Hardware

Video: Five sure-fire ways to clean a dirty keyboard

From using canned air to putting it in the dishwasher, Bill Detwiler gives you five sure-sire tips for cleaning a dirty keyboard.

A clean computer keyboard works better, lasts longer, and is more pleasant to use than a grubby snack-spattered device. During this week's TR Dojo episode, I give you five sure-sire tips for cleaning a dirty keyboard.

For those who prefer text to video, you can click the Transcript link that appears below the video player window.

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About

Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop supp...

63 comments
TAPhilo
TAPhilo

I can see a new marketing tool for keyboards to women who hate seeing dirty keyboards used by their mates - diskwasher safe! LOL I replace a keyboard when i go around and find one that works like the old IBM selectric typwriters and original keyboards that are spaced with keys that are not crammed together - most are spaced too tightly for a person who is above 5' 9" to to easily use. Imagine a 7'3" basketball player trying to use 6" wide keyboard - or one of those phone ones (or touchscreen keyboard!) I finger covers 6 letters!

Bann0rp3
Bann0rp3

Dishwasher....NO.......Garden hose for the win!!! I have used a garden hose on as many as 100 Keyboards, so far works better than anything else I have found.

mike.walsh
mike.walsh

If you work in a dusty environment where the dust is from minerals (from cement, or concrete, or crushed rock), like at a mine or a quarry, or the dust is from a desert dust storm, AND if your keyboard keys are on posts that slide in plastic holes, beware of canned air and anything that cleans by blowing. I have seen a few occasions where spraying canned air into keyboards has ruined them by raising the settled dust and allowing it to re-settle on key posts that used to be clean. The re-settled dust then causes the previously-clean keys to jam up. There was one highly memorable event where a keyboard had one slightly sticky key. A person used canned air to blow the dust out. After the spraying the keyboard it then had 12 sticky keys, two of which stayed down when pressed and had to be pried up. The sticky keys never worked properly again. The keyboard was rendered completely useless after one 10-second spray and had to be thrown out. Remember also, that blowing air over a plastic surface generates some static electricity that then accumulates on the plastic surface, (e.g., the mechanism of each key). The static electricity then attracts more dust to that sprayed surface if the charge on the dust is bi-polar or opposite to the charge on the surface, (which is OFTEN!!).

pauls
pauls

Has anyone tried 'drying' the circuit boards after the trip through the dishwasher by rinsing them with propanol (rubbing alcohol) or bulk ethanol? A thorough rinse with either of these should wash away all of the water leaving only a film of alcohol/water mix that evaporates in minutes (I'd wait a few hours though) instead of days. Neither solvent should harm the circuits or plastics.

dtaylor7046
dtaylor7046

With volumn turn to its highest, I could not hear the speaker (Bill Detwiler). Please turn up your audio

mrbfoord
mrbfoord

Living in the Philippines, in Manila, the air is so dusty, the dust is everywhere. To keep the dust down, and keyboard clean it must be cleaned every other day. Apart from which, presentation means a lot, a clean keyboard is a happy keyboard.

lars_honeytoast
lars_honeytoast

I've never heard of putting a keyboard in the dishwasher. A test is forthcoming.

Wolvenmoon
Wolvenmoon

Most keyboards, when you unscrew them, come into multiple pieces, with the front part containing the keys not containing any electronics. You can leave the back half and all the circuitry safely away from the dishwasher where you probably will start oxidization ( rusting ).

jsexton9
jsexton9

Besides the obvious "when it stops working reason", the other criterion I use is "when I can no longer read the imprint on a number of the keys" (which is happening to my current keyboard--good thing I'm a touch-typist!)

irmgard.wiesner
irmgard.wiesner

Remove the keys, put them in a cloth bag and wash them in the washing machine. They come out as clean as freshly shorn lambs and it is much less work than brushing them individually. Dry carefully before reinserting (you can even use the dryer at low temperature)

Jaqui
Jaqui

keep a clean keyboard clean. 1) leave it in the box. after all, if it don't get used it can't get dirty. :D 2) wrap it in saran. 3) put a silicone cover over it. 4) dip it in liquid latex. [ though you may have to relabel the keys to have labels afterward if the latex isn't translucent at least ] 5) put it into a level 3 containment box and only use the gloves built into the box to access it. :D there ya go Bill, I just had to give the flip side of the topic a quick run down. :D

