The dishwasher vs. your dirty computer keyboard

A few MacFixIt readers have asked questions about reports of washing keyboards in the dishwashers, and have wondered if they should try it.

Topher Kessler MacFixIt Editor
Topher, an avid Mac user for the past 15 years, has been a contributing author to MacFixIt since the spring of 2008. One of his passions is troubleshooting Mac problems and making the best use of Macs and Apple hardware at home and in the workplace.
Topher Kessler
4 min read

There have been a number of reports in recent months claiming an easy way to clean your keyboard is to run it through the dishwasher. A few MacFixIt readers have asked questions about these reports, and have wondered if they should try it. Though we cannot recommend this method of cleaning for everyone, it may be a last resort for some keyboards. Even so, there are a few cautions you should be aware of in doing this, especially since without observing them you may end up with a clean but broken keyboard.

First and foremost: again, use the dishwasher as a last resort for cleaning your keyboard. Try cleaners with Q-tips, towels, and toothpicks before soaking your keyboard for 30 minutes or so. We have a small how-to article that discusses cleaning keyboards, mice, and other system components.

If you have decided the grime is too much and you are going to use the dishwasher, be sure to have a backup keyboard handy (you will need it while the washed one dries). Technically, you should be able to soak any electronic device in pure water, dry it out completely, and then be able to continue using the device with no problems; however, this may not apply to everyone. You will need to take into account impurities in the water that might leave deposits on circuits, and also know when the device is completely dry (small crevices can hold water for a very long time).

Since the basic keyboard is a relatively simple circuit, with large contacts that will more easily resist deposit buildups and grime, and not have many small places where water will retain, soaking it in water is less of a risk than it is with other devices.

To clean it in the dishwasher, use the following tips:

  1. Do not use soap

    Soap may cover the key circuit contacts with a film that could prevent them from working. Additionally, detergents may also wear off key markings, which probably is not desirable for most users, unless they are in typing classes.

  2. Wash the keyboard alone

    Do not put other items around the keyboard in the dishwasher, since they may bang against your keyboard and potentially harm it by breaking keys or scraping off lettering.

  3. Use warm water at most

    Do not use hot water, since in some situations it may be so hot that it can warp the plastic housing and circuits, and ruin the keyboard.

  4. Air-dry the keyboard

    Many dishwashers have a "heat dry" option, which can also warp the keyboard. Do not use any dishwasher drying method, since when the wash is complete the keyboard will more than likely be filled with pools of water anyway. Instead, take it out and dump out as much water manually as possible, and give it a good shaking and waving around to clear it of water. Towel it off, and then use compressed air to blow out as much water as possible, soaking it up with towels as it gets released. This will take time, but do it over and over again to ensure all water is out.

    At this point, you will not have a dry keyboard at all. You will need to place it in a warm and dry location, and let it sit for a few days to ensure all extra water evaporates. If you have a small house fan you can position it to blow on the keyboard, which will greatly help the drying process. Using a vacuum cleaner or hair drier (again, on low-heat) to gently force air through the keyboard may also help.

After it is dry, plug it in and try using it. You will not harm the computer if the keyboard is still wet. At most, the system may give an error stating the device is not functioning properly. If you find certain keys do not function as they should, try repeating the drying process.

When not to use the dishwasher

Though the dishwasher may work, there are situations in which you should not use it to clean the keyboard. Again, the first one is if you have alternative methods of cleaning that will work. Secondly, if your keyboard has advanced electronics on it, then you might not want to put it through the dishwasher. These can be anything from wireless keyboards, to those with status displays and screens.

Last but not least, please do not put your laptop through the dishwasher, even though it has a keyboard in it.

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