Hardware

How do you clean a keyboard?

Clean a keyboard
Time to give your grubby keyboard a spring clean

Unless you’re the neatest of neat freaks, your keyboard will inevitably become littered with crumbs and other lunchtime debris – a kind of archaeological record of disappointing sandwiches. Not only does this look bad, but it can also prevent the keys from working properly and, in the worst-case scenario, break your keyboard.

So what’s the solution, apart from not eating al desko in the first place? There are several fixes, some more high-tech or brute-force than others. Top tip before you begin: always unplug your keyboard or turn off your laptop before performing any kind of cleaning.

  1. Tap away. Unplug your keyboard, turn it upside down over a bin (or paper towel if you want to forensically examine the detritus) and gently tap it. This should dislodge the larger crumbs. You should never vigorously shake your keyboard or laptop, as this can cause lasting damage.
  2. Suck it up. If your vacuum cleaner has got a detachable, handheld element with a narrow attachment, you can use this to suck up the dust between the cracks. Don’t hold the nozzle of powerful vacuums too close and take extra care if you’re doing this on a laptop, as there’s a lot of sensitive components stored under that keyboard. Alternatively, you can annoy the whole office by investing in a USB hoover for as little as two quid.
  3. Sticky tape. For a more low-tech solution, slowly slide a piece of sticky tape between the keys. This should collect those irritating tiny particles that can’t be dislodged by tapping or with a pint-sized vacuum.
  4. Screen wipes. If you have some spare screen wipes, carefully run them over the surface of the keyboard and between the keys. They’re specifically designed to be soft on hardware so you don’t need to worry about chemical damage.
  5. Cotton buds. Now that you can’t put cotton buds (or, if you’re across the Pond, swabs) anywhere near your ears, make use of your redundant collection by dabbing between the keys to clean up sticky residue (think tomato sauce, yoghurt or your tears after being asked to put together a last-minute presentation).

It always pays to err on the side of caution while cleaning your kit, and there’s a lot of potentially damaging advice online. Perhaps the most outlandish tip we’ve seen is to put your keyboard in the dishwasher and then dry it with a hairdryer. Never – I repeat, never – do this. Also, steer well clear of heavy-duty cleaning sprays as they could strip the characters from the keys, making every email an exciting game of pot luck.

About the author

Max Figgett

Max has written for numerous websites and magazines over the years. Whether it’s about ancient hardware or software secrets, no Big Tech Question is too obscure for him to tackle.

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