ElijahKam
ElijahKam

Actually I am one of the dinosaurs that insists on a keyboard with F keys on the left where God intended them to be. After my original keyboard wore out, I bought a Northgate keyboard with the F keys. That keyboard lasted about 12 years and finally wore out. It did not have a Windows key. So recently I purchased the Avant Stellar keybord from Creative Technologies which has F keys both on the left and on top as well as Windows keys. It was expensive; you could buy a number of upscale keys for the same price, but I still insisted on my keyboard arrangement.

hunter_az
hunter_az

Did anyone else think that Bill looked unusually happy at 0:20?? I kinda thought he was trying to do a Mr. Clean type smile. :D

dsaturn
dsaturn

Try running the sticky edge of a post-it note along the horizontal gaps between the key rows. This is great for removing dust and hairs. An even better lint grabbing strip, can be found along the bordering edges of a sheet of postal stamps. Use those little stamp-edge strips, before you throw them away... and save on canned air.

phaines
phaines

I prefer using an air compressor (since it's stronger) and those Lysol/Clorox wipes to clean the keys. Be careful if you take the keys off the keyboard. The spacebar and shift keys usually have an extra support bar. Also, never try prying keys off a laptop - they're not made to be removed and you'll snap them right off.

zuse bytes
zuse bytes

Basically when it's beyond cleaning or I think its time for an upgrade(e.g. Multifunction keyboard). Fact remains that any device that that is constant being touched should be cleaned and sanitized. Just because you are the only one using it doesn't mean it's not dirty; germs are germs, they have no owner.

dolo724@
dolo724@

Oh Bill, this is a topic so dear to me. I thought seriously about putting my wife's favorite MS Natural keyboard into the dishwasher after something gooey killed it. Then I thought about it again, and decided that the difficulty in finding one of its vintage (more than I'm willing to spend regardless of its age) precluded the dishwasher. So, here's my long process, meant for those keyboards you can't replace due to budgetary constraints. 1. Set aside half each of two days; one for disassembly and cleaning, the second for drying and reassembly. You'll need a smallish phillips (cross-blade) screwdriver, an old egg carton or small bowls for screws and keys, a roll of paper towels or a few soft cotton washcloths, a dishpan (NOT your sink)(yet) with warm soapy water (Dawn or Palmolive are best), a colander (spaghetti strainer) and a Popsicle-stick. Also, a digital camera or cell-phone camera to take pictures of your progress; this helps when you can't remember where parts belong. All this on a large tabletop with a towel to absorb stray liquids and blows of frustration. Day One: 2. As Bill said, some keys weren't meant to come off. Unless you know by experience (my kids took off all the keys once) you may have to stop here. Use the popsicle-stick to gently pry up one key at a time, cupping your other hand over the key to prevent its flying to other countries without a flight plan. Sometimes little springs or other bits are involved, you must collect those in a bowl. Take pictures as you go. 3. With the keyboard denuded of its keys and loose bits, flip it over and start removing screws. Sometimes screws are located under the rubber stick-on feet, or the label, you'll have to pry those up for access. If you are splitting the halves of the keyboard and one part wont budge, you've missed a screw. Don't Force It! or it will break the plastic. Take pictures as you go. 4. Always be on the lookout for more screws. With the keyboard apart you might see a layered membrane on some assemblies. Mine was held down by plastic tabs; a little pulling and gentle persuasion got the membranes off, and then the key assemblies. The wire is held by tabs and screws, but no LCDs involved here so I got lucky. Be gentle with electronics. Take pictures as you go. 5. Now for cleaning. Everything got a gentle scrubbing. Nothing was spared except the membrane, which I unfolded and wiped gently with soapy water while supporting it on a flat tabletop. Be careful not to scratch printed circuits on the membrane. Soapy water and towels are your friends when dried chicken soup is involved. If your assembly has an LCD panel do NOT immerse it, just wipe gently with a damp towel until it's clean, then pat dry. All other parts go into the colander. The electronics board only gets cleaned if necessary. 6. Rinse! big parts by hand under warm running water, and the colander full of bits gets agitated under the faucet until the soap is gone. 7. Dry by hand with dry towels all parts, all corners and crevices. Don't worry if you missed a spot, you'll find it if you look again. Make sure the membrane is clear, hold it to the light to inspect it. Set aside all parts to air out for the night. Day Two: 8. Make double sure all parts are dry and clear of debris. Maybe a cotton swab to dry the bits you missed earlier. 9. Remember those pictures you took? Review them briefly in reverse order to get an idea how reassembly will work. Patience is good, and double-check for spare parts Before You Screw It Together. My keyboard is curved, I used a couple of textbooks to support the ends while I inserted key assemblies and the membrane. Once the shell is screwed snugly in place, flip it over and start putting keys on. Depending on the key structure, you may have to seat the key in a cylinder or cage before pressing. Snap it on and press a few times to make sure it feels right. If something is wrong, pry it off and figure it out. 10. Once the keyboard is together and you have no extra parts, it's time to plug it in and test it. USB keyboards are simple, but a PS/2 or older has to plug into a powered-off system. Do a power on/off cycle once or twice in case the electronics are still damp (see, you did miss some water) and test the keys. Often the best indicator is watching the caps-lock LED as the computer powers-up. CAVEATS: You're messing with small bits, keep track of them. Electronics are susceptible to ESD, ground yourself and your gear if you can't afford to replace it! Some plastic parts require a gentle touch, leave the wire-brush in the utility closet. Plastic or rubber feet may lose their adhesive, keep some double-sided tape or picture-putty on hand to reattach them. There's always something I missed, hopefully you won't. Be careful and have fun! hehehe btw, my wife was nice to me for a whole week after I fixed her favorite keyboard! Journalists can be picky.

