Introduction: Clean a Very Used Keyboard

Picture of Clean a Very Used Keyboard

This instructable will show you how to clean a dirty keyboard. This project is best done with the whole family so it is important to pick a strategic time to begin. I chose the early morning hours of the first day of spring break. Those few hours when the younger children are awake and quietly reading Facebook or watching Netflix, the older teenagers are still trying to sleep off finals and mom is trying to get just a few more Zs before the day begins.

Step 1: Removing Keys

Picture of Removing Keys

Using a butter knife gently pry up each key. Depending on your technique, they can fly quite some distance when they pop off so it's a good idea to have several children around to help retrieve the keys as they fly across the room. Depending on your keyboard model, you may not be able to remove the larger keys (like the spacebar) without breaking them. So remove as many as you can and remember, the best keyboard in the world can be had from Amazon for less than $20 with free shipping for Prime members, so have fun.

Step 2: Put Keys in a Container

Picture of Put Keys in a Container

When all the keys have been removed, you'll need to find a container to hold them during cleaning. This provides a unique treasure hunting opportunity. Since you'll be adding water and dish soap and shaking violently, no ordinary leftover container will do. The kids suggested we finish the jelly bellies or the chocolate covered raisins, but since both of those containers are in the room where my wife was sleeping, I made an executive decision that we should split the last handful of cashews. After washing the container and removing the label, (we used Goof Off, but lighter fluid works also) we put the keys in the container and headed upstairs to the kitchen for the soap and water.

Step 3: Shake Container Violently

Picture of Shake Container Violently

Pass the container from child to child, let each one explore the space of the kitchen like Gene and his cowbell. If you do this right the older children will start waking up and coming to see what is going on. Explain the complexities of the task and engage their help. The more the merrier. Continue shaking until all teenagers are awake or the container looks worse than using regular detergent in an HE washer,

Step 4: Rinse Keys

Picture of Rinse Keys

Pour the contents of the container into a colander and rinse thoroughly under cold running water.

Step 5: Dry Keys

Picture of Dry Keys

Arrange paper towels on the counter and pour the keys out of the colander. Now have the children arrange the keys on the paper towel so that no key is touching another and so that no key is upside down where it can trap water. This step could easily take longer than it does for the keys to dry.

Step 6: Clean Keyboard

Picture of Clean Keyboard

Turn the keyboard upside down and tap it several times to help the bigger debris come. Then using cleaning wipes remove any additional debris.

Note: It can be helpful the wrap the wipe around the blade of the butter knife to get it into the crevices.

Additional Note: This is a good time to have the older kids make breakfast. This will go a long way toward improving mom's mood when she wakes up.

Step 7: Keep the Kids Involved

Picture of Keep the Kids Involved

While you are cleaning your keyboard, keep track of the debris that you are removing. Show this to the kids and explain that most of it likely comes from their bodies while they are using the computer. You'll know if you are successful if the older children see you getting out the compressed air and implore you to reconsider or at least do it outside.

Step 8: Replace Keys

Picture of Replace Keys

Now for the fun. Bring the keys downstairs with some new paper towels. First replace all the large irregular shaped keys. These can be tricky, so go carefully. Now pick up each of the remaining keys one at a time and ask a different child where they go. Let the little ones run and go look at another keyboard (I know they have at least one old one up in the toy box), but challenge the older ones to remember where that key was the last time they pressed it. If you left your keyboard plugged in like I did (probably not recommended) you can open notepad (or any other editor) to verify that the key is correct as soon as they pop it in.

Note: Praise goes a long way with children. When they get a key right, praise them like so. "Awesome! You know where the V key goes. That means you can type words with V's in them like liver, love, voracious or vicissitude."


laptop_keys (author)2016-08-31

Definitely, laptop keyboard cleaning is very important for everyone. Here, you have provided a great information on how to clean a dirty keyboard.

EvolvedAwesome (author)2015-04-15

Ugh, I hate to think what lurks in my keyboard. Years of Doritos and Mountain Dew don't help XD

e5frog (author)2015-04-01

Key caps off, put key caps in the cutlery holder of the dishwasher, take case apart put one or both halves in the machine as well. Wash, wait, dry, assemble... done.

wolfsrealm (author)2015-03-24

This is the best Instructable I've come across for a family bonding project. Because keyboards are so inexpensive to replace (yes, I know that the landfills are overflowing with old electronics. That isn't the point of this instructable) it's not an issue if the 2 year old breaks the space bar or the 5 year old flushes the E key down the toilet or the teenager gets frustrated and sweeps the keys to the floor. The point is that everyone can participate in something that is both unusual and intricate but not really important - which means that there's no pressure.

Awesome Idea!!

xTerraH (author)wolfsrealm2015-03-30


you must not have heard of mechanical keyboards.

