How to Clean a Keyboard




Introduction: How to Clean a Keyboard

Keyboards can be dirtier than toilet seats, and after looking at the pictures below I'm sure you'll agree it's certainly possible. This instructable will cover not only how to get your keyboard looking spotless, but also how to rid the keyboard of the pesky microbes that are waiting to launch an assault on your next papercut, or jump into your mouth via turkey sandwich when you're working through lunch.

Our test subject, in this case, will be a Mac keyboard from a first grade classroom. Since the Mac keyboards are nice and white it's easy to see how filthy those little fingers are. The PC keyboard cleaning instructions are identical, but the results are not as photogenic! To give you an idea of the dirt beneath the dirt, I took this a step further.

As a tangent I decided (for a future instructable on culturing bacteria) to put the toliet vs. keyboard claim to the test. I swiped the keyboard, and a toilet seat, and cultured the bacteria on Agar for 3 days at 95F before comparing the bacterial growth, you can see the results below.

Good, lets get to cleaning. Just to demonstrate the effectiveness I'll repeat our cleanliness test in step 6.

If you enjoy this instructable please vote for it in burning questions round 7! Thanks.

***DISCLAIMER*** If you break your keyboard doing this it's not my fault.

Step 1: Cleaning Materials

Materials List:
1. Isopropyl Alcohol or smililar disinfectant cleaner
2. Q-tips
3. Vacuum Cleaner or Compressed Air
4. Lint-Free Cloth (microfiber works well)
5. Toothpick or similar fine point instrument
6. Flat screwdriver
*Optional: Disinfectant wipes are usually low lint and also work well

Alcohol works well because it's a good organic solvent, and it evaporates very quickly, so you're unlikely to do damage to your keyboard. Be careful though, it is flammable, as are most compressed gas dusters, so do this project away from potential ignition sources.

There are several reasons after some careful research that I decided not to attempt this method.
1) It's got a high but not 100% success rate, based on my google searches (NPR Story)
2) I don't want to risk my fancy logitech keyboard (not pictured) or school property (pictured) on anything that's not 100% keyboard safe.
3) Yes, you could probably clean the keys but I'm not confident they won't melt and don't want to babysit my dishwasher.

If you really like clean peripherals check out these dishwasher safe keyboards, TV remotes and mice at

Step 2: Quick Clean / Initial Clean

Depending on the level of filth on your keyboard you can do either a quick clean described below or you may want to treat this as a precursor to your deep clean (step 3). Once you've got a really clean or new keyboard I recommend doing this weekly to keep dirt and bacteria from building up again. Prevention being the best cure.

1) Turn off computer and unplug your keyboard
**This is important since alcohol and compressed gas are flammable**
2) Use compressed air or vacuum to remove dirt particles
move from one side of the keyboard to the other to push the dirt out the end
3) Put a little isopropyl alcohol on your lint free cloth and wipe down the keys and case
Fold your cloth around a flat tip screwdriver to really get in between the keys
4) Dip a Qtip in isopropyl alcohol and gently clean inbetween the keys and around the edges of the keyboard
5) Use a toothpick to scrape out the crud from around the edges

Now, either plug it back in and get back to work, or, continue onto the deep clean for really filthy keyboards.

Step 3: Key Cleaning - Deep Clean Part 1

1) Take a picture of your keyboard this will ensure that keys go back where they came from
You could also write down the keys on a sheet of paper, but if you don't have a digital camera handy it's time to check ebay.
2) Remove the keys using the screwdriver like a pry bar (be gentle)
Start with a useless key, just in case things go awry, like the windows key =).
When removing the large keys be careful as many will have a sway bar (pictured) which can be tricky to get positioned properly when you reinstall the keys.
3) Clean each key individually using your cloth and isopropyl alcohol

Here's a tip: listen to an audio book or music, or have a movie/tv-show you've already seen and only half want to watch on to keep the right side of your brain from shutting down

Difficult Stains For some stains you'll need to amp up the cleaner a bit. For permanent marker, pencil, paint, or crayon (kids are insane) I recommend a aerosol product named "Goof Off", be careful using this as it may remove the key labels, spray a little on a cloth and then a inconspicuous test area before treating the affected area.

Step 4: Case Cleaning - Deep Clean Part 2

After removing the keys give the case a good vacuum or dusting with your compressed air. Next, use your lint free cloth with isopropyl (again do not poor alcohol directly onto the keyboard) to clean inside the case. For the detail work, use a toothbrush, Q-tip, or toothpick to get into all the little nooks and crannies. It's tedious work, but it will be worth it!

When you're done give the cord a quick wipe to, they're usually covered in dust.

When you're all finished, cleaning the case, you can pop the keys back into place. Be sure to pay attention to the sway bars and make sure they get seated correctly (See step 3).

Step 5: Maintenance Cycle + Results

How clean is this really??? sure it looks better, but lets repeat the tests. Much, much cleaner, of course it won't stay that way unless it gets cleaned regularly.

Keeping It Clean:
How often should you clean your keyboard? If you've got a new keyboard or a like new keyboard after doing the deep clean you should wipe it down with an atiseptic cloth weekly or even more frequently depending on the user load (almost daily for a 1st grade class). Vacuum/Blow out the keys to remove dirt particles at the same time and repeat the deep clean process again when things look like they did in the intro (which hopefully they never will).

Thanks for reading! If you liked this Instructable please vote for it in the Burning Questions 7 Contest!

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    12 years ago on Step 4

    Suggestion: While cleaning under the keys, soak the keys in a dish of alcohol to remove the grime that also got stuck on the keys. The germs you discovered had to pass the keys to get to the inside... and they do look nice afterward. Simply let them dry before putting them back on.


    12 years ago on Introduction

    I used to sucker myself into the manual grit of keyboard cleaning... nowadays the dishwasher solution is looking mighty tempting...then again I've only owned generic keyboards.

    The thought of doing this for an entire classroom makes me want to write an instructable documenting how I jumped off my roof. : )

    I only kid.. I'm sure at some point I will use this,  so I'm saving it to my scrapbook -- so thanks in advance. 


    13 years ago on Introduction

    I threw my keyboard into dishwasher machine and let it dry for a week. Worked like a charm.


    13 years ago on Step 5

    love that you actually tested your results!


    13 years ago on Introduction

    This is a good Instructable. I bet you are a scientist or a teacher. The precision of the information and the control agar plate are a clear evidence of scientific thinking! Your Instructable is very useful for computers used by many different people, as in school. I just have some concerns about how many cycles of key unmounting can a keyboard support. Maybe a flexible transparent keyboard cover is the most appropriate solution for school computers.


    Reply 13 years ago on Introduction

    Guilty, I'm an AP Biology Teacher =)

    I don't think you could take the keys on/off with great frequency before the plastic tabs started to break. However, with regular, less extensive cleanings the frequency of thorough cleanings can be minimized. I have a couple other keyboards that I wipe down with antiseptic wipes and use compressed air to blow them out once a week, and those are in much better shape. I went looking for a really nasty keyboard so I'd have a good example, and a good bacterial culture! Thanks for the comment, please vote for me if you liked my Instructable.


    13 years ago on Introduction

    I liked your Instructable very much. I don't have a dirt problem though. I use a KB COVER membrane. The large type version. I have one for my older Mac keyboard like the one you cleaned and I have one for my new style Mac keyboard. Still a cool Instructable for those who don't protect their keyboards.


    Reply 13 years ago on Introduction

    I'll have to check those out, I've seen them, but haven't looked into buying one. Thanks for the comment.