Clean Your Keyboard

How to Clean a Mechanical Keyboard

Every keyboard, mechanical or not, should be cleaned on a regular basis. For one thing, obviously no one wants to work with a messy keyboard. For another thing, dust and grime can affect the functionality of your keyboard. A regular cleaning therefore supports a long lifespan of your keyboard.

There are many theories circulating about the best way of cleaning a keyboard. The suggestions range from “blow at it from every angle” to “put it into the dishwasher”. Not all of these methods can be recommended, for example, putting a keyboard into a dishwasher can easily mean its bitter end. So, how can you safely clean your keyboard? First, it is best to do an evaluation: Is the keyboard only a little bit dusty, then it probably will be sufficient to simply brush the dust off with a slightly damp microfiber cloth. Unplug the keyboard while cleaning it. If big amounts of dust have already accumulated below and between the keys, then cleaning the surfaces won’t be enough. A thorough clean-up of the keyboard is then due.

Dusty Keyboard
Dust is all over your keyboard? Time for a good cleaning!

Best Way to Clean a Mechanical Keyboard

These instructions describe a safe and thorough way to clean a keyboard and its keycaps. They can be applied to virtually any keyboard, provided that its keycaps are detachable. That’s pretty much standard for a mechanical keyboard and also possible for some membrane keyboards.

Required equipment

  • microfiber cloth
  • bowl of water
  • a few denture tablets
    alternatives: dishwashing liquid, soap, laundry detergent or isopropyl alcohol
  • some cotton swabs or foam swabs
  • [optional] brush / duster / something similar to clean the bigger areas faster
  • [optional] keycap puller to get the caps off easily

These items can be bought in any drug store and cost altogether less than 10 bucks.

Step 1: Unplug your keyboard

No matter how you clean your keyboard, the first step is always to disconnect it from your computer. Otherwise you might not only end up with random letters in the involuntarily sent email, but also risk to cause a short circuit.

Step 2: Take a picture of your keyboard

It’s a good idea to take a picture of your keyboard, so you can correctly reseat all keycaps at the end (they will be removed in the next step).

Step 3: Remove the keycaps

Remove all the keycaps to enable a thorough cleaning. The easiest way to get this done is by using a keycap puller, but you also can do it with your fingers. To remove a keycap, grasp it firmly and pull it straight up. You can wiggle a bit, but don’t try to overly force it into any other direction than up – or you might break some of the connectors. The big keys (space, enter, backspace, etc.) are often fixed with additional straps or wires, be extra careful with them. Or leave them on the board if you are not comfortable with removing them – you can clean those keys separately.

Step 4: Clean the keycaps

Put all the keycaps into a bowl with warm water and add 3-5 denture tablets. Yep, that’s right, denture tablets are perfect for cleaning keycaps. They remove grime, get rid of basically all bacteria and don’t leave a scratch. Let the keycaps soak for several hours, maybe stir the water a few times. After 5-6 hours, the optimal result is definitely reached. If you are in a hurry, you can also take them out earlier, usually an hour is enough to get them fairly clean. If you don’t have denture tablets, you can alternatively use water with a splash of dishwashing liquid, soap or laundry detergent.

Step 5: Clean the spaces

Since we removed all the keycaps, it is easy now to clean the spaces of your keyboard. If the last cleaning was long ago, there probably are lots of particles and dust on your keyboard. In such a case, you can divide the cleaning into four sub-steps:

  1. To get rid of the largest pieces, simply turn the keyboard around and shake it softly.
  2. Afterwards, you can use a brush / duster to go through the bigger spaces and remove whatever is left there. If you put the keyboard sideways, the force of gravity will come to your aid.
  3. Now clean all the areas you can reach with a slightly damp microfiber cloth. Usually water is entirely sufficient. Avoid getting liquids to the switches the best you can. If a stain can’t be removed by water alone, you can try using mild soap or glass cleaner. Be careful with cleansers, some of their chemicals can cause damage to your keyboard. If you are unsure, better test it on a small area first.
  4. The finishing touch is then done with the cotton / foam swabs. Moisten them a bit and clean all small spaces that are left.

Step 6: Clean case and cable

Don’t forget to also clean case and cable with a microfiber cloth. Afterwards, put the keyboard upside-down on a clean cloth / towel to let it dry. By doing so, you minimize the accumulation of dust around the exposed switches.

Step 7: Reseat the keycaps

After soaking the keycaps with the denture tablets, rinse them with water and also put them on a clean cloth / towel. Allow your keyboard and keycaps to dry completely. Be patient, it’s recommended to give them at least 48 hours. Finally, the last task is to reseat all keycaps, the picture you took in the beginning will help you to find the correct positions.

Step 8: Enjoy your clean keyboard!

Congratulations, you successfully cleaned your keyboard. Now it’s time to enjoy using it again!


Taking a Look at other Methods

As already mentioned in the beginning, the presented instructions are by no means the only way of cleaning a keyboard. Let’s take a look at some popular alternatives.

Cleaning a keyboard with a vacuum cleaner

Using a vacuum cleaner to get dust out of a keyboard seems natural. Moreover, there are quite some tutorials that advertise it as preferred option. Without a doubt, vacuuming can get your keyboard cleaned rather quickly. The problem is, that a vacuum cleaner builds up static electricity. As a consequence, an electrostatic discharge could occur on contact and might damage the keyboard. The probability of such an event is rather low – every day presumably thousands of keyboards are treated with a vacuum cleaner and problems are rather rare – but I still wouldn’t recommend doing it. Especially since a vacuum cleaner simply isn’t really required. Exception: If you own an anti-static vacuum cleaner, feel free to use it.

Conclusion: A safe cleaning is better done without a vacuum cleaner.

Other detergents / alcohol

There is a broad agreement, that denture cleanser is great for keyboard cleaning. But what about other detergents? A cloth moistened with a small amount of isopropyl / rubbing alcohol is in general okay and can be used to clean a keyboard. Don’t let the keycaps soak in it though. Furthermore, watch out for acetone, it is an ingredient of various cleansers and nail polish remover. It’s really aggressive on plastic and basically eats away your keycaps, as the chemical trial from Ripster has shown.

Conclusion: Ideally start with mild options like denture tablets, always check ingredients of detergents for acetone.

Cleaning a keyboard with canned air

It is easy to blow away dust from a keyboard with canned air. It even works without the need of removing the keycaps. However, you should know that you do not only blow dust away but also blow dust into the switches. That’s typically not an issue at first, but can cause problems if it’s done regularly. Moreover, canned air sometimes releases liquid particles which can cause damage to your keyboard.

Conclusion: Might be worth a shot for keyboards with non-removable keycaps, not recommended for all others though.

More ideas?

How do you clean you keyboard? Let us know and leave a comment with your favorite method.

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