How to Clean a Laptop Keyboard

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how to clean laptop keyboard
According to so-called experts who never played World of Warcraft for 16 hours straight, a computer keyboard is one of the filthiest things on Earth, and the same goes for a laptop keyboard. And by filthy, we mean dirtier than the toilet seat; now, that would make sense if you’re the type of person who takes his laptop to the bathroom on a regular basis, but we’re not judging here.

Today’s article is about how to clean a laptop keyboard and return it to sparkling condition. As a bonus, we will also give you a few hints about disinfecting your gear, while we’re at it.

Toilet trips with your laptop aside, if you’ve never cleaned up your keyboard before, you’d be surprised by the amount of crumbs, dirt, hair (especially if you’re a cat owner) and other weird stuff (including dead insects in one particular case) lingering inside.

Also, after extended periods of heavy usage, dust, oils from your dirty fingers (it would be ideal to wash your hands before using your laptop) and even coffee will start building up inside of your keyboard.

Prep Work

Before proceeding with scrubbing your filthy keyboard, there are a few critical steps to take. First, it would be smart to back-up essential data on your laptop, because no matter how long a laptop will last in ideal conditions, if you’re the clumsy type and manage to drop a bottle of Clorox in your laptop keyboard, well, it’s curtains for your machine, Mil-Spec or not.

This brings us to prep work step two: make sure your laptop is turned off, battery removed and everything unplugged from its ports (dongles, mice, whatever). The thing about laptop keyboards is that they are relatively fragile, as in they can get damaged easily if you’re not paying attention or you’re the barbarian type; also, changing a “totalled” laptop keyboard is both expensive and difficult.

We don’t mean for this article to be anxiety-inducing, but just like with our piece on “how to clean a laptop screen”, we want to emphasize that this kind of job is not risk-free, so try to be cautious, that’s all we ask.

laptop keyboard buttons

Shake the debris out

Now, depending on the size of your laptop, this may be a men-only job: take your laptop, turn it upside down and shake it, baby! We mean that literally, as turning your laptop (and implicitly the keyboard) upside down will most probably eject the visible debris off; you know, things like skin dust, chip crumbs, and all the garbage that’s been building up daily for God knows how long.

Remember to gently pat the back of your laptop while you’re doing the “shaking” (use your third hand, or should we say tentacle?), and we would advise you to do this over a trash can for obvious reasons.

Keep in mind that this first step is aimed at removing the big chunks so to speak, so the next step will be easier.

clean a laptop with compressed air

Use Compressed Air to Blow Out the Gunk

The next step involves compressed air cans, which are also great for cleaning your desktop/laptop innards. When it comes to laptop keyboards, angle your keyboard and start blowing air as you hold the can at a 75-degree angle (the long straw attached, okay?) and spray it in a flowing zigzag pattern. The point being, you don’t want to miss anything, and make sure you’ve hit all 4 sides of the keys.

If you see dirt/whatever stuck between keys, try removing the debris by spraying short bursts of air, but do not insert the straw directly under the keys, as you may cause catastrophic damage. While we’re at “catastrophic damage”, don’t try to remove laptop keys under any circumstance, unless you’re an experienced computer tech-nerd, or you just don’t care.

If anything else fails, you can try cleaning the junk around a particular laptop key by using a cotton swab and isopropyl alcohol.

What If I don’t Have a Compressed Air Can and It’s an Emergency?

Okay, so you don’t have a compressed air can and you still want to do this, we got it. In this case, you can always use a soft-bristled brush to clean/wipe gunk and debris from between the keys of the laptop. Ideally speaking, you should do this while keeping the laptop upside-down, provided it’s possible, so you’ll avoid the unpleasant scenario of debris getting pushed under the keys.

That’s a no-no procedure by the way, as you can compromise key integrity for ever and ever. Alternately, considering that cleaning in-between and underneath the keys is relatively difficult, you can use low adhesive tape to clean your keyboard. Here’s how to do it nice and easy, but remember to only use low adhesive tape, as opposed to aviator tape/duct tape, alright kids?

  • Tear off an inch of tape and fold it in half so that the non-sticky sides are facing together and the sticky sides are facing outward.
  • Slip the tape underneath the edges of the keys and rub back and forth a few times.
  • Pull the piece of tape out and prepare to be disgusted.
  • Repeat until all of your keys are clean.

The “final solution” for lazy people, and we are not using that phrase lightly, is to use a vacuum cleaner, if you have a model that can modulate the “suction” power.

With the vacuum cleaner on its lowest power-setting (alternatively, you can use a handheld car vacuum cleaner or a USB powered vacuum cleaner, which is actually designed for keyboard cleaning but kind of lacks power), you can try and suck out the debris from your keyboard, but keep in mind, this procedure may be risky with cheap laptops, which often have poor quality keyboards, and you may end up with your vacuum eating-up keys left and right.

This happened to me a couple of times, but fortunately, I was able to recoup the stolen keys and put them back. Generally speaking, this method is for “pros” only and we’re only mentioning it for the lulz.

Microfiber Cloth Time

In the next step, you will use a lightly damp microfiber cloth to wipe the keys clean. Obviously, you will go for special stuff like isopropyl alcohol or Pronto antistatic; you can also buy dedicated laptop cleaning solutions/kits, there’s a myriad of brands to choose from. Just remember to never soak the cloth in a cleaning solution, and allow the keyboard to dry completely before turning on the laptop. Never spray or directly apply liquid cleaner on your keyboard, okay?

Disinfection Time

Viruses and bacteria are very resilient generally speaking, and the best method to disinfect a laptop keyboard is by burning it with napalm. Just kidding, we meant Clorox or Lysol wipes. Apple actually recommends the latter for its products, so if Apple gave its blessing on Lysol, so do we.

Now, even if the Clorox brand is synonymous with bleach-based products, the Clorox wipes are actually bleach-free, don’t worry about it.

Final WordБ

If you’ve made it this far, congrats, you’re better than most people. We will end today’s article with a few DON’Ts: never spray liquid onto your keyboard, don’t submerge it underwater, especially if the laptop is still attached, don’t try to yank keys off, and don’t use bleach-based products. Other than that, you’ll be fine; good luck, have fun.

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