They can range anywhere from $60-$600

BruceW4 (author)2015-03-24

I would never do this, although the knowledge is good to have. You are using $15 - $20 worth of cleansers and several hours to salvage a keyboard. Go to a big box / discount store and buy a new keyboard. My last cheap keyboard was $19. My pro mechanical keyboard was $121. It is over six years old and still going; and it's really clean. Keyboards and mice are the modern IT throwaways.

Budweiser143 (author)BruceW42015-03-30

Been cleaning my keyboard like this for 15years (no "Special Instructions" needed) All you need to clean the keys is some dish soap, maybe a degreaser. No expensive chemicals needed

My keyboard was over $100 and my mouse the same. Definitely NOT throw aways. If you use a generic simple keyboard, then yeah, you could just get a new one for cheap, but that is wasteful. Cleaning it is not that hard.

plasterbug (author)2015-03-30

Fun addendum... If you don't have any kids to tell you where to put the keys.. plug the keyboard in and hit a key to find out what id does.

Thanks for the Insturctable, I had a good laugh.

PiersA (author)2015-03-29

I fear that the dog has no role. An exciting variant is not to put the keys back. My current keyboard laptop has suffered from the enthusiastic attention of a 1.5 year old with a nail file and hence has some missing teeth. Still works though. Enjoyed this very much.

Out of adversity strength.

MichaelT10 made it! (author)2015-03-28

I did it with this method... it worked VERY well... several keys were horribly discolored, but not anymore.

sabrina1 (author)2015-03-28

very nice and informative.I will sure try it in my home in a holiday with my family!

Jingles2 (author)2015-03-25

I wash mine itn the top shelf of dishwasher, let dry for a few days and it is good as new.

bucka.mikic (author)2015-03-25

Yes, make the photo first and than put it into dishwasher . It is like new !

serena.bates (author)2015-03-25

Hey this is great but what about the rest of the keyboard? also Bruce I fail to see how you are using $20.00 worth of cleansers you'd just use dishwashing detergent which everyone usually has anyway, and this process would take an hour max. Its like keeping anything else clean. A great idea.

josbd (author)2015-03-24

lovely, amusing instructable, thanks! I chuck keys in a pillow case, tie it then into the washing machine. Not so entertaining as your version tho!

jeanniel1 (author)2015-03-24

Ha ha ha! Making keyboard cleaning a family affair! Can make it a community project, too! Or into a Jeopardy-like game for the key locations - maybe with a blindfold!

EvolvedAwesome (author)2015-03-24

Ahh, this is the bit where I fail! I recommend looking online and find a qwerty keyboard layout if you're having trouble! It might vary slightly between keyboards, but the keys are mostly the same.

Yup. Here's US-QWERTY

frebobber (author)EvolvedAwesome2015-03-24

take a pic with your smartphone. Then you don't have to look up on the internet for a keyboard layout.

EvolvedAwesome (author)frebobber2015-03-24

Very true, then you know where any special keys go

garg11 (author)EvolvedAwesome2015-03-24

don't wash keyboard like that, read my comment: easy and furious

dianad1 (author)2015-03-24

Some people made comments about keyboards being throw-aways. That's a lot of plastic going to landfill. And for me, this is more than a quick replacement. After umpteen years of computing (at work and at play since 1987 plus way too many years of my life playing MMOs), I developed a computer-related Repetitive Strain Injury that was so severe I lost weeks of work. I had to use ergonomic keyboards when I came back, and the Kinesis Freestyle was the one that allowed me to work and play without pain. At $150 (at the time), this made the cost a big decision factor when deciding to clean vs. replace. But even with a $10 drugstore keyboard, cleaning keeps a lot of plastic out of the landfill. Thanks for posting this. I got brave enough to pry off the offending keys and blast them clean.

dianad1 (author)2015-03-24

What an excellent and humorously written Instructable! I am still afraid to try it on my special, ergonomic, two-part keyboard, even though a few of the keys don't work, and especially because I do not have small children to retrieve flying keys. But this looks fantastic.

pellepeloton (author)2015-03-24

I would not remove the keys but would remove electronics and then soak the keyboard in a suitable container with hot water and dishwash liquid. Then gently washing the keys with clean paint brush or old dish washing brush.
Dry in warm and draughty place and reassemble. My repair your remote Instructable might give you some ideas.

garg11 (author)2015-03-24

I did like that 15 years ago.;-)))

Now I know better solution. I use hot shower, you don't need to unmounted keys, nothing more, no soap, no any chemicals! just wash keyboard like your car, then put the keyboard for 1-2 days to dry it. then connect to your PC. It really works!

Also I washed my PC in hot shower, just removed HDDs from box. then left it on sun(it was last summer and after 4.5 hours it was ready to go!

atomiclizard (author)garg112015-03-24

I agree, this does work great!

And no romantic bath with candles. Just a quick rinse will do.

smoss20 (author)2015-03-24

I did this myself recently. I took a picture of the keyboard before disassembling.

