Clean Your Keyboard Without Ruining It

Many an attempt at cleaning a keyboard has ended up with the device worse for the wear. Over-aggressive attempts at cleaning out lint and debris from underneath keys can render them useless, and introducing inappropriate liquids into the equation can damage the devices.

A properly cleaned keyboard will probably work better than one that’s gummed up. HelpWith PCs explains a simple and easy way to clean your keyboard without damaging it or making a big mess.

Don’t forget to unplug your keyboard before starting. For a moderate, low-impact cleaning, your best tool is a cotton swab you dab in isopropyl alcohol. Other options include using compressed air to blow out gunk, a vacuum to suck it up and a dry cloth to wipe it down.

If you want to go deeper, you can use a screwdriver to remove the keys individually, but such a measure is rarely necessary.

Our guide to cleaning and maintaining your keyboard [HelpWith PCs]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Cat says:

    Also, avoid doing things that get your keyboard dirty in the first place. For example, viewing internet porn can result in introducing inappropriate liquids into your keyboard, damaging your devices.

    • Phil Keeps It Real [Consumerist] says:

      You so sexest… what about the womans ?!?!?!


  2. Olivia Neutron-Bomb says:

    Isopropyl alcohol on plastic? Proceed with caution.

    • framitz says:

      If you do use Isopropyl, you should dilute it at least 50 to 75%%. Found out the hard way that 99% dissolves some plastics and paint. An unpleasant surprise.

  3. Platypi {Redacted} says:

    I knew techies in the old days (90s) that insisted that you could throw the older keyboards in the dishwasher to clean them. They said they had done it, and with appropriate dry time before plugging in, they were no worse for the experience. I could never bring myself to try it.

    I do caution removing keys on your favorite keyboard, too many times they just don’t go back in right, and even if they stay, it changes the feel forever!

    • Ogroat says:

      I’ve done this, specifically for the keyboards that came with Apple computers a few years back. The kind that was all clear and white plastic. Worked great. The thing came out of the dishwasher sparkling clean. I liked the keyboard and figured the worst that would happen is that it wouldn’t work anymore, so I tried it. Worked like a charm. I don’t know if I would try it on the newer aluminum keyboards they make, though. I sure wouldn’t try it on a wireless model.

    • Lyn Torden says:

      The biggest risk I see in that is the dishwasher heat melting something. Don’t use any soap (it’s only for breaking up greasy stuff) and it should be clean. If you do have greasy stuff on the outside, alcohol might work there (be sure it dries away fast when done).

    • who? says:

      I’ve done it. A dishwasher works fine. Use the top rack, don’t use the heated drying cycle, and make sure *all* the water is out before plugging it back in. Depending on your dishwasher and the keyboard, getting it dry could take several days. You have another keyboard to use in the meantime, right?

      • Platypi {Redacted} says:

        You can throw some ball caps in there while you are at it, right? I definitely have washed baseball hats this way, it helps minimize soaking of the bill compared to a washing machine. Not perfect, but can get a lot of the dirt out.

    • amuro98 says:

      Yes, this was one way to clean the old IBM “clicky keys” keyboards. You know the ones. Weighed a ton, required moderate finger strength to hit the keys – and when you hit a key, your entire office knew it. These were not keyboards for timid typists.

    • Difdi says:

      There’s modern keyboards that are designed to allow you to do just that. No extensive drying time needed, either.

  4. Hailey says:

    For my Dell keyboard I just gently pried up all the keys, setting them aside in an orderly fashion as to not lose track of what went where, vacuumed as best I could, and used a q-tip for the rest of it. The amount of miscellaneous gunk I removed from under all the keys was astounding.

  5. Westonian says:

    The easiest way to clean a keyboard (providing you can go without it for a few days)
    Put it in the dishwasher, low heat water, no detergent, no heat dry.

    After it’s done, place somewhere dry, and let it air out for a few days. Once dry it will be good as new.

    I’ve done this several times and never had an issue. NPR even did a story about it:

    • Dyscord says:

      I’ve heard this many, many times that dishwashing a keyboard is the best way to clean it.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      The article, if you’ll notice, eventually says not to do it.

    • ovalseven says:

      I agree, but take an extra minute to remove the screws from the back of the keyboard so you can separate the two halves. Only the dirty top half needs to be washed and you won’t have to worry about getting any of the electronics in the bottom half wet.

    • friendlynerd says:

      I work in an IT department at a law firm, and I do this all the time. Haven’t lost a keyboard yet. And I do use the tiniest bit of detergent. Done it with Dell and Logitech keyboards to great success.

      It gets me some very strange looks as I’m loading keyboards into the dishwasher in the break room, but the higher-ups love it because I’m saving them money by not replacing keyboards when people quit/get fired.

