The Ultimate Guide to Cleaning Keyboard Keycaps

Learn the best methods for cleaning keyboard keycaps to keep your keyboard in top condition, essential for both work and leisure.

Regular cleaning of keyboard keycaps is not just a matter of hygiene; it significantly enhances the performance and lifespan of your keyboard.

This comprehensive guide will walk you through the best practices for cleaning keycaps, ensuring both your health and your keyboard’s functionality are maintained.

AspectDetails
Importance of Cleaning KeycapsEnhances keyboard functionality, hygiene, longevity, aesthetic appeal, user experience, reduces odor and allergens.
Preparation: Tools and MaterialsCompressed air, soft brush, microfiber cloth, keycap puller, cleaning gel, isopropyl alcohol, cotton swabs, distilled water, container for keycaps.
Safety TipsUnplug keyboard, gentle handling, avoid excess liquid.
Best PracticesUnplug keyboard, gentle motions, mindful of material, dry and moist cleaning, disinfecting, avoid spraying directly.
Cleaning ProcessDry cleaning first, moist cleaning, disinfecting, cleaning keycaps separately, avoid direct spraying.
Post-CleaningDrying, reassembly.
Special ConsiderationsMechanical vs. membrane keyboards, laptop keyboards, high-end/custom keyboards.
Step-by-Step Guide: Mechanical KeyboardsUnplug, gather supplies, prepare workspace, shake off debris, remove and clean keycaps, clean underneath keys, spot cleaning, reassemble, test.
Cleaning Laptop KeyboardsTurn off/unplug, gather supplies, remove loose debris, surface cleaning, drying, final checks.
Deep Cleaning KeycapsUsing denture tablets or ultrasonic cleaner, remove keycaps, clean, rinse, dry.
Avoiding Common MistakesAvoid boiling water, harsh chemicals, submerging keyboard, abrasive materials, overusing liquid cleaners, rushing drying process, forcing keycaps off, ignoring manufacturer’s instructions.
Maintaining Post-CleaningDaily wiping, weekly dusting, monthly deep cleaning, protective measures, proper storage, handling spills immediately, adjusting habits, regular inspection.
FAQsRubbing alcohol usage, dishwasher-safe keycaps, cleaning frequency.
ConclusionRegular cleaning is crucial for hygiene and functionality, ensuring a clean and efficient typing experience.

Why Clean Your Keyboard Keycaps?

  • Improved Functionality: Keyboards are intricate devices with many moving parts. Dust, crumbs, and other debris can get trapped under the keycaps, leading to keys that are sticky, unresponsive, or inconsistent in their response. Regular cleaning ensures that each key operates smoothly and reliably.
  • Health and Hygiene: Keyboards can be a breeding ground for germs and bacteria. Studies have shown that keyboards can sometimes harbor more bacteria than a toilet seat, primarily because they are touched so frequently and are rarely cleaned. This can be a significant health concern, especially in shared work environments or for individuals with weakened immune systems.
  • Longevity of the Device: Accumulated dirt and debris can cause wear and tear on the keyboard’s mechanical components over time. By keeping your keyboard clean, you can extend its lifespan, ensuring that it works well for years to come.
  • Aesthetic Appeal: A clean keyboard is more visually appealing. Regular cleaning keeps it looking new and professional, which can be particularly important in shared or public spaces.
  • Prevention of Cross-Contamination: In environments where keyboards are shared (like offices, schools, or public libraries), cleaning the keycaps can prevent the spread of germs from one user to another.
  • Enhanced User Experience: A clean keyboard provides a more pleasant and efficient typing experience. Sticky or unresponsive keys can be frustrating and can slow down your typing speed and accuracy.
  • Odor Reduction: Food particles and other organic matter that get trapped in keyboards can eventually start to decompose, leading to unpleasant odors.
  • Allergy Management: For individuals with allergies, dust and pet hair trapped in the keyboard can be problematic. Regular cleaning helps to manage these allergens.
keycaps-clean-Tools-and-Materials-Needed

Preparation: Tools and Materials Needed

Basic Cleaning Supplies

  • Compressed Air: This is used to blow away loose debris, dust, and particles from between the keys. It’s especially effective for hard-to-reach areas where a cloth or brush can’t easily go.
  • Soft Brush: A soft-bristled brush (like a small paintbrush or a dedicated keyboard brush) can gently remove dust and crumbs from the surface of the keys and the spaces around them. It’s less aggressive than compressed air and can be used for more targeted cleaning.
  • Microfiber Cloth: This type of cloth is ideal for cleaning keyboards because it doesn’t leave lint behind. It can be used dry to wipe away dust or slightly dampened with water or isopropyl alcohol for a more thorough clean of the keycap surfaces.

