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For many of us, laptops are our constant companions. We use them for work and for play, to shop and to research. Often, we work on our laptops while eating lunch or cooking dinner, and sometimes we take them with us for an afternoon at our local coffee shop.
Unfortunately, the sheer versatility of our laptops often brings an unpleasant side effect: a sticky, dirty, germy keyboard. Grossness aside, debris in your keyboard can cause keys to malfunction and may hinder your laptop’s overall performance.
Fortunately, there are effective tools available for cleaning your laptop’s keyboard. This guide will take you through some of the best tools available and tips to keep your keyboard in working order.
PREPPING YOUR LAPTOP KEYBOARD FOR CLEANING
- Back up your data during any computer maintenance. No matter how minor the task, it’s essential to keep your data safe.
- Turn your laptop off and unplug it. If possible, remove the battery.
- Remove any accessories, including dongles and external drives.
- Remove any disks from your disk drive.
- Give yourself plenty of space to work.
THE BEST TOOLS TO CLEAN YOUR LAPTOP KEYBOARD (AND HOW TO DO IT)
A HANDHELD VACUUM
A handheld vacuum is an ideal tool for removing everything from crumbs to pet hair from keyboards. Handheld vacuums are lightweight and maneuverable, and with less suction than large vacuums, there’s minimal chance of damaging sensitive electronics or pulling off keys. You’ll want to choose a model with attachable brushes and use the smallest brush to vacuum thoroughly around each key. Many retailers even sell miniature vacuums specifically designed for cleaning electronics.
“Erasers” made from melamine foam are efficient household cleaners and can be safely used on grimy laptop keyboards. While the melamine sponge needs to be soaked in water to be effective, make sure to let it dry out sufficiently before it touches your keyboard. It should be no more than barely damp. To clean, rub the sponge along your keyboard slowly so as not to erase letters, numbers or symbols from the keys. Melamine foam easily cuts through grime and dirt, leaving your keys clean and smooth. Melamine sponges can also be cut into custom shapes, so they’re ideal for cleaning the small spaces between keys.
Inexpensive and durable, microfiber cloths make excellent cleaning tools for keyboards. A damp microfiber cloth attracts dirt, oil and grease without the need for chemical cleaning solutions and is more effective at trapping dust than cotton rags. Since it’s important to make sure liquid doesn’t get into your keyboard, dampen the fabric with a spray bottle, and then gently wipe your keyboard to eliminate dirt, food residue and oils left behind by your skin. Microfiber cloths are machine washable and dryable, so you can use them again and again. Just don’t add fabric softener, which can clog the microfibers, reducing their effectiveness.
RUBBING ALCOHOL AND COTTON-TIPPED SWABS
Because it evaporates almost immediately, rubbing alcohol – also known as isopropyl alcohol – is ideal for cleaning electronic equipment. Rubbing alcohol cuts through oily residue to remove stickiness from keyboards. To keep the liquid away from your keyboard, dip several cotton swabs so that they’re damp but not dripping. Use them to clean around each key, paying special attention to hard-to-reach spaces around the base.
PREMOISTENED ELECTRONICS WIPES
While premade cleaning solutions can be costly, premoistened electronic wipes are worth the purchase price. What’s great about these wipes is that they’re designed specifically for electronics, so they can also be safely used on your monitor, smartphone and other devices. They effectively remove residue, grime and fingerprints, plus, they come in convenient resealable packages, which can be tucked into a desk drawer for quick cleanups.
TOOLS TO AVOID WHEN CLEANING YOUR LAPTOP KEYBOARD
Although compressed air has long been considered a staple for cleaning keyboards, it can actually cause more harm than good. While a handheld vacuum will suction out dust and debris, canned air may potentially push it deeper into your laptop, ultimately making removal more difficult and possibly interfering with your computer’s functionality.
“PREMIUM” KEYBOARD CLEANERS
While there’s nothing inherently wrong with these kits, they tend to be costly. These “premium” kits generally contain items, such as microfiber cloths, cleaning sprays and swabs, which you can purchase separately for much less. Using this guide you can just as easily put together your own keyboard cleaning kit to keep handy at a fraction of the cost.
HOMEMADE CLEANING SLIME
A new trend in electronics maintenance is cleaning slime, which claims to eliminate dust, lint and other debris from keyboards. While a variety of cleaning slimes and putties can be purchased at major online retailers, the internet is filled with DIY recipes, some of which create a dripping, gooey mess that can ruin your keyboard. If you want to try slime, choose a commercial product or try CNET’s keyboard-safe recipe.
Never use sprays directly on your laptop. If you must use a cleaning spray, apply it to a cloth first.
OTHER CONSIDERATIONS WHEN CLEANING YOUR LAPTOP KEYBOARD
REMOVABLE KEYS AND KEYBOARDS
Some laptop keyboards can be pried off for easier interior access when cleaning, while others can be pried open one key at a time. However, most laptops have keyboards that aren’t meant to be removed at all. Always refer to your laptop’s user guide for information on safely accessing the interior parts of your keyboard for cleaning.
When removing individual keys, Techwalla suggests starting with the letter Q and working toward the right. Make sure to snap a photo or draw a map of the keyboard layout so you’ll be able to put the keys back in the correct position once you’re done.
A flathead screwdriver is ideal to pry off keys, but a butter knife will also do the job. Just insert a narrow, flat tool under the corner of a key and gently pry it up. After cleaning, keys should snap back on easily.
For keyboards meant to come off as a single unit, often it’s as simple as removing a cover, taking out a few screws and disconnecting a cable. One benefit of laptops with removable keyboards is that they can be replaced relatively inexpensively if damaged.
One caveat – never force a keyboard off your laptop. When in doubt, refer to your manual, look online for advice or contact a local computer professional.
Sometimes emergencies happen. If you spill liquid onto your keyboard, immediately shut down your laptop, unplug it and, if possible, remove the battery. Don’t plug it back in or turn it on until you’re certain the spill has dried completely. It could take a day or longer, depending on the extent of the spill.
Mop up as much liquid as possible with an absorbent rag and clean sticky keys with a damp cloth. If your laptop allows removal of the keyboard or keys, clean the interior as well. If, after the spill dries, your computer isn’t working properly, consult the manufacturer or another computer professional.
Maintaining your laptop keyboard doesn’t have to be time-consuming or difficult. If you get into the habit of cleaning it regularly and washing your hands prior to using your computer you can greatly reduce the amount of time required to clean your laptop keyboard. With a few easy steps, you can have a clean, functioning keyboard for more efficient laptop use.