    • Difdi says:

      Or buy a SealShield keyboard. They’re ready to be plugged back in as soon as the dishwasher’s drying cycle finishes. They’re meant for hospital use, and can function while submerged. I love the things, mainly due to the fact I’m a klutz.

  6. Goatweed says:

    instead of alcohol, I use q-tips and Windex. If the gunk is really bad you can attempt to remove the bottom plastic cover which might provide you with easy access to getting under the keys without having to remove them.

    The dishwasher method tends to work most of the time, however it’s not an option for those of us with wireless boards.

  7. somedaysomehow says:

    I always see instructions for how to clean separate keyboards, but what about laptop keyboards? There’s untold stuff under my keys, but trying to even pull the keys up just a TINY bit to get under them resulted in a bent key, and one I can’t get back on. :( And a techie friend of mine told me compressed air will just drive some of that gunk into other places in my computer. Do I have to go buy a dustbuster or something?

    • Platypi {Redacted} says:

      I recommend that you do not use the dishwasher trick on a laptop keyboard!

      Some of those laptop keyboards can be removed (you have to take them off to add/change RAM in many of them). I suppose if you REALLY wanted to, you could find the instructions to remove it, take it off and unplug it, and then use the cleaning tips to get the crap out away from the computer. Seems like a lot of work to me!

      • Tegan says:

        I know for Lenovos and HPs (at least the models we deploy at work), removing the keyboard is extremely quick and easy, especially for the Lenovos. You just remove about 5 screws, pop off the palm rest, and the keyboard comes right out. Takes all of about 2 minutes. We swap them out frequently ourselves rather than calling an IBM/Lenovo tech to come out on site.

    • framitz says:

      Use a vacuum with a brush attachment, just don’t suck the keys off the board. This should pull most of the crap out instead of blowing it deeper.

  8. Sparkstalker says:

    “If you want to go deeper, you can use a screwdriver to remove the keys individually, but such a measure is rarely necessary.”

    You’ve never done IT support in an office, have you? It’s a damn good thing I don’t have mysophobia with the stuff I’ve run into on keyboards…

  9. Snoofin says:

    Id rather just buy a new one. You can get a keyboard for less than $10

    • rdm says:

      Some people have higher end keyboards, and I would assume this tip is helpful for them. (and better for the environment than tossing something out when it is a little dirty)

  10. Tunnen says:

    If your keyboard is bad enough that you are thinking of cleaning it, you could go to the store and buy a new one for under $10. Which I’m assuming is the same amount you’d spend on the cotton swabs and alcohol… Not to mention the labour.

    • sirwired says:

      You’ve obviously never used a quality keyboard. High-quality keyboards cost more than $10, and are worth every penny. If you type all day, you appreciate the difference.

      • Tunnen says:

        If you are using a higher end keyboard, then you should also not be eating, drinking, etc. around it if you are able to gum it up to the point you need to thoroughly clean it. The same way that if I went out and bought a Porsche, I wouldn’t let my nephew eat ice-cream in the backseat.

        Also even if the keyboard is $60 and you only get a year’s worth of use out of it, it’s still not worth my time to waste an hour or two of my time and $10 in supplies to try to clean out the keyboard. I’d just chalk that expense up to the convenience of eating/drinking and being clumsy at the keyboard.

        • bsh0544 says:

          You’re aware of crazy stuff like dust and hair, right? Not to mention the skin cells you’re constantly dropping all over the place? Keyboards get dirty, and I’d say that it’s certainly worth 3 minutes and $10 to at least blow the thing out with compressed air every now and then rather than buying a $100+ keyboard every year. Unless you average $1800/hour?

        • sirwired says:

          Don’t eat or drink near the keyboard? Awwww… how cute. Now, I have work to do, and no lunch break in which to do it.

          My keyboard is a tool I use to do my job. Not a precious jewel to be babied, and not some cheap piece of crap that will only piss me off.

        • kosmo @ The Soap Boxers says:

          I can probably pop the keys off, give it a good cleaning, and pop the keys back on in 15-20 minutes. Obviously , YMMV.

        • The Slime Oozing Out From Your TV Set says:

          It’s much more like if you get a poor quality tool, you throw it out. If you get a good quality tool, you re-sharpen it, if it has blades, scrub rust off, clean out all the joints, and re-lube it every now and again, to get many years of service from it.

          My keyboard was only $3, but a lower-quality replacement would cost around $80, and there’s no good reason I should not be able to use this keyboard in 20 years (unless PS/2 and USB *completely* die off, I’m good).

    • Fishnoise says:

      I just this morning got a new Filco mechanical keyboard (with blue Cherry MX switches) to replace the spongey OEM keyboard that came with my employer-issued Dell desktop.

      God, I love this thing!

      I might try putting the old one through the dishwasher just to see what happens . . .

  11. sirwired says:

    My question is: Where can I get one of those keyboards in the picture? It looks like one of the legendary IBM Model M’s, but I didn’t know there was a version with a mini trackball nestled between the arrow keys and main keys.