Optional Tools for Thorough Cleaning

  • Keycap Puller: This tool is designed to safely remove the keycaps from your keyboard without damaging them or the switches underneath. This allows for more comprehensive cleaning, as you can access the area under the keycaps where a lot of dirt and debris can accumulate.
  • Cleaning Gel: Cleaning gels are sticky substances that you can press onto the keyboard. They pick up dust and small particles. This is useful for quick, surface-level cleaning and can be especially handy for cleaning in between the keys.

Additional Considerations

  • Isopropyl Alcohol: For disinfecting and deeper cleaning, isopropyl alcohol (at least 70%) can be used. It’s effective at removing oils and killing germs. Apply it sparingly to a microfiber cloth; never pour it directly onto the keyboard.
  • Cotton Swabs: These can be useful for cleaning hard-to-reach areas, especially after you’ve removed the keycaps. They can be slightly moistened with isopropyl alcohol for more effective cleaning.
  • Distilled Water: If you need to dampen any of your cleaning tools, it’s best to use distilled water as it doesn’t contain minerals that can leave residue.
  • Container for Keycaps: If you’re removing keycaps, have a small container or bag to keep them in so they don’t get lost.
  • Workspace Preparation: Before starting, prepare a clean, flat surface to work on. This helps prevent losing any keycaps and keeps your workspace organized.

Safety Tips

  • Unplug the Keyboard: Always unplug your keyboard before cleaning to avoid electrical damage or the risk of shock.
  • Gentle Handling: Be gentle when using any tools on your keyboard to avoid damaging the keys or the keyboard itself.
  • Avoid Excess Liquid: If using liquids for cleaning, ensure they are used sparingly to prevent damage to the electronic components of the keyboard.

Best Practices for Cleaning Keyboards

General Best Practices

  • Unplug the Keyboard: This is a safety measure to prevent any electrical hazards and also to avoid accidental keystrokes or damage to the electronic components. If you’re using a wireless keyboard, remove the batteries.
  • Gentle Motions: Keyboards, especially mechanical ones, can be delicate. Use soft brushes, cloths, and gentle pressure to avoid damaging the keycaps or the switches underneath. Aggressive scrubbing or prying can lead to broken keys or dislodged parts.
  • Mindful of Keyboard Material: Keyboards can be made from a variety of materials (plastic, metal, rubber) and finishes (matte, glossy). Use cleaning agents and tools that are appropriate for the material. For instance, harsh chemicals can damage rubberized coatings, while abrasive materials can scratch glossy surfaces

Cleaning Process

  • Dry Cleaning First: Start with dry methods like using compressed air or a soft brush to remove loose debris. This prevents dirt from becoming smeared or stuck on the keyboard during wet cleaning.
  • Moist Cleaning: If necessary, use a damp (not wet) microfiber cloth with water or isopropyl alcohol for a more thorough clean. Ensure the cloth is just moist enough to clean without dripping any liquid into the keyboard.
  • Disinfecting: For disinfecting, use isopropyl alcohol on a cloth. It’s effective against germs and evaporates quickly, reducing the risk of moisture damage.
  • Cleaning Keycaps: If removing keycaps, do so gently with a keycap puller. Clean them separately using soapy water or a mild cleaning solution. Ensure they are completely dry before reattaching them.
  • Avoid Spraying Directly: Never spray any liquid directly onto the keyboard. Always apply the cleaning agent to a cloth first.

Post-Cleaning

  • Drying: Allow the keyboard to dry completely before plugging it back in or inserting batteries. This is crucial to avoid short-circuiting the electronics.
  • Reassembly: If keycaps were removed, carefully reattach them, ensuring they are properly seated and aligned.

Special Considerations

  • Mechanical vs. Membrane Keyboards: Mechanical keyboards often allow for more thorough cleaning due to their removable keycaps. Membrane keyboards may require more caution as their components are more integrated.
  • Laptop Keyboards: Be extra cautious with laptop keyboards as the electronics underneath are more integrated and sensitive. Avoid any excess liquid and consider not removing the keycaps unless you are confident in how to safely do so.
  • High-End or Custom Keyboards: For expensive or custom-built keyboards, consult the manufacturer’s guidelines for cleaning recommendations, as they may have specific care instructions.

