19.6 Cleaning a Keyboard

Keyboards collect all manner of dirt, dust, and sticky spills, particularly if you smoke or drink near them. For routine cleaning, simply turn the keyboard upside down and shake it vigorously, which causes an incredible amount of stuff to fall out. Monthly, use your vacuum cleaner to do a thorough job. It's a good idea to shut down the system (or at least close all files) before you start vacuuming. Otherwise, the random series of keystrokes that vacuuming generates can have some unexpected results. In one case, we deleted a document. Formula 409 and similar commercial cleaners do a good job of removing grunge, but make sure the system is turned off while you use them, and try to avoid allowing too much to run down inside the keyboard. It's better to spray the cleaner on a paper towel and then wipe than to spray the cleaner directly on the keyboard.

All of that presupposes that your keyboard is just normally dirty. For cleaning seriously dirty keyboards (see Figure 19-6), we've been using the dishwasher method for more than 20 years. Most people think we're kidding when we recommend it, but it works for us. We've used it successfully with both mechanical and membrane-based keyboards. Proceed as follows.

  1. Disconnect the keyboard from the computer. We probably shouldn't have to mention this step, but we don't want to get sued by someone who didn't realize it wasn't a good idea to run his system unit and monitor through the dishwasher.

  2. Place the keyboard, keys down, in the top rack of the dishwasher. Secure the keyboard cable with a rubber band to keep it from becoming entangled in the moving parts of the dishwasher. Set the dishwasher for gentle cycle and coolest water temperature, if those options are available. Make sure to select the option for air-dry rather than a heated drying cycle.

  3. Run the keyboard through an entire wash cycle, using dishwasher detergent. When the cycle finishes, remove the keyboard and douse it with at least a gallon of water, making sure to repeatedly flood the keys themselves. For safety's sake, we always recommend using distilled or deionized water, but in fact we always use ordinary tap water and have never had a problem. After rinsing, turn the keyboard this way and that and shake it to drain as much water as possible. Use a towel to dry the accessible parts. At this point, your keyboard should look like new (see Figure 19-7).

  4. Set your oven to 150 degrees (or its lowest setting). We have no idea what the melting point of the plastic used in keyboards is, but we haven't melted one yet. Bake the keyboard until done, usually one to two hours. Let the keyboard cool, remove, and serve.

We generally put the clean keyboard back in our stock of spares, where it may have another month or three to air-dry naturally, but we've also reconnected a keyboard immediately after such treatment without any problems. We used to be concerned that puddles might still be lurking inside the keyboard, so we'd disassemble it and dry it thoroughly before reconnecting it. But we've found that a couple of hours inside a 150-degree oven does a pretty good job of evaporating any residual water. Your mileage may vary. If you hear a sloshing sound after drying, it's probably a good idea to disassemble the keyboard and check further.

Figure 19-6. A keyboard after more than a year without cleaning
Figure 19-7. The same keyboard after a trip through the dishwasher