norm_berard
norm_berard

I have used he dishwasher method a number of times with great success. However, as Bill noted, use only on keyboards without batteries or displays.

GHSloan
GHSloan

What? In the dishwasher? No! Really? No!

Bill Detwiler
Bill Detwiler

A clean computer keyboard works better, lasts longer, and is more pleasant to use than a grubby snack-spattered device. During this week's TR Dojo episode, I give you five sure-sire tips for cleaning a dirty keyboard. If cleaning that old keyboard just doesn't give it that "new keyboard" feel, you might want to replace it. But when is the right time to toss out that old keyboard. When it gets too dirty to clean? When it stops working? Take the poll and let me know. Original post and poll: http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/itdojo/?p=1920

gnielsen
gnielsen

I would hesitate before using ethanol to speed dry circuit boards as I have used it very successfully in removing the protective coating on PCB's before repairing them. If you do use it, I would buy a can of circuit board protector spray and respray after cleaning. Metho would probably be a safer option. I once received a keyboard in the mail from one of our regional offices with a note saying it had just stopped working. I dismantled the kb and found the inside coated with a layer of sticky 'chocolate' substance. It turned out that a cup of hot chocolate had been spilled on the kb and the user had done a reasonably acceptable job of cleaning it up so it wouldn't be noticed. Unfortunately for her, she only cleaned the outside so got caught anyhow. But by rinsing the parts in metho, I was able to recover it and send it back for further abuse. In those days, keyboards were not cheap items to be thrown out for the sake of it.

TexasJetter
TexasJetter

It takes two minutes to take the back off most keyboards. Then just pop the key assembly in the top rack and run. We usually just run the wash cycle with no detergent. There is enough pressure and heat from the water to clean it.

gitmo
gitmo

You can place the keys in the silverware basket and they come out right purty. Never tried the whole keyboard, though. I remember an old TRS-80 Mod II somebody left out in the rain. After drying it out, it worked just fine.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

That way you don't get infected with them viruses off that there interweb.

ciakrook
ciakrook

Yes, what a good piece of literature! Please!! Go in to technical writing and re-write all those manuals for 'made in china' peripherals, TV's, etc. If you ever need a job, that should be "Plan B" and you have these comments as references. What an instructor with good attention to detail!

hdunn17
hdunn17

You my friend, are hilarious. That is the best piece of writing that I have read in a long time. I won't go that route, but I would definetly read any book you put out!