Step-by-Step Guide to Cleaning Mechanical Keyboards

  • Unplug the Keyboard: Ensure your keyboard is unplugged from your computer or, if it’s wireless, that the batteries are removed.
  • Gather Your Cleaning Supplies: This includes compressed air, a keycap puller, a soft brush, microfiber cloths, isopropyl alcohol, warm water, and dish soap.
  • Prepare Your Workspace: Lay out a clean cloth or towel on a flat surface. This will be your workspace to place keycaps and prevent scratches.

Shaking Off Loose Debris

  • Hold the Keyboard Upside Down: Gently shake your keyboard to dislodge loose debris. This helps remove crumbs, dust, and other particles that are easily movable.
  • Tap Gently: Tap the back of the keyboard gently to help release trapped debris.

Keycap Removal and Cleaning

  • Remove Keycaps: Use the keycap puller to gently remove each keycap. It’s advisable to take a photo of your keyboard layout beforehand or use a layout reference, especially if you’re new to this.
  • Soak and Clean Keycaps: Soak the keycaps in warm, soapy water for a few hours. If you’re using cleaning gel, apply it directly and then gently scrub. For ABS keycaps, avoid using harsh chemicals or overly hot water as they can cause damage or warping.
  • Rinse and Dry: After cleaning, rinse the keycaps thoroughly with clean water and let them dry completely. They must be dry before reattaching to avoid any moisture damage to the keyboard.

Cleaning Underneath the Keys

  • Compressed Air: Use compressed air to blow out debris from under the keys. Angle the canister so that you’re not pushing the dirt further in.
  • Soft Brush: Gently brush away any remaining debris. This can be more precise than compressed air for getting into the nooks and crannies.

Spot Cleaning Techniques

  • Microfiber Cloth: Dampen a microfiber cloth with a small amount of isopropyl alcohol for tougher grime. This is particularly useful for cleaning the keyboard’s chassis and the area around the switches.
  • Gentle Wiping: Wipe the surfaces gently, ensuring not to let any liquid seep into the keyboard.
  • Dry Thoroughly: Allow the keyboard to dry completely before proceeding to the next step.

Reassembling the Keyboard

  • Reattach Keycaps: Once the keycaps are dry, carefully reattach them to their respective positions according to the layout you’ve referenced.
  • Ensure Proper Placement: Make sure each keycap is firmly and correctly placed to avoid any misalignment or loose keys.

Final Checks

  • Plug in the Keyboard: Once everything is reassembled and dry, plug the keyboard back into your computer.
  • Test Every Key: Do a quick test to ensure every key is working properly. This can be done using a keyboard testing software or simply typing in a text document.

Additional Tips

  • Frequency: Regular cleaning (like shaking off debris and surface wiping) should be done weekly or bi-weekly, while deep cleaning (like removing keycaps) can be done every few months or as needed.
  • Care for Specific Keyboards: If you have a keyboard with unique features (like backlighting or custom switches), consult the manufacturer’s guidelines for specific cleaning advice.

How to Clean Laptop Keyboards

  • Turn Off and Unplug the Laptop: Ensure your laptop is turned off and unplugged from any power source. If possible, remove the battery.
  • Gather Your Cleaning Supplies: You’ll need compressed air, a soft brush, microfiber cloths, and isopropyl alcohol. Avoid using too much liquid.

Removing Loose Debris

  • Use Compressed Air: Hold the laptop at an angle (almost vertical) and use short bursts of compressed air to dislodge debris from under the keys. Start from one side of the keyboard and work your way to the other side.
  • Gentle Brushing: Use a soft brush to gently sweep away any loose debris that the compressed air has dislodged.

Surface Cleaning

  • Dampen a Microfiber Cloth: Lightly moisten a microfiber cloth with water or a mix of water and isopropyl alcohol. The cloth should be damp, not wet, to avoid any liquid dripping into the keyboard.
  • Wipe the Keyboard: Gently wipe the surface of the keys and the spaces between them. Be careful not to let any liquid seep under the keys.
  • Spot Cleaning: For more stubborn grime, you can use a cotton swab lightly dampened with isopropyl alcohol. This allows for more precise cleaning around and under the keys.

Drying

  • Air Dry: Allow the keyboard to air dry completely. You can leave the laptop open and upside down to facilitate drying.

Final Checks

  • Reconnect the Laptop: Once the keyboard is dry, you can reconnect any cables and power up the laptop.
  • Test the Keyboard: Check all the keys to ensure they are working correctly.

