Laptop keyboard an icky mess? How to clean off the dust, crumbs and goo
Experts say keyboards are even dirtier than the toilet. Here's how you can return yours to sparkling condition.
Katie TeagueWriter II
Katie is a writer covering all things how-to at CNET, with a focus on Social Security and notable events. When she's not writing, she enjoys playing in golf scrambles, practicing yoga and spending time on the lake.
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Your computer's keyboard is bound to get dirty at some point. Whether it's a sticky key from the juice you spilled, food crumbs that didn't make it to your mouth or keys that are extra shiny from the oils on your fingers, your keyboard is a mess. Cleaning it will make your keyboard more visually appealing and it can help remove bacteria and germs that have found their way onto the surface. Best yet, it can help keep crud from working its way underneath a key and making it stick or stop working as intended.
You may have a keyboard with keys that are low, a flush keyboard attached to your laptop or a keyboard with bouncy keys that rise from the surface. Whatever the case, the methods below will help you disinfect and clean up the keys and surrounding surfaces. In a perfect world, to further prevent your keyboard from becoming gross, it's best to wash your hands before and after using it. However, we understand you may be at your computer for eight hours a day (and probably snacking) so this may not be as practical.
Before you get started, make sure your laptop or keyboard is unplugged from the power cord and completely powered off to avoid damaging any electrical components. It also helps keep you from accidentally deleting something important on your computer as you clean the individual keys. Here's how to get your laptop clean and bacteria-free.
Watch this: How to Clean Your Keyboard's Sticky Keys
Shake the debris out
The first thing you'll want to do when cleaning your keyboard is to turn it upside down to shake the visible debris off -- we mean yesterday's corn chip crumbs and all the lovely skin dust that's built up over the years. To do so, turn the keyboard (or laptop) over at an angle and gently pat the back. It's best to do this over a trash can to avoid getting crumbs all over your floor or table.
You can even lightly shake the keyboard back and forth to move any stuck debris. Get that vacuum cleaner handy just in case.
Blow out the gunk with compressed air
Grab a can of compressed air with the long straw attached and angle your keyboard so the debris will fall away from it.
recommends holding it at a 75-degree angle and to spray in a flowing zigzag pattern so that you don't miss any areas. Rotate your keyboard and repeat the zigzag motion until you've hit all four sides of the keys.
If you still see anything between the keys, you can spot clean it by spraying with short bursts of air. Do not insert the straw under the keys while spraying as this could damage the electronics.
Carefully use a disinfectant wipe or rubbing alcohol
Think of all the germs and bacteria that are harboring on your keyboard. In fact, studies show that keyboards are much dirtier than a toilet seat. It's best to remove the keys, if possible (see below), before cleaning them. However, if you'd rather not try removing the keys on your own, you can still disinfect them.
What you'll need is a damp disinfectant wipe (avoid bleach) or a cloth dampened with rubbing alcohol. You never want to clean your keyboard with a soaked cloth, as that can damage the hardware that lives underneath the keys. Wipe all surfaces of the keyboard down -- buttons, keys, cover -- and allow it to dry before plugging it back in or turning it on. You can gently overturn the keyboard (or laptop) if you're worried that too much liquid has dripped inside beneath the components.
Pop the keys off, if possible
Most keyboards have the option to pop off the keys in order to give them a good deep cleaning. However, if it's your laptop keyboard you're trying to clean, check the make and model first to make sure the keys can actually be removed -- you don't want to damage your keyboard. For example, if you have a butterfly keyboard as some MacBook models have, you need to be careful about prying the keys off because it can damage the butterfly clip mounts.
You'll need a tool that's thin and flat enough to fit under the keys, yet firm to easily lift them. A flathead screwdriver or butter knife are both good options if you don't have a tool designated for this task. Carefully place the object under the key and gently pry it up. Careful now, you don't want to damage the keys.
Once you have the keys off, clean out the gunk with a cotton swab or toothpick. You can also soak the keys in soapy water or use a disinfectant wipe to clean them. Let them dry completely before reapplying them to the keyboard.
If your keys don't pop off, try using the tape method. Take a small piece of clear tape and fold it in half, sticky side up. Slide the tape underneath the keys and move it back and forth to collect dust. If your keyboard has a ton of debris, you may need to replace the tape often.