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How to clean your computer keyboard

As we’ve said in the past, many people eat their lunch at their desk rather than heading off to the canteen or out of the office. We could talk at length about the health issues to people with crumbs and bits of food lying around everywhere, but what about the health risk to your computer?

I remember years ago when we didn’t have desktop computers and every desk simply had a green-screen terminal on it. The keyboards back then were clunky affairs but had no processing power, they simply did their job as an input device and collected their fair share of detritus along the way.

The time came when one of the managers, noticing a particularly nasty pile up of crumbs in one keyboard, decided that enough was enough and they had to get cleaned – so he asked our incumbent cleaning contractor if they were up to the job and obviously they said yes.

Oh dear.

Out of fifty keyboards in one office, six of them were never to be used again, this despite the contractor being extremely careful and only using approved cleaning fluids. Well, that’s when we in the IT department got involved and asked the question: “you’re using fluids on a keyboard?”

These days we mostly have laptops in the office and using fluids on them would be disastrous! A good rule of thumb I go by when cleaning a computer is to never let a fluid into direct contact with it, it’s just not fun when a water damaged equipment has to get sent away. They’re just not built for water y’know.

So how can we clean them? Here’s a quick guide:

Desktop computer keyboard

If you’re still using a desktop computer then your keyboard will likely not be powered (other than through the USB port for lights etc.) and it’ll be pretty tough. The first thing to do is to un-plug it from the desktop though as you’re about to get vigorous and I’ve seen many people shaking their keyboard only to pull the main computer over onto the floor.

When un-plugged, put a paper hand towel or some kitchen paper on the desk the full size of the keyboard and then turn the keyboard upside down and gently shake it. You’ll probably see crumbs, hairs and all sorts of stuff fall onto the towel.

When you’re done, simply wipe the towel up and throw it away.

Some keyboards have easy to remove keys to make cleaning a doddle. If this is the case, remove your keys one by one. A little word of advice – make sure you know where they go back! Some particularly helpful keyboards have the letters printed on the main board, too, but if not then either snapshot with your smartphone or have a colleague’s keyboard close at hand.

If the keys do come away from the keyboard, check with the manufacturer to see if they can also be soaked. I’ve seen some where you can pop the keys in a bowel with some washing up liquid to give them a proper clean.

If your keyboard isn’t one of these easy-types then you can get a good clean by using a compressed air canister to blast the dirt away. These are particularly good at the job and worth keeping around for blasting other bits of filth away from other parts of the computer.

Again, if you can’t detach the keys then you’re going to have to clean each key individually with an ear-bud and some isopropyl alcohol. Be really careful here and don’t soak the bud, you just want the slightest amount so you can rub at the keys. You know what I said about liquid and computers up above, yeah?

When you’re done – plug everything back in and your work is finished here!

Laptop computers

Special care needs to be taken with laptops and I’ll say from the start – don’t be turning yours upside down to share the dirt out! Yes, they’re usually pretty light and easy to move about, but with the screen open and upside down I’ve seen more than a few get dropped.

Instead, simply use the compressed air canister to blast the dirt from between the keys. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to remove the keys on a laptop keyboard so this is the best way to get it clean on the board itself.

Finally, using your swab and the alcohol, clean the tops of the keys gently! No excess liquid at all here, laptops are delicate beasts.

And that’s it!

It’s worth cleaning keyboards at regular intervals, especially if you’re one of those hard workers who spends most of their time at the desk. Those keyboards are harbouring enough spare food to feed an army of bugs, so get ‘em cleaned and starve ‘em!