    • ret3 says:

      I, too, love clicky keyboards and trackballs, and that layout looks like it would be very nice to use. Anyone know the model and/or where to obtain one?

      • Platypi {Redacted} says:

        From the link below the pic (giving credit):

        1993 IBM Model M5-1 keyboard. Note integrated trackball which I don’t use. Purchased in original box last week. My new daily keyboard. The old one died from an attack of cranberry juice and Perrier. Try it. It’s good. But keep away from the keyboard.

  12. lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

    I’ll have to send this to my cube mate. Her keyboard has been the victim of a few coffee spills and probably could use a good cleaning.

  13. daveinva says:

    What I don’t understand is why there *still* isn’t a keyboard manufacturer that’s designed a keyboard that OPENS UP to reveal the gap under the keys so it can be cleaned?

    How is it 2012 and this is so hard?

  14. CalicoGal says:


    Works great and is fun to play with too!

  15. Torchwood says:

    I use a ergonomic keyboard, and the one I use, a Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000, costs ~$30, and works out well for me. A plain, standard keyboard can cost at little as $8, although I would recommend spending a little more money in one that is comfortable to use and avoids wrist injury.

    While I recognize the cleaning of a keyboard and such, at a certain point, you are going to have to recognize that it is just full of junk and replace it.

  16. Kestris says:

    Post It Notes run down the rows of keys with the sticky side down works great too.

  17. namcam says:

    take it in the shower with you. let it dry out for a few days, good as new. have been doing this for 15 years.

  18. moonunitrappa says:

    Qtips or rather the familiar ones you’re use to are probably too stubby to get the job done. Head to the makeup department of a drug store for a box of the Qtip variety that have a flat Qtip on one side and a pointy version on the other. The pointy side reaches between the cracks and the flat side is better for between the keys.

  19. Boiled for your sins says:

    Rinsing under the tap works too. Just be sure it’s completely dry before using it again – I find standing the keyboard up on end (leaning on something) and leaving it to sit for a few days works fine.

  20. Gary says:

    I’ve owned a computer reapir place for 15 years.
    I don’t recommend the dishwasher, necessarily.
    Intead? Give your keyboard some looooove.
    Take a shower with it. Bring a little dishsoap if necessary for the heavy gunk. On your keyboard.

  21. who? says:

    Keyboards are more water resistant than most people think. I used a keyboard that was full of water once. It was sitting under an A/C vent that was leaking at night when nobody was around. At first, we thought the keyboard was broken, because anytime we pressed one of the keys on the bottom row, we’d get a whole line of characters….”zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz”. Then it filled up with enough water that it was starting to overflow, and we realized what the problem was.

    We dumped the water out. It worked fine once it was dry.

  22. kobresia says:

    On most keyboards, it’s easier to remove just enough of the keys to get to the screws that are sometimes under the keys; older IBMs sometimes located the middle line of screws under the keys, the top and bottom were in the back. Some cheap keyboards locate all the screws in the back.

    Removing the case screws allows the keyboard to come apart, so the plastic key pan (with most or all of the keys still attached) can be tossed in the dishwasher or otherwise blasted thoroughly with water to dislodge the grime and pet hair, without any concern for the electronics being damaged. I usually just remove the spacebar to give the detritus a place to be flushed-out.

  23. Bagumpity says:

    Just turn it upside down and shake it. Crumblies come right out. (Do this out of doors or over a sink. Otherwise, you’ll need to sweep the floor.)

  24. make7acs says:

    +1 for washing. Few friends have spilled soda on their keyboards over the years and I assured them that it wasn’t any issue. Told them to unplug, let soak in a warm bath, then let dry for 24-48 hours. Will take all of the stickiness and residue away. Even works for laptops.

  25. Cacao says:

    What about that silly putty stuff that recently came out? You knead it, and then stick it between your keys. Picks up dirt. Knead it again, stick it again.

  26. The Slime Oozing Out From Your TV Set says:

    If your keyboard is as AWESOME as the one in the pic, you’ll need either a 7/32 deep well socket, or 7/32 hex bit. A regular 7/32 socket will not do the job.

    I disassemble my Model M, and let its plastic parts soak in detergent for good cleaning, about once a year. Then, I just scrub the pieces with a cloth a little bit, let them dry, and put it back together.

  27. No Fat Chicks says:

    Put that keyboard in a dishwasher. Do NOT use the dry cycle or it will melt it. Just let it air dry for a couple of days or so and it will be like brand new.

  28. Libertas says:

    They are $3 at Microcenter, and so are mice. Buy 5 of each and don’t worry about cleaning them.

  29. hollander says:

    I would like to buy a white keyboard but I cannot find one anywhere-any suggestions ? Do they still make them?

  30. hollander says:

    Does anyone know where I can get a white keyboard? Do they still make them?