How to Clean Gunk off Your PC Keyboard

6 tips to a clean keyboard and 6 things you should never do to your PC keyboard.

Even if you’re not ready for some spring cleaning,  odds are that your laptop, Ultrabook or desktop PC keyboard is. How far from a clean keyboard are you? Are the keys glossy from finger grease? Are there specks of soda on worn letters? How ants do love those crumbs lodged beneath your space bar.

Clean Keyboard with Air

You can make those keys shine again with only a little bit of effort. In less than an hour, your laptop’s keyboard will be ready for another wave of cookie crumbs, cola drips and french fry seasoning. Your computer’s primary input tool for getting work done, at least until perceptual computing comes to market, will soon be ready to help you be as efficient as possible.

Here are six tips to a clean keyboard and how to keep yours in a near-pristine state:

1. Don’t Get Your Keyboard Dirty in the First Place

Avoid eating over your keyboard to prevent crumbs from failing beneath the keys. Keep your drinks away to reduce the chance of spilled liquids flooding the device. And keep your laptop closed when not in use (and when you’re done for the day) to minimize dust.

2. Tap Crumbs Loose, but Don’t Shake Your Laptop

You can remove some crumbs and other debris by gently turning your laptop over and lightly tapping it. Don’t shake it or you could damage some of your computer’s hardware. Solid-state laptops and stand-alone keyboards are more durable, but that’s no green light for an earthquake-level shake down. For a less-risky crumb removal (or after the initial shake), try using the sticky end of a Post-it note on the hard-to-remove specks or a piece of adhesive tape.

3. Get Some Air

Canned air or dust removal spray — available at office supply stores, general retail stores and even auto parts dealers – is your top quick-cleaning agent. Used with a micro-straw-like dispenser, you’ll be able to easily (and carefully!) blow debris and dust out from between your keys for removal. Remember to keep the canister at less than a 40-degree angle, pointed down toward the keyboard, or you’ll end up discharging refrigerant.

Clean Keyboard with Tape

4. Try a Dust Vac to Clean Keyboard

After you’ve blown the dust and debris to one spot — or if you don’t happen to have any canned air — use a hand vac with a narrow dust attachment to suck up the undesirables. If you’re using a stand-alone keyboard, make sure none of your keys are loose, or you could be hunting for a lost letter inside your dust vac’s filter. For better results, buy a USB vacuum cleaner that plugs directly into a USB port and comes with a thin keyboard cleaning attachment.

5. For Caked-On Grime, Use Screen Wipes

Apply gentle pressure to wrest globs of gunk from your keys. Don’t overdo it, or you risk actually peeling the characters off the keys (unless you’re using an older keyboard with burnished characters). You can also use a topical cleaner, but spray it onto a soft cloth or paper towel and then clean your keys. Do not spray the cleaner directly onto the keyboard.

6. Use Cotton Swabs between the Keys

These can be dry or lightly moistened with a gentle cleaner. Wipe carefully and slowly between the keys, and across the tops and bottoms, to remove excess dust.

You’ll want to run through this cleaning ritual every 1 to 3 months. If you use more than one keyboard regularly, remember to clean all of them. And of course, always check your owner’s manual for model-specific keyboard cleaning instructions.

A Few Cleaning Don’ts

  1. Don’t try to remove keys from the keyboard to wash them by hand — especially if you’re using a laptop. Some machines have keys that are designed to be removed for cleaning, but most do not.
  2. Don’t put your stand-alone keyboard in the dishwasher. Some technicians swear by this method, and your keyboard might live to type another day. Odds are, however, you’ll kill it and have to buy another one. (And if that’s the case, why clean it anyway?)
  3. Don’t put your laptop in the dishwasher or washing machine in an attempt to clean the keys — unless you really want to lose your data and have to buy another machine.
  4. Don’t try to dry off a wet keyboard in the clothes dryer, or in the oven — unless you’re bored with the keyboard’s desk-friendly, flat shape.
  5. Don’t try to clean the keyboard using steel wool, cleaning sponges or spray-on lime and calcium removers — unless you plan to test your memory once all the letters come off the keys.
  6. Don’t forget to turn your computer off before attempting to clean a keyboard. Today’s machines are just as prone to pressure- and moisture-induced mechanical errors as their 5- or even 10-year-old ancestors were.
How to Clean Gunk off Your PC Keyboard

6 tips to a clean keyboard and 6 things you should never do to your PC keyboard.

