How to Clean a Computer Keyboard

By Shea Laverty

When your computer keyboard starts to get a little junked up, cleaning it can be a quick and simple task. Usually, you need cotton swabs and rubbing alcohol.

Depending on the kind of mess you're dealing with and how thorough you want to be, you can clean your keyboard in several ways. In most cases, cleaning is easy, requiring little more than common household materials like cotton swabs and rubbing alcohol. Thorough cleaning jobs require a little more time and care to prevent damage to your keyboard.

Warning

  • To prevent the risk of electrical shock, disconnect wired keyboards from the computer before you begin to clean. For wireless keyboards, switch them off and remove the batteries.
  • If you're cleaning a laptop keyboard, shut down your laptop and disconnect it from the power supply. If the battery is removable, remove it to further reduce the chance for electrical shocks.

Loose Debris

Vrumbs, dust and other loose particles are some of the easiest keyboard messes to clean. In most cases, all you need to do is turn the keyboard upside down and give it a gentle shaking to remove debris. A quick spray of canned air or dust remover can also dislodge debris. Debris stuck between the keys can be removed with a cotton swab, lint-free cloth, toothbrush or blush brush. A vacuum cleaner with a brush attachment can also remove pesky particles.

Stuck-On Crud and Grime

Stubborn grit and dried on liquids require that you give your keyboard a light scrubbing. Isopropyl rubbing alcohol is indispensable during this process; it breaks down anything stuck to your keyboard and sanitizing the keys.

Tip

Only use isopropyl alcohol, not ethyl. Ethyl alcohol is harsh enough that it may degrade or remove the lettering on your keyboard keys.

Step 1

Remove any loose debris by shaking out or dusting your keyboard and then wipe down all the keys with a dry lint-free cloth.

Step 2

Dip the tip of a cotton swab into the rubbing alcohol and use it to gently scrub the sides of each key.

Step 3

Dip the corner of a lint-free cloth into the rubbing alcohol and gently wipe at the surface of each key until it is clean.

Step 4

Wait for 15 minutes to an hour for the keyboard to fully dry before using it again.

Tip

In some cases, it may take a soft toothbrush lightly dipped in rubbing alcohol to scrub off tough dirt. Stubborn grime can also be removed with an unlikely tool: the eraser on a pencil. Just don't let eraser dust fall between the cracks in your keyboard.

Warning

Don't pour alcohol on the keyboard; apply it using a swab or cloth. Dumping alcohol onto the keyboard can damage the sensitive electronics inside and ruin the keyboard.

Sticky Keys

Sticky keys usually result from a liquid spill that dried on the keyboard. When the keys begin to stick, your only recourse is to perform a thorough cleaning, which includes removing the keys to get better access to the keyboard's nooks and crannies.

Warning

While it's possible to remove and clean keys from a laptop keyboard, replacing them can prove problematic. Check with your laptop's manufacturer to see if your keys can be safely removed and reattached before attempting these steps.

Step 1

Draw a diagram of the layout of your keyboard or take a picture with a digital camera or smartphone. Having a visual reference for the keyboard's original layout is helpful when you're reattaching the keys.

Step 2

Gently pry up each key using a flat-blade screwdriver or a butter knife. Don't force the keys too hard, they're designed to pop off with minimal effort. If necessary, pry up each corner of the key one at a time.

Step 3

Clean each key inside and out using a cotton swab and rubbing alcohol.

Step 4

Clean the spaces between each key with a cotton swab and rubbing alcohol. Do not touch the swab on any of the electronics in the keyboard, just on the plastic.

Step 5

Let the keyboard and keys dry for 15 minutes to an hour and then reattach them according to your diagram or photo.

Tip

  • Once removed, keyboard keys can be washed in the silverware basket of your dishwasher on a low-temperature setting. Remove them before the drying cycle begins and let them air dry on a clean towel. The dishwasher's dry cycle uses heat, which may melt or warp the plastic.
  • The plastic casing -- but not the electronics -- of your keyboard can also be washed in the dishwasher. Remove the screws and all internal electronics and then place the casing in the top rack during washing. Make sure to note where all the screws and internal electronics go for reassembly.