How to Clean a Keyboard and Maintain its Lifespan

All you need are a few common household supplies and some patience

If you don’t know how to clean keyboard keycaps, now is the time to learn. If you have sticky or dirty keys, cleaning your keyboard might just restore the whole setup to working order again. But even if your keyboard works well, keeping it clean is an excellent way to help prevent it from malfunctioning in the future. From aesthetics to hygiene, there are lots of good reasons to learn how to clean a keyboard.

In general, cleaning a keyboard is a simple process, and doesn’t require any specialized tools. Still, each keyboard is slightly different, so you may need to adapt certain steps to suit your model. If your keyboard needs a deep clean, you’ll also need to take special care during any steps that involve water.

Whether you have a membrane or mechanical model, cleaning your keyboard is a skill that should serve you well for as long as you own a computer.

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Tools for keyboard cleaning

Before you learn how to clean keyboard parts, you’ll need a few simple tools and cleaning supplies:

  • Gentle dish soap: Some dish soaps are harsher than others. Look for a soap with “gentle,” “mild,” or a similar descriptor, and you should be in good shape.
  • Small brush: Use a (clean!) small paintbrush, makeup brush, toothbrush, or specialized keyboard cleaning brush to dislodge and wipe away larger accumulations of dirt, dust, and debris.
  • Compressed air: Compressed air can blast away any lingering crud that remains after an initial brushing.
  • Microfiber cloth: Microfiber cloths are good for wiping grime from keyboards without having to use water.
  • Keycap puller: A keycap puller lifts the keycaps away from your keyboard’s switches without damaging anything. Many mechanical keyboards come with a keycap puller, so check to see whether you have one before you buy another.

Some other tools could come in handy, but they’re not strictly necessary. Wooden toothpicks or rubber erasers can sometimes lift grime better than a cloth. Q-tips might perform better than brushes, depending on your keyboard’s shape.

You may also want some rubbing alcohol, but that’s highly dependent on what model of keyboard you have. Some sources suggest that a small amount of isopropyl alcohol on a microfiber cloth can remove stubborn stains. Others recommend steering clear of alcohol altogether. The benefit of isopropyl alcohol is that it can clean and sterilize keyboards better than water can. The downside is that alcohol can also warp certain types of plastic, or rub off printed lettering on keycaps. If you do employ alcohol, stick with a lower concentration (70% rather than 90%), use as little as possible, and wipe it off immediately. Trying “[keyboard model] alcohol” in a search engine may also reveal whether alcohol is safe for your particular device.

Did You Know?:You can get colorful keycaps, wooden wrist rests, protective lids and more for your HHKB. Check out our accessories page to learn more.

How to clean keyboard components

The right method for cleaning your keyboard will depend on how dirty it is. If you’ve got some gunk below the keys and some dust on the keycaps, you can opt for a dry method. This is fast, simple, and less risky. If you’ve got years of caked-on grease and grime, you might need a wet method. This is longer, more involved, and requires extra care.

The dry method is similar whether you have a mechanical or membrane keyboard. The first thing you’ll want to do is disconnect the device if it’s wired or turn it off if it’s wireless. Then, turn the keyboard upside down and shake it gently a few times. This should dislodge any obvious dirt, dust, or crumbs.

From there, take your brush and work it under each keycap, focusing on one row of keys at a time. The more time you take, the more thoroughly you’ll clean. Once you’re done, use your compressed air to blast away the debris, and use your cloth to give the device a good wipedown. If you can work the cloth between the keys, so much the better.

Assuming you just want to tidy your keyboard up every few weeks, this is all you should need to do. However, if you’re dealing with sticky, broken keys — or a truly filthy peripheral — you may need to get your hands dirty. And wet.

How to clean a mechanical keyboard

If you want to know how to clean a mechanical keyboard, then you should start with a keycap puller. Remove every keycap from your keyboard, taking extra care with the Enter and spacebar keys, which sometimes use little metal rods to stay in place. If you don’t know your keyboard’s layout by heart, you may want to take a photo of it before you start this process.

Place all the keycaps in a large kitchen bowl, and fill it up with warm, soapy water. Mix them up with your hand, then leave them to soak for up to an hour. Afterward, drain the bowl, taking care not to lose any keycaps in the sink. A colander can be incredibly helpful here. Wipe them down with a cloth to get rid of any excess residue, then leave them to dry. Make sure the keycaps are 100% dry before you reconnect them, as getting water in a switch could damage the keyboard.

As for the frame, brush it down and spray it with compressed air, as in the dry method. If you have a Happy Hacking Keyboard (HHKB), we recommend cleaning the frame with alcohol. For other keyboard models, using alcohol is a “maybe.”

While alcohol can clean and sanitize more effectively than water, it can also rub the finish away on certain types of plastics. If you want to clean any metal contacts on a mechanical keyboard, it might be worth getting some alcohol. Otherwise, research your particular model and use your best judgment.

How to clean a membrane keyboard

Knowing how to clean keyboard components can be difficult if you’re dealing with a membrane model. Membrane keyboards come in all shapes and sizes. Some of them have removable keycaps; some don’t. Some are easy to take apart; others are almost impossible. Some are safe to wash; some may break if you expose them to water.

Broadly speaking, if you can take a membrane keyboard apart, you can rinse the top of the frame under running water. You can sometimes rinse the plastic membrane and soak the keycaps. Before getting anything wet, you should look up “[keyboard model name] cleaning” on a search engine, then see if anyone has written instructions or produced a video. Otherwise, you may damage your system.

Be absolutely certain that everything is dry before you put the keyboard together again, because water is particularly harmful to membrane models when they’re plugged in.

Did You Know?:The HHKB uses a unique layout that makes the Control key easier to access. This lets you execute complex commands more easily. Click here to learn more.

Keyboard maintenance and lifespan

If you clean your keyboard every few weeks — or, at worst, every few months — this should help keep it in good working order for many years. Membrane keyboards may last between three and five years, while mechanical keyboards can keep on typing for 10 years or more.

However, if you know how to clean keyboard components inside and out, and are still experiencing sticky keys or unresponsive buttons, you may have to look into repairs or replacements. To get a mechanical keyboard repaired, contact either the original vendor or a third-party repair service. Membrane keyboards are more difficult to repair, as damage to one part often compromises the whole system. If your membrane keyboard is malfunctioning and out of warranty, you’ll probably have to replace it.

If you’re in the market for a new keyboard, then consider our line of high-end keyboards from HHKB. Our Topre electrostatic capacitive switches ensure comfortable typing and smooth gaming, while our programmable keymaps let you keep your favorite shortcuts within easy reach. With both wired and wireless connectivity and a striking minimalist design, the HHKB can be a sleek and stylish complement to your computer setup.

Note: Information and external links are provided for your convenience and for educational purposes only. PFU America, Inc. makes no representations about the contents, features, or specifications on such third-party sites, software, and/or offerings (collectively “Third-Party Offerings”) and shall not be responsible for any loss or damage that may arise from your use of such Third-Party Offerings.