Even if you’re not ready for some spring cleaning,  odds are that your laptop, Ultrabook or desktop PC keyboard is. How far from a clean keyboard are you? Are the keys glossy from finger grease? Are there specks of soda on worn letters? How ants do love those crumbs lodged beneath your space bar.

Clean Keyboard with Air

You can make those keys shine again with only a little bit of effort. In less than an hour, your laptop’s keyboard will be ready for another wave of cookie crumbs, cola drips and french fry seasoning. Your computer’s primary input tool for getting work done, at least until perceptual computing comes to market, will soon be ready to help you be as efficient as possible.

Here are six tips to a clean keyboard and how to keep yours in a near-pristine state:

1. Don’t Get Your Keyboard Dirty in the First Place

Avoid eating over your keyboard to prevent crumbs from failing beneath the keys. Keep your drinks away to reduce the chance of spilled liquids flooding the device. And keep your laptop closed when not in use (and when you’re done for the day) to minimize dust.

2. Tap Crumbs Loose, but Don’t Shake Your Laptop

You can remove some crumbs and other debris by gently turning your laptop over and lightly tapping it. Don’t shake it or you could damage some of your computer’s hardware. Solid-state laptops and stand-alone keyboards are more durable, but that’s no green light for an earthquake-level shake down. For a less-risky crumb removal (or after the initial shake), try using the sticky end of a Post-it note on the hard-to-remove specks or a piece of adhesive tape.

3. Get Some Air

Canned air or dust removal spray — available at office supply stores, general retail stores and even auto parts dealers – is your top quick-cleaning agent. Used with a micro-straw-like dispenser, you’ll be able to easily (and carefully!) blow debris and dust out from between your keys for removal. Remember to keep the canister at less than a 40-degree angle, pointed down toward the keyboard, or you’ll end up discharging refrigerant.

Clean Keyboard with Tape

4. Try a Dust Vac to Clean Keyboard

After you’ve blown the dust and debris to one spot — or if you don’t happen to have any canned air — use a hand vac with a narrow dust attachment to suck up the undesirables. If you’re using a stand-alone keyboard, make sure none of your keys are loose, or you could be hunting for a lost letter inside your dust vac’s filter. For better results, buy a USB vacuum cleaner that plugs directly into a USB port and comes with a thin keyboard cleaning attachment.

5. For Caked-On Grime, Use Screen Wipes

Apply gentle pressure to wrest globs of gunk from your keys. Don’t overdo it, or you risk actually peeling the characters off the keys (unless you’re using an older keyboard with burnished characters). You can also use a topical cleaner, but spray it onto a soft cloth or paper towel and then clean your keys. Do not spray the cleaner directly onto the keyboard.

6. Use Cotton Swabs between the Keys

These can be dry or lightly moistened with a gentle cleaner. Wipe carefully and slowly between the keys, and across the tops and bottoms, to remove excess dust.

You’ll want to run through this cleaning ritual every 1 to 3 months. If you use more than one keyboard regularly, remember to clean all of them. And of course, always check your owner’s manual for model-specific keyboard cleaning instructions.

A Few Cleaning Don’ts

  1. Don’t try to remove keys from the keyboard to wash them by hand — especially if you’re using a laptop. Some machines have keys that are designed to be removed for cleaning, but most do not.
  2. Don’t put your stand-alone keyboard in the dishwasher. Some technicians swear by this method, and your keyboard might live to type another day. Odds are, however, you’ll kill it and have to buy another one. (And if that’s the case, why clean it anyway?)
  3. Don’t put your laptop in the dishwasher or washing machine in an attempt to clean the keys — unless you really want to lose your data and have to buy another machine.
  4. Don’t try to dry off a wet keyboard in the clothes dryer, or in the oven — unless you’re bored with the keyboard’s desk-friendly, flat shape.
  5. Don’t try to clean the keyboard using steel wool, cleaning sponges or spray-on lime and calcium removers — unless you plan to test your memory once all the letters come off the keys.
  6. Don’t forget to turn your computer off before attempting to clean a keyboard. Today’s machines are just as prone to pressure- and moisture-induced mechanical errors as their 5- or even 10-year-old ancestors were.