Keeping your laptop keyboard clean isn’t just a matter of sanitation; it could extend the life of your device considerably. Dirt, dust, and food can quickly become lodged under a key and cause it to stick or fail to read as you type. Regular cleaning and maintenance is the best way to keep your keyboard responsive and reliable.
In this article, we’ll go over some of the dos and don’ts of cleaning a laptop keyboard. Believe it or not, it’s actually quite easy to keep the keys looking exactly like they did the first time you opened your laptop. Still, there are some common mistakes that should be avoided that could do more harm than good.
Turn the Laptop Off
Before cleaning your laptop’s keyboard, it’s a good idea to turn it off and remove the battery if you can. Static discharge and other potential hazards can occur during cleaning, and this precaution will help prevent damage in the event of a spill or unexpected issue.
If you’re using a laptop with a removable battery, take it out and press the power button for a few seconds to eliminate any residual energy that might exist in the device. While you’re cleaning the keyboard, you might as well take a moment to give the screen, top, and bottom of the laptop a good once-over as well.
One of the first steps to cleaning a laptop might include the use of a vacuum. There are specially designed hand vacuums made specifically to clean small electronics including keyboards, but you don’t necessarily have to have one of those to do this.
All you need is a detailing attachment on a standard vacuum that can pull debris out from around and under the keys.
One of my favorite products for this purpose is the Dirt Devil Detailer. It’s a small, wireless vacuum that’s specially designed for car detailing and keyboard cleaning. It has a brush attachment that does an excellent job of coaxing stubborn dust from between keys and enough suction power to pull crumbs and other dirt out from under them.
In the absence of a vacuum, compressed air works very well as long as you’re mindful of the screen. You don’t want to kick up dust and debris only to have it hit the screen and settle back into the laptop. Angle it away from any barrier. Compressed air is different from air dusters, which use a chemical reaction to create a drier and electronic-safe solution. Compressed air can contain a lot of moisture and could damage sensitive components.
Chemically activated air dusters are the usual choice for users who just want to blow the dust out of their keyboard. These work great, but be mindful of the damage that can be done if you hold one at too sharp of an angle. That cold propellant isn’t as dry as the air it creates, and this could cause damage to components under the keys.
Wiping with Keys On
To get the finger gunk off the keys that builds up over time, you can opt to use a quickly evaporating cleaning substance (such as rubbing alcohol) paired with a microfiber cloth or Q-tip to clean the tops and sides of the keys. Never apply a liquid directly to the keys, and only a very small amount should be used. If it beads on top of the key after application, you’re using far too much.
Rub each key individually and run the cloth between keys if possible. This can be made easier by placing a solid, thin object in the cloth in order to get better coverage between keys. Repeat this process until the keys look shiny and new. Even if it looks absolutely dry, wait 20 minutes before powering up your laptop.
Never use water to clean a laptop’s keyboard. It’s a conductive substance that takes days to dry and will cause damage to any electrical components it comes in contact with. Water damage is very dangerous.
Taking the Keys Off
Most laptops have keyboards with removable keys. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for doing so, and you’ll be able to better access the area underneath the keys for a more complete cleaning. Try to position the keys on the table in the same way they were positioned on the keyboard. This way, popping them back into place will be a quick matter.
You can wash many keys in a dishwasher, but I’d advise only doing this if you have a sealable garment bag to place them in. The type of bag you might wash a bra in is what you’d need here. This will protect them from falling to the bottom of the dishwasher and becoming lost or broken.
Dishwashers are also very harsh to their contents. Keys with painted numbers and/or letters might come out blank or with chips in the characters. Always let the keys dry for 24 hours before returning them to the keyboard if you opt to go this route. Also, any metal components to the keys (such as springs) could rust and become less responsive after this. Dishwashers are never advisable, but people do use them for this purpose.
Ideally, each key should be able to be cleaned individually using rubbing alcohol and a Q-tip. It’s a timely process, but you’ll get your laptop back much quicker.
Photo: Brad Montgomery