Additional Tips

  • Regular Maintenance: Regularly use compressed air to keep debris from accumulating under the keys.
  • Avoid Eating Over the Keyboard: Try to minimize eating over your laptop to prevent crumbs from falling between the keys.
  • Be Gentle: Laptop keys are more fragile and can be more difficult to repair than standalone keyboard keys, so always use gentle motions.
  • Check Manufacturer’s Guidelines: Some laptops have specific cleaning recommendations, especially if they have unique features like backlit keys.

Special Considerations

  • Liquid Spills: In case of a liquid spill, turn off the laptop immediately, unplug it, and try to drain the liquid out. Avoid using the laptop until it’s completely dry, and consider professional help if the spill is significant.
  • Sticky Keys: If keys are sticking, it might be necessary to carefully remove the keycap for deeper cleaning. However, this should be done with caution and preferably only if you’re familiar with the process, as laptop keys can be more difficult to reattach.
Deep-Cleaning-Keycaps

Deep Cleaning Keycaps

Using Denture Tablets

  • Remove Keycaps: First, use a keycap puller to gently remove the keycaps from the keyboard.
  • Prepare a Container: Find a container large enough to hold all the keycaps and fill it with warm water. Ensure the water is not too hot, especially for ABS keycaps, as high temperatures can cause warping.

Cleaning Process:

  • Add Denture Tablets: Drop a couple of denture cleaning tablets into the water. These tablets are designed to remove stains and kill bacteria, making them effective for cleaning keycaps.
  • Soak Keycaps: Place the keycaps in the water and let them soak. The effervescent action of the tablets helps to loosen and lift dirt and grime. Soaking time can vary, but typically 30 minutes to a few hours should be sufficient.

Post-Soak Cleaning:

  • Gentle Scrubbing: After soaking, if there’s still some grime on the keycaps, gently scrub them with a soft brush or cloth.
  • Rinse and Dry: Rinse the keycaps thoroughly with clean water and let them dry completely before reattaching them to the keyboard.

Using an Ultrasonic Cleaner

  • Remove Keycaps: As with the denture tablet method, start by removing the keycaps from the keyboard.
  • Set Up the Ultrasonic Cleaner: Fill the ultrasonic cleaner with water and, if recommended by the cleaner’s instructions, a bit of mild detergent.

Cleaning Process:

  • Place Keycaps in the Cleaner: Put the keycaps in the ultrasonic cleaner’s basket. Ensure they are spaced out and not overcrowded.
  • Run the Cleaner: Turn on the ultrasonic cleaner. The ultrasonic waves create microscopic bubbles in the water, which implode and create a deep cleaning action that removes dirt from the keycaps. The cleaning time can vary, but usually, a few minutes are sufficient.

Post-Cleaning:

  • Rinse Keycaps: After the cleaning cycle, rinse the keycaps with clean water.
  • Dry Thoroughly: Let the keycaps dry completely before reassembling them on the keyboard.

Additional Tips

  • Check Keycap Material: Before using either method, ensure that your keycaps are made of a material that can safely be cleaned this way. ABS and PBT plastic keycaps are generally safe, but always check for any specific care instructions.
  • Avoid Harsh Chemicals: Avoid using harsh chemicals or abrasive materials that could damage the keycaps.
  • Drying: Ensure keycaps are completely dry before reattaching to avoid any moisture damage to the keyboard. Air drying is best, but you can also pat them dry with a towel and then let them air dry.
  • Frequency: Deep cleaning like this doesn’t need to be done very often – once every few months or when you notice significant build-up.

Avoiding Common Cleaning Mistakes

Using Boiling or Excessively Hot Water

  • Why to Avoid: Boiling or very hot water can warp or deform keycaps, especially those made from ABS plastic, which is a common material for keycaps. Warped keycaps may not fit properly on the keyboard switches and can affect typing.
  • Alternative: Use lukewarm or room temperature water for cleaning. It’s effective for cleaning without the risk of damaging the keycaps.

Applying Harsh Chemicals

  • Why to Avoid: Harsh chemicals like bleach or ammonia-based cleaners can discolor keycaps, degrade the plastic, and erase the printed characters on the keys.
  • Alternative: Use mild detergents, isopropyl alcohol, or specialized keycap cleaners. Always dilute any strong cleaning agents with water.

Submerging the Entire Keyboard

  • Why to Avoid: For non-waterproof keyboards, submerging them in water can cause irreversible damage to the electronic components.
  • Alternative: If you need to clean under the keys, remove the keycaps and clean the area with a damp cloth or compressed air, without submerging the keyboard base.

