How to clean a keyboard – membrane, mechanical, hotswappable. The ultimate guide
Crusty keyboard? We've got you covered
We spend a lot of time at our desks these days, especially during the pandemic when we were stuck at home. In addition, being a PC gamer only increases the amount of time you spend at the desk. This results in constant use of the keyboard and many meals and snacks being consumed over said keyboard. You’ve found yourself on this page because you have reached the point of wondering ‘How do I clean a keyboard?’
Luckily for you, dear reader, we are here for you. By the end of this article, you’ll be fully educated on how to clean a keyboard from the top to bottom. We’re going to go through each step so by the time you’re finished, your keyboard will be as good as new. Conveniently, we’ve got a lovely AKKO 3098N here that’s in need of some TLC, so if you wanted to know how to clean a keyboard, now’s the time.
You’ll want the following items to do the best possible job, bear in mind that you don’t need all of these items, but in order to get your keyboard ship-shape, you should try to get them all.
How to clean a keyboard – what you need
- A brush with fairly flexible bristles, you can locate keyboard-specific ones but any brush is better than nothing.
- Compressed air can. These are easily found in any hardware store, additionally if you already have access to an air compressor use that instead as its far more powerful.
- Hot soapy water. You’ll only need a small mixing bowl’s worth as its only to wash the keycaps.
- Isopropyl alcohol. This is recommended as it evaporates very quickly, making the whole process far quicker. It also doesnt conduct electricty, making the process far less risky.
- Paper towels. This makes getting into tight crevices and avoiding sensitive electronics easier.
Get rid of loose debris
The easiest way of doing this is to turn the board upside down and give it a rigorous shake over a bin or outside. This will dislodge the loosest stuff that hasn’t persisted long enough to get sticky.
If possible, remove the keycaps
This stage will not be possible for everyone, as some keyboards, particularly those of the membrane variety, have unremovable keycaps.
Most gaming specific keyboards these days have removable caps so grab your keycap puller and carefully pull straight up away from the keyboard to remove them. If you don’t have a keycap puller then you can achieve this step by VERY CAREFULLY prying the caps off with a thing flathead screwdriver or similarly slim tool.
Make sure to take a photo of the keyboard before removing the caps. Trust us, its a pain in the ass trying to remember which key goes where.
If possible, remove the key switches
This is only achievable if your keyboard has hotswappable switches. If you’re unsure about this, check the manual or the product page online for your specific keyboard.
Carefully position the switch puller around the base of the switch and firmly pull up directly away from the keyboard. This is one of the more fiddly parts of how to clean a keyboard but stick with it as it takes far less time than you think it will.
Do NOT attempt this if you don’t have a dedicated switch puller as the circuit board beneath the switch is super fragile. A scratch from an overzealous attempt with a screwdriver or something like that can very easily and very permanently break your keyboard.
Give the keycaps a bath
If you can’t remove your caps, then you can skip this stage. If you can, then dump them all into a mixing bowl or other vessel. then cover in hot, soapy water.
Don’t use boiling water. It won’t melt the caps or anything, but it can reduce the life of them, and, depending on the printing method, wash the legend clean off.
Blast with compressed air
If you have a can of compressed air, now’s the time to use it. While the keycaps are bathing, give the keyboard a thorough blast, this will send a lot of the stuck debris flying, and help loosen some of the more stubborn pieces of guff.
Brush, brush, brush
Now, grab a DRY brush and scrub the board, this will remove almost all of the grime, and making sure to use a dry brush will eliminate the risk of damage. After brushing, upend the keyboard again and rigorously shake as before. We are almost done now.
Use a piece of paper towel and isopropyl alcohol to get the last pieces of grime
This part is the most little time-consuming part of how to clean a keyboard, but once you’ve completed it, the satisfaction is totally worth it. Dip a piece of paper towel into the isopropyl alcohol and shake the excess off, then firmly wipe the surfaces in-between the switches, the alcohol will remove the stickiness, allowing the paper towel to wipe the dirt away.
Make sure to move on to a a new piece of paper towel when it gets gross. Otherwise, you’ll end up just moving the grime around the keyboard instead of removing it.
Retrieve the keycaps from their bath & dry them off
Just via soaking, the keycaps have probably lost most of their grossness into the water, if any particularly stubborn pieces of residue remain, simply clean them using the same paper towel and alcohol method outlined earlier.
To dry the keycaps, just wrap them in something absorbent like a towel, kitchen roll is particularly good for this as it renders them dry in a matter of seconds.
Reassemble your keyboard
Now that the cleaning process is finished, you can put it all back together. You took a photo of the board before you started, right?
Using the photo as reference, carefully re-insert the switches, topping each one with it’s corresponding keycap.
Admire your nice clean keyboard and get back to gaming
You’re done! You’ve taken your disgusting, putrid, filth-ridden keyboard and returned it back to top form. Well-done. Now remember to bookmark this page and re-clean your keyboard every few months, the more often you clean it, the easier and quicker the process will be.
How to clean a keyboard – final word
That wasn’t so hard, was it? Now you’re armed with the knowledge so you no longer have to google ‘how to clean a keyboard’. Remember to do this often to prevent too much of a build-up. Additionally, it’s worth noting that too much grime can actually cause damage to the keyboard, so keep it clean, yeah?
If you’re curious, the keyboard featured here is the fantastic AKKO 3098N, a very impressive mechanical keyboard with hot-swappable switches. You can read our full review here.
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