Disconnecting the keyboard from the computer allows you to move it around more freely or take it to the kitchen sink.

Think this over before you start: How long can you leave the keyboard to dry? If you use soap and water you should let it dry for at least 24 hours for all the moisture that will seep in to the keyboard to evaporate.

For most cleaning jobs, that is the gunk that builds up on a keyboard through everyday use you would want to use glass cleaner. Two reasons: it contains alcohol, it does not have any alkaline by products. And it does a sparkling job.

If you need to use soap and water for say something sticky like a melted gummy bear then soap and water would be a better choice, the alcohol in glass cleaner will only harden the candy and make it that much harder to remove.

Ok, cleaning a keyboard:

Using window or glass cleaner you can spray the cleaner on the keyboard, just don't go overboard and drown it. A nice light film of cleaner will allow you to remove almost any oil, grime, or other buildup. You would do well to use an old tooth brush or a small stiff brush to loosen the grime. Once you have loosened all the grime, using a soft absorbent cloth wipe it clean, I advise against using paper towels because they will disintegrate and leave bits of paper between the keys. Wipe it down then let it dry in a warm dry place, on a sunny summer day put it in the sun, on a cold winter day put it where the sun will shine on it. It should not take longer than an hour for the window cleaner to evaporate.

Using soap and water, you will need to exercise a little more caution; with soap and water as a cleaning agent. Using warm water and a mild detergent, dampen a cloth and wring out any excess water. You don't want water going down inside the keyboard. Soap has a alkaline base and alkaline is corrosive, it is also a conductor. Wipe the keys and keyboard case with the cloth, use a stiff brush or a tooth brush to loosen heavier grime. Rinse cloth and wipe the grime away. It may take a couple of applications to get all the grime off of the keyboard. Wipe it down then let it dry in a warm dry place, on a sunny summer day put it in the sun, on a cold winter day put it where the sun will shine on it. It should not take longer than an hour for the left over moisture to evaporate.

I had a question asked of me how to clean cat urine out of a keyboard, my wife has a cat, the cat does not get up around my keyboard and her keyboard is in a tray under the desk. So I would imagine using window cleaner would be best to remove the smell and vacuuming the keyboard to remove the dried crystals.

Dry cleaning a keyboard. The easiest way to clean dirt, dust, and foreign objects out of your keyboard is with a stiff brush and a vacuum cleaner. I use a 1" paint brush and a regular vacuum cleaner.

Cleaning a keyboard precautions:

Power down the computer, you do not have to disconnect the keyboard unless you can't get to it with the vacuum or paint brush. When you are cleaning the keyboard you will be pressing the keys, you don't want an inadvertent key press doing damage to your files or you computer desktop setup.

When you use the vacuum do not put the nozzle directly over the keys, the force of the air passing around the keys may pull them off and be sucked down the hose. If you have metal such as paper clips or staples inside the keyboard try using a magnet to remove them before using the vacuum.

Using the stiff brush work the bristles around the keys, this will loosen any dirt or dust then the vacuum will pull it out.

For really stubborn dirt and dust or where you would have to place the vacuum too close to the keys I would suggest you use canned air to blow the dirt and dust out.

Now why your cleaning out coke, pepsi, mountain dew, coffee with sugar or cream, tea with sugar or cream, ice cream, and any other liquid substance with sugar in it doesn't work.

Sugar when dissolved is a very sticky substance and it seeps in to every nook and cranny. The keyboard is not sealed in such a way that the sugar can be kept out. Even if you put it in the dishwasher it would not get all the sugar out of the keyboard. When you spill those liquids on the keyboard it is ruined.

And just in case you think I am kidding about the keyboard I had a guy bring his in to the shop to see if it could be repaired, when I asked him what happened to it he said 'It was filthy so I put it in the dishwasher to clean it up!' The keyboard was an original IBM 84 key keyboard, it really messed it up, and they were expensive, about $300 in 1990.

Ok, nice clean keyboard - Lets Get It Dirty!

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You keyboard isn't thirsty, and it doesn't need calcium. Milk and other liquids will ruin a keyaboard!


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