smadden2
smadden2

Wow -- I was totally impressed with the labor of love that you did for your wife. I can see why she was nice to you for a week after you so carefully cleaned her favorite keyboard!!!

zed.wagner
zed.wagner

I have several industrial stainless steel keyboards but my newest one is: Noah Company's JH-IN87KB Industrial Keyboard. Its 100 silicone filled. I picked mine up from walmart for less then $70.oo usd. I tortured this thing with a spin in my washing machine with a load of sheets and blankets. It still ran good as new.

itadmin
itadmin

As a first step, just turn the keyboard upside down while keeping it in the air, shake it and tap it lightly on the back. More or less dry stuff, like hairs, will come out.

melonymyers
melonymyers

Replace it? I'm still using my beige IBM AT keyboard! Sure I had to attach 5-pin DIN-to-PS2 adapters to it and it doesn't have those Windows buttons, but I love it's higher platform angle, the reverse-L "Enter", and tall clicky keys!

joseph_mcmanus
joseph_mcmanus

OK, I've been doing IT for quite a few years now, & I've heard of some REALLY "STUPID USER TRICKS," but, I have NEVER heard (in real life at least, we've all heard the "War Stories") of some stupid jack a$$ for-real putting their laptop into a dishwasher "just to clean the keys"!!! PLEASE don't tell me that there really are people out there that are THAT stupid, PLEASE say it AINT SO Uncle Bill!!! :-)

kkopp
kkopp

When I worked for Control Data, we were contracted by Target to wash 2000+ keyboards. We used a circuit board cleaning machine that was like a really big dish washer. We had a 2 percent drop off rate. Be light on the soap, hot water and use pressurized air after. Oh, and don't put it in with the dishes.

mike
mike

Oh man if anyone puts the whole laptop in the dishwasher then they deserve the end result! and maybe a darwin award. Personally if I can't clean it with a vacume and wiping the keys off with some windex and a paper towel, it's headed for the recycle bin.

BiggestDawg
BiggestDawg

Under other I have to go with all of the above. I replace them when they quit or get dirty or there is a new feature I just have to have and when installing a new computer. As to cleaning them I like the dishwasher but that is not a swish and go method you need to be sure to get it completely dried out or your toast. These days though with as cheap as keyboards are its easier to just replace them.

agoodspeed
agoodspeed

You mean your NOT supposed to put a laptop in the dishwasher to get it cleaned?!

GreatZen
GreatZen

Cascade Complete will utterly annihilate organic dyes and many glues which are used to adhere character decals to some keys. Do not use Cascade complete in the dishwasher. I have never had trouble with regular Cascade (powder or gel) but I've never tried any of the new, fancy packs either. And for those geeks out there who don't use the dishwasher... dish soap (Dawn, Palmolive, etc.) is NOT the same as dishwasher detergent. EDIT: Oh yeah, it helps when drying the keyboard to do the 30 second basic disassembly (usually the topshell is removed from the rest of the keyboard with only a few screws) AND spray the keyboard with a few blasts of compressed air. The pressure usually disperses any beaded water in crevices that can take ages to dry (contributing to dodgy odors) if left alone.

Jaqui
Jaqui

I wonder how the doc would cure someone if they did catch one of them compooter viruses from an infectious compooter.

martian
martian

That's only for them "Microsoft" keyboards, of course. ;)

fishcad
fishcad

I taught a class in which the students cleaned up and checked out large numbers (50 - 200) of computers that had been donated to the school district. Usually when a company replaced machines in a whole department/building. We occasionally would take the keyboards outside and just hose them off. We let them dry out for a week or so and they were fine.

gitmo
gitmo

That laptop screen gets pretty dirty as well. :-)

Papa_Bill
Papa_Bill

If a soft drink is spilled and it has dried, *pour another drink* (similar brand) into it, let it sit for a while, then wash it. The fresh drink will help dissolve the sugars et c. left by the spill. If it was beer, just pour yourself one.

bfpower
bfpower

At a warehouse I worked in (before my IT days), some of the office staff cleaned their keyboards with black coffee and a toothbrush. Anyone heard of this one?

pcteky2
pcteky2

I used to say trash it and get a new one, but for my own personal use I have several keyboards that have unique layouts and extra keys that have been collected over the past 10 years. I've taken to cleaning them either with dishwasher or a mild to moderate strength soap and brush and then rinse in the shower. It cleans em right up and they work like new. Just let them dry for a few days first.