Happy I did!

atomiclizard (author)smoss202015-03-24

You can always google a photo...unless you already took it apart and therefore can't type. Then you're pooched.

andrej (author)2015-03-24

step 0: take a photo of original layout before removing keys.

rgupta3 (author)2015-03-24

hey bruce, they might be cheap but when you can reuse and recycle why throw away and create more waste for land fills.

mackaro (author)2015-03-24

Excellent family project! It makes a tedious job of keyboard maintenance into a fun team effort, with a big dose of learning the keyboard layout for future use. Bravo!

itscasper (author)2015-03-24

I've done this several times. Put all the keys into a mesh bag (securely fastened top) and throw it in the washing machine with your next load. They come out perfectly clean with virtually no effort. Not my idea, saw it on the web years ago.

stiggle (author)2015-03-24

I just put mey keys in the dishwasher - let it do the hardwork, its a little less fun but a lot less effort.

PrimevilKneivel (author)2015-03-24

In our office we just run them throught the diswahser and then let them dry thouroughly. Works wonderfully.

slapphappe (author)2015-03-20

Not sure that PC keyboards will survive this but I have put three different Apple Mac keyboards, face down, through the upper tray of a dishwasher (all by itself without dirty dishes) and then face down on a towel in a sunny window for a day afterwards. Each keyboard had a sticking key, from dirt I presumed, and all came out working perfectly afterwards.

funtimems (author)slapphappe2015-03-24

I've successfully cleaned many PC keyboards in the dishwasher. Just don't use soap. Run them a through a complete cycle, and let the dry for a couple of days before plugging them back in.

srutledge1 (author)funtimems2015-03-24

I have used the dishwasher for many years. I use dishwasher detergent and let it run overnight. Next day pull it out and plug it in. Good to go!

knox84 (author)slapphappe2015-03-24

You won't ruin a keyboard by running it through a dishwasher. I was taught this trick in college by my computer engineering professor. Just make sure you set it out in the sun to dry for about a day or any other drying method you wish which does not include the oven or head that would melt solder. As long as it's completely dry it will work. Water only hurts the electronics when you decide to plus them in prematurely and cause shorting due to the moisture making unwanted connections.

guit4rg0d (author)slapphappe2015-03-24

I hope no one ruins their keyboard based on your anecdotal evidence.

Wild-Bill (author)2015-03-24

I usually only take my keyboard apart when it ceases working. I also clean the contacts of the problem keys with some 99% isopropyl alcohol with something like a Q-tip.

billie.nenninger (author)2015-03-24

Sounds like a lot of fun, might try it with the grand-children. Does seem like a lot of work, maybe I'll just check out Amazon.

kpurse (author)2015-03-24

Could be real interesting to muddle up the keys haha.

Could use your phone to take a picture for reference of the layout. I do for nearly all dismantling jobs now

cindyraeinman (author)2015-03-24

That's wonderful for cleaning a key board, can you do the same with your lap top?

dragonem (author)cindyraeinman2015-03-24

Negative, Most laptop keyboards are designed to not pull apart like this. The keyboard can be removed but removing the keys stands a good chance of damaging them.

kmpres (author)2015-03-24

Very nice! Back about 30 years ago when I was a young computer field engineer I would service keyboards under contract at JFK and LGA airports. There were hundreds of ticket counters and my company's keyboards were in constant use during the day. The method back then was to use 97% isopropyl alcohol as a wipe-on cleaner, which was tedious work as every key had to be removed and wiped, and the switches were not sealed which meant that they could be contaminated if the contaminant (soda or coffee usually) or the cleaner got into them. I was at this one day dutifully wiping the keys when my head began to hurt, except it was no ordinary headache. Turns out I was getting high on the fumes, which scared me so I stopped work and told the customer I couldn't continue. I then called my boss and told him I would be late getting back as I did not want to risk driving in NY City traffic while high on alcohol fumes. He agreed and let me take a long lunch break before going back. Like in this instructable, the rule here is that if you must use a cleaner, make sure it is only organic soap and nothing else. I like the shaker-jar idea. Wish I'd thought of it back then!

romanyroamer (author)2015-03-24

wonderfully written, thanks for the laugh.

sharonacles (author)2015-03-24

I love the humor in this post. I've cleaned my keyboard in a similar way before, minus dumping the keys into a container with soap and shaking them clean. I usually just wipe them down. Reading this made me chuckle!

mattcintosh (author)2015-03-24

I do this to vintage keyboards (I call the bottle of keys 'alphabet soup'), but for a cheapo keyboard, its just not worth the time. Dishwashers will probably not ruin a membrane keyboard, but older keyboards have a circuit board under the whole keyboard. I've done this with older Apple ADB keyboards and IBM Model M (check out how much those sell for)

hammer9876 (author)2015-03-24

I had a coworker spill blueberyy yogurt on her keyboard. After some phone calls to the manufacturer, my boss told me to rinse it under warm water for 20 minutes, pat dry, then rinse with a bottle of Isopropyl Alcohol. After 24 hours to dry and he plugged it in. No problems. It was sure fun, though, standing at the sink in the break room answering everyone's questions.

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