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Ways to Clean Your Computer Keyboard

One of the best ways to keep a keyboard in top condition is periodic cleaning. As preventive maintenance, you should vacuum the keyboard weekly, or at least monthly. When vacuuming, you should use a soft brush attachment to dislodge the dust. Also note that some keyboards have keycaps that come off easily, so be careful when vacuuming; otherwise you may have to dig the keys out of the vacuum cleaner. I recommend using a small, handheld vacuum cleaner made for cleaning computers and sewing machines; these have enough suction to get the job done with little risk of removing your key tops.

You also can use compressed air to blow the dust and dirt out instead of using a vacuum. Before you dust a keyboard with the compressed air, however, power off the computer, unplug the keyboard, and turn it upside down so the particles of dirt and dust collected inside can fall out.

On most keyboards, each keycap is independently removable, which can be handy if a key sticks or acts erratically. For example, a common problem is a key that does not work every time you press it. This problem usually results from dirt collecting under the key. An excellent tool for removing keycaps on almost any keyboard is the U-shaped chip puller included in many computer tool kits. Simply slip the hooked ends of the tool under the keycap, squeeze the ends together to grip the underside of the keycap, and lift up. IBM sells a tool designed specifically for removing keycaps from its keyboards, but the chip puller works even better. After removing the cap, spray some compressed air into the space under the cap to dislodge the dirt. Then replace the cap and check the action of the key.

When you remove the keycap on some keyboards, you are actually detaching the entire key from the keyswitch. Be careful during the removal and reassembly of the keyboard; otherwise, you’ll break the switch. The classic IBM/Lexmark-type Model M keyboards (now made by Unicomp) use a removable keycap that leaves the actual key in place, enabling you to clean under the keycap without the risk of breaking the switches. If you don’t want to go through the effort of removing the keycaps, consider using cleaning wands with soft foam tips to clean beneath the keytops.

Spills can be a problem, too. If you spill a soft drink or cup of coffee into a keyboard, you do not necessarily have a disaster. Many keyboards that use membrane switches are spill resistant. However, you should immediately (or as soon as possible) disconnect the keyboard and flush it out with distilled water. Partially or fully disassemble the keyboard and use the water to wash the components. If the spilled liquid has dried, soak the keyboard in some of the water for a while. When you are sure the keyboard is clean, pour another gallon or so of distilled water over it and through the keyswitches to wash away any residual dirt. After the unit dries completely it should be perfectly functional. You might be surprised to know that drenching your keyboard with water does not harm the components. Just make sure you use distilled water, which is free from residue or mineral content. (Bottled water is not distilled; the distinct taste of many bottled waters comes from the trace minerals they contain!) Also, make sure the keyboard is fully dry before you try to use it; otherwise, some of the components might short out.

Fully drying a keyboard that has been soaked in water can take several days or more, so be prepared to wait. You can use compressed air to greatly speed up the drying process. Even then, if the contaminants were not fully flushed out, the keyboard may still not work correctly. In that case the best results will be obtained by completely disassembling the keyboard, washing and then drying each component individually, and then reassembling. Depending on the value and construction of the keyboard, a replacement may be the best option.