TheWizardOfOz
TheWizardOfOz

I'm so glad he pointed that out in the end. I was about to take my Thinkpad and put it in the dishwasher to get it sparkling again :-o

Darren B - KC
Darren B - KC

I removed and cleaned a laptop keyboard by soaking it in a tub of soapy water for about 30 minutes, then rinsed it off and set it out to dry for a day or two. Worked fine.

warren
warren

I have done this with a couple now, that have been a tad disgusting....finish tablets (brand) cause no issue at all, leave to dry for a day and your back in business.... not putting my G15 in there though, that is a full remove every key kinda job

gretpass
gretpass

I use the dishwasher method, but I only put the top shell in for the cleaning. As long as you're taking it apart, there is no need to clean the bottom part with the electronic circuits. "EDIT: Oh yeah, it helps when drying the keyboard to do the 30 second basic disassemble (usually the top shell is removed from the rest of the keyboard with only a few screws) "

macgvr
macgvr

Some keyboards will self destruct when they get wet. It will corrode the printed circuitry and cause all kinds of open connections. Maybe the newer keyboards are more resistant, but I have had keyboards die just because water was spilled into them, even when taken apart promptly to dry them out. His caution to try this only on keyboards you aren't worried about should be taken seriously.

schre009
schre009

If you're going to run your keyboard(s) through the dishwasher DO NOT use the dry cycle. It gets awfully warm in there.

info
info

Dishwasher??? You guys are really fearless! Aren't you afraid of an advert reaction of some kind with the circuits?? I clean mine with air, and sometimes I have to partly dissasemble to get the stubborn lint out - in the case of laptops

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

Cousin had that - actually a cousins cousin/husband. Treatment had something to do with probing their ports... nasty stuff!

Jaqui
Jaqui

at least you all could see the humour in my post. :D and the five points would actually work even. :D

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

If you remember to put on a condominium, you should be safe. I heard it on the webnet.

Papa_Bill
Papa_Bill

And truthfully, keyboards don't cost that much. I think I would spend a few bucks just to save the hassle. But if your KB gets wet while you're using it, unplug it immediately, don't wait to shut down your machine.

Papa_Bill
Papa_Bill

Keep heat to a minimum while drying, whatever method you use.

d.j.elliott
d.j.elliott

I have used the full dishwasher cycle. More than once. Works for me. I tried it first on a keyboard I thought was too far gone to rescue. Worked. Surely easier than flipping off keycaps--the universe should last so long. I allow a least a week to dry out.

Papa_Bill
Papa_Bill

on electronics for over 40 years, even on tube equipment. BE SURE NO VOLTAGE IS PRESENT WHEN WATER IS and you'll be OK. This means be sure all capacitors are discharged, batteries removed, cables unplugged et c., and be absolutely sure everything is completely dry before it's powered up again! This way there will be no electrolysis taking place which is the only real hazard with this operation. A *thin* film of WD40 or LPS1 will help, too.

eternal_life
eternal_life

These facts gave me a real great good laugh, still the dishwasher metod might be able, but I dont agree with Bill as he says that one shall leave the keyboard left to dry for days, up to a week, In my opinon it would be left to dry at least for more then 6 months - in a complete dry vell ventialated area to avoid mould inside, Else to unscrew and avoid the dishwasher metod is to recommend, In fact most technical innovations who have gotten compplete soaken wet, as drawned outside in a snowstorm will start to work after another year or two. It is all about a question of time.

MLScout
MLScout

That's what I did the first time - and wound up keeping it as a spare. Since then, I've cleaned several in the dishwasher. I put the dirty ones aside until I have 4, then wash them all at once. (My top rack holds 4 and I don't like to waste resources.)

PurpleSkys
PurpleSkys

i've had folks tell me before to put it in the dishwasher to clean it but i've never gathered enough nerve yet to try it.