Using Abrasive Materials

  • Why to Avoid: Scrubbing keycaps with abrasive materials like scouring pads can scratch and wear away the surface, especially on keys with printed or painted letters.
  • Alternative: Use a soft cloth, like a microfiber cloth, or a soft brush for cleaning. Gentle rubbing is usually sufficient to remove dirt.

verusing Liquid Cleaners

  • Why to Avoid: Excessive use of liquid cleaners can lead to moisture seeping into the keyboard, potentially damaging the electronics or causing key switches to malfunction.
  • Alternative: Use cleaners sparingly. A lightly dampened cloth is often enough for effective cleaning.

Rushing the Drying Process

  • Why to Avoid: Not allowing keycaps to dry completely before reattaching them can introduce moisture into the keyboard, which can lead to electrical issues or mold growth.
  • Alternative: After cleaning, give keycaps ample time to air dry completely. Pat them down with a towel and then leave them out to air dry.

Forcing Keycaps Off

  • Why to Avoid: Using excessive force to remove keycaps can break the stems or damage the mechanical switch underneath.
  • Alternative: Use a proper keycap puller and gently wiggle the keycaps off to avoid damaging them or the switches.

Ignoring Manufacturer’s Instructions

  • Why to Avoid: Each keyboard can have specific care instructions, especially if they have unique features or are made from special materials.
  • Alternative: Consult the manufacturer’s guidelines for cleaning and maintenance instructions.
Maintaining-Your-Keyboard-Post-Cleaning

Maintaining Your Keyboard Post-Cleaning

Daily Wiping

  • Routine: Incorporate a daily routine of wiping down your keyboard with a microfiber cloth. This helps remove dust, fingerprints, and minor spills that occur during everyday use.
  • Technique: Gently wipe the surface of the keys and the keyboard frame. If needed, slightly dampen the cloth with water or a mild cleaning solution, but make sure it’s not wet enough to drip liquid into the keyboard.

Weekly Dusting

  • Use Compressed Air: Once a week, use compressed air to blow out debris from between the keys. This is particularly effective for removing particles that are not easily reachable with a cloth.
  • Soft Brush: Alternatively, or in addition, use a soft brush to gently remove dust from the surface and between the keys.

Monthly Deep Cleaning

  • Keycap Cleaning: Depending on usage, consider removing and cleaning the keycaps monthly or bi-monthly. This can be done using warm soapy water or specialized keycap cleaners.
  • Underneath the Keys: Clean the area underneath the keycaps using a damp cloth or cotton swabs for more precise cleaning.

Protective Measures

  • Keyboard Covers: Consider using a keyboard cover to protect against dust, spills, and wear. This is especially useful in environments where spills or heavy dust are common.
  • Avoid Eating Over the Keyboard: Try to minimize eating over your keyboard to prevent crumbs and spills.

Proper Storage

  • When Not in Use: If you’re not going to use the keyboard for an extended period, store it in a clean, dry place. Covering it can prevent dust accumulation.

Handling Spills Immediately

  • Quick Response: In case of spills, immediately turn off and unplug the keyboard, and gently blot the spill with a dry cloth. Avoid wiping as it can spread the liquid.
  • Drying: Allow the keyboard to dry completely before using it again. If the spill is significant, consider a deeper cleaning or professional help.

Adjusting Habits

  • Hand Hygiene: Regularly washing your hands before using your keyboard can significantly reduce the build-up of oils, dirt, and germs.
  • Awareness of Usage: Being mindful of how you use your keyboard (like avoiding pounding on the keys) can reduce wear and tear.

Regular Inspection

  • Check for Wear: Periodically inspect your keyboard for signs of wear or damage. Early detection can prevent more significant issues down the line.

FAQs on Keyboard Keycap Cleaning

Can I use rubbing alcohol for cleaning?

Yes, rubbing alcohol is effective for spot cleaning but use it sparingly to avoid damage.

Are dishwasher-safe keycaps a good option?

Dishwasher-safe keycaps are convenient for cleaning, but manual cleaning is often gentler and more controlled.

How often should I clean my keyboard?

A thorough clean every few months is recommended, with regular dusting and spot cleaning as needed.

Conclusion

Regular cleaning of your keyboard keycaps is essential for both hygiene and functionality. By incorporating these practices into your routine, you can ensure a clean, efficient, and healthy typing experience.

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