How to clean your keyboard without breaking it
For sticky keys, dirty buildup, and all other forms of messiness
Most of us don’t take good care of our keyboards. We eat over them, we spill things onto them, and the worst part of it all—we never clean them. A keyboard remains a sticky, dirty, and gross mess until one of the keys stops working or someone nearby comments on how nasty it is.
Fortunately, this cleaning process is not actually that hard to do. Think of it like a thorough dental cleaning, but for your computer. So stop being that person with the messy keyboard. Take charge of your life, and start with a clean keyboard. Here’s how.
Shut down your machine
It’s always best practice to disconnect your keyboard before you start the disinfecting process. Nobody wants liquid cleaning products near your hard drive when the computer is on. If you have a laptop, that means turning the entire machine off. If you’ve got a desktop computer, you can just disconnect the keyboard from the computer.
Shake it out
With a good grip, carefully turn your laptop or keyboard completely upside down. Stand over a garbage can and gently shake your device so that any dried up crumbs or pieces of food will fall out, thanks to the handy force of gravity. This debris removal is an important first step because it gets the big, bulky stuff out so they won’t get in the way of your more precise scrubbing action later on.
Compressed air to the rescue
Just like any piece of furniture that sits in one place for a long time, the spaces in between your keyboard are going to gather dust. These particles, combined with any miniscule food crumbs, are nearly impossible to remove with gentle shaking alone. That’s where compressed air comes in. Compressed air, which is exactly what its name implies, comes in a can and can be purchased at any office supply store, super store, and even on Amazon. These cans are fairly cheap. And what makes them most amazing and useful is the fact that they are like a power cleaner for your keyboard. They can get out the dust in that random corner of your keyboard that you didn’t even know you had.
When using compressed air, Apple recommends tilting your keyboard at a 75 degree angle so that it’s nearly vertical, but not quite. Spray the compressed air into the keyboard and rotate the keyboard or laptop 90 degrees four times so that you reach as many areas of the device board from as many angles as possible.
How not to treat your keyboard
Now that you’ve gotten all the dust and debris out, you can focus on those grimy, perhaps slimy, keys. Yes, it’s that time. For this process, you’ll need a cotton swab, some Q-tips (they’re best used for cleaning, not sticking in your ears), and some basic isopropyl alcohol, also known as rubbing alcohol. All of this can be purchased at most pharmacies and grocery stores.
Dab a small amount of alcohol onto the cotton ball and carefully clean each key. Then, for inter-key cleaning, switch to the Q-tip with a bit of alcohol. The small size of the Q-tip helps to ensure the alcohol only goes onto the keyboard surface, and not inside. Just be careful not to put too much alcohol onto the Q-tip.
From experience, for extra scummy keys, you are going to need to scrub pretty hard. You may even have to go back to some keys for a second scrub.
The alcohol will likely get rid of most bacteria and germs that gather on your keyboard. But if you want to be extra sure, then you can finish with a multi-purpose cleaning wipe as well. Alcohol, because of its low boiling point, evaporates very quickly, which is another reason it’s so useful for cleaning a keyboard. The area is dry in a few seconds.
Usually the combination of shaking, spraying, and scrubbing is good enough. But if your keys are sticking or you’re convinced there’s still some dirt under the keypads, you can sometimes remove them. This technique depends on the type of keyboard you have and how it was put together. It’s helpful to have a toolkit like this one if you are going to attempt to remove them.
Frequency is key. Just like brushing and flossing your teeth, the more often you clean your keyboard, the less likely it is that dirt and scum will have a chance to build up. While once a day is probably excessive, once a week is very easily doable.
The bacteria is probably not that bad—for you at least
Even if you never clean your keyboard, the bacteria that build up are probably normal, friendly bacteria, the same kind that gather on your phone and other items you touch every single day. And you likely won’t get any new diseases from your own keyboard. But an unclean keyboard is a really easy way to spread disease-causing bacteria, especially if you are sick and other people are using the device as well. So best practice is probably to give a good clean once a week.