How to Clean a Keyboard

Laptop and phone

Kari Shea / Unsplash

Overview
  • Working Time: 15 mins
  • Total Time: 25 mins
  • Skill Level: Beginner

What germs are lurking on your hands? Whatever they are, from E. coli to Staphylococcus aureus, they are now on your keyboard. Just like our cell phone and remote controls, keyboards harbor everything we've touched throughout the day unless they are cleaned regularly. Cleaning the keyboard on your laptop or desktop will not only help reduce bacterial growth, but it will also help it look better and work more smoothly by removing debris that can interfere with keystrokes.

How Often to Clean Your Keyboard

It's a good rule of thumb to clean your keyboard at least weekly. That schedule depends on your habits. Did you forget to wash your hands before using the keyboard? Do you snack while you type? Do you work in a dusty environment? Do you share your keyboard with others? If you can say yes to any of these, your keyboard needs to be cleaned more often.

Before You Begin

Cleaning a keyboard is simple and requires just a few supplies. But there are some BIG don'ts that you need to keep in mind.

  • Don't spray any type of liquid onto your keyboard. It can cause the board to short out.
  • Don't use harsh or abrasive cleaning products like bleach, ammonia, or scouring powder.
  • Don't submerge your keyboard in water.
  • Don't force the keys off the keyboard if they don't pop off easily.

Warning

Never clean a keyboard that is still connected to a power source, and be sure that laptops are powered off before you begin cleaning the keyboard. This step will help prevent damage and harm.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Soft-bristled brush
  • Hand-held vacuum
  • Small bowl
  • Microfiber towel
  • Flathead screwdriver

Materials

  • Alcohol or disinfectant wipes
  • Cotton swabs
  • Wooden toothpicks
  • Compressed air
  • Dishwashing liquid

Instructions

  1. Unplug and Shake It Out

    Once your keyboard is unplugged or powered down, turn it over a trash can and give it a good shake. You'll see dust bunnies, hair, and crumbs fall out. Take the time to rotate the keyboard to several angles to encourage debris to tumble out.

  2. Brush It Out

    After shaking, use a soft-bristled brush to help dislodge any debris that might be stuck. You can purchase a keyboard brush online or from any office supply store. Or, you can use an old, soft-bristled toothbrush or a small bottle brush. After brushing, turn the keyboard back over a trash can to empty anything that has been loosened.

  3. Blow it Out

    Compressed air comes in an aerosol can with a long straw attached that can reach tight spaces. Never insert the straw under the keys because the forceful blast of air could damage electronics.

    Instead, hold the can at an angle and spray in a zigzag pattern, rotating the keyboard so you reach all sides of the keys. Again turn the keyboard over a trash can and tap out any loose debris.

    You might want to have a hand-held vacuum on hand to capture the debris that has blown onto your desk.

  4. Take Off the Keys

    If your keyboard is really messy and not performing smoothly, you may want to remove the keys for deeper cleaning. If you have a mechanical keyboard, this process is fairly simple. Always check your manual—or look online—for the manufacturer's recommendations on how or whether to remove keys for cleaning.

    Slide a small flathead screwdriver under the keys to help them pop off. Work slowly and carefully to prevent damage. Once the keys are removed, you can do a better job of cleaning.

    In a small bowl, mix a solution of one cup of warm water and a couple of drops of dishwashing liquid. Drop the keys into the cleaning solution and allow them to soak for at least five minutes. Use a cotton swab or wooden toothpick to remove any stuck-on mess. Do not scrub or you might make the lettering disappear.

    Once the keys are clean, dry them well with a lint-free microfiber cloth. They must be completely dry before replacing them onto the keyboard.

  5. Wipe Away Germs

    Now that's you've gotten all of the visible dirt and debris removed from the keyboard, it's time to tackle the invisible germs that are living there. Bacteria is particularly fond of laptop keyboards because the warmth gives them a perfect environment to thrive.

    Use a disinfecting wipe or a lint-free microfiber cloth dampened with isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol to clean the keyboard. The cloth should be only slightly damp, not dripping. Do not use chlorine bleach or pour or spray any type of disinfectant directly on the keyboard.

    Carefully wipe down all of the keyboard surfaces. The disinfectant will not only kill the bacteria but will also cut through the oils left by your fingers. Turn the keyboard upside down to make sure no liquid has dripped into the electrical components. Allow the keyboard to dry thoroughly before reconnecting to a power source.

  6. Clean Peripherals

    Since you've done such a good job cleaning the keyboard, take a few minutes to clean any peripherals like a mouse, trackpad, or earbuds. Give your computer screen a good dusting, too!

How to Keep Your Keyboard Clean Longer

  • Wash your hands before using the keyboard.
  • Avoid snacking while using the keyboard.
  • Keep drinks and other liquids away from the keyboard.
  • If kids have access to the computer, add a thin silicone cover to the keyboard. This can easily be removed when you need to do some serious typing.