How to properly clean your keyboard

I found myself needing to clean our iMac’s keyboard a few days ago. I remembered watching a video recently that suggested we should simply stick the keyboard in the dishwasher. I wasn’t about to do that. I doubted the circuitry would have worked afterwards, particularly the Bluetooth link between the keyboard and the computer.

The safer route was to simply remove the keys, wash them separately with warm water and soap, then wash the keyboard base with a cloth moistened with water and a mild soap solution. Ligia also got some cotton swabs and rubbing alcohol ready, just to make sure we’d be able to get into all of the keyboard’s crevices.

This solution should work for all keyboards. A word of caution: before you start doing anything to your keyboard, take a couple of photos of the key layout! You don’t want to find yourself with a bunch of keys in your hand, clueless about where to stick them… Take photos of the keys and have them ready to display on your computer, or print them out ahead of time.

Removing the keys is quite simple. You take a quarter or any larger coin, put it under a key, and pry upwards. The key should pop right out. Be careful though, you don’t want to break them — that would render the keyboard quite useless afterwards.

After the keys are removed, the keyboard should look something like this:

Apple keyboard with keys taken off

Please excuse the distortion caused by the camera lens. I used my 24mm prime to make for fast work.

Once the keys are off, Ligia cleaned the keyboard, and I got to work cleaning the keys. I used a basin filled with warm water and I poured in some detergent, then gave each key a light scrubbing with a brush. You can also use the sink directly, but you’ve got to be very careful there. Sinks have drain holes under the top lip, and your keys might just run into them, since they’re plastic and they float. Once they go into the drain, good luck getting them out. You can open up the P-trap and see if they’re there, but chances are that they’re already gone. So be very, very careful as you wash the keys. You want to make sure that you don’t lose any of them.

After the keys were washed, I put them in an absorbent cotton towel and shook them around a bit to get drops of water dislodged from the keys’ undersides, then, while keeping them bunched up in the towel, I ran a hair dryer in there to make sure they got dry a little faster. Here you’ll need to make sure all of the corners of the towel are raised up, otherwise your keys will start flying around… You can also leave them on a towel overnight if you don’t want to bother with the hairdryer.

Keys from Apple keyboard

You also want to be careful that you don’t get excess liquid on the keyboard itself. The last thing you need after you go through the trouble of cleaning it is some problem with the circuits in there. Use a moistened cloth or paper towel, and clean it carefully, making sure you remove any debris or gunk or crumbs or whatever you find in there. Use cotton swabs moistened with rubbing alcohol to get into the tighter spots. When you think you’re done, examine it carefully under a strong light, to make sure you got everything off. Sometimes keys will stick because you or someone else in your house/office spilled sticky liquids on the keyboard, and if you don’t get that sticky gunk cleaned off, the keys will continue to stick even after you think you’ve cleaned them.

After Ligia got the keyboard base cleaned up, we stuck all of the keys back on the keyboard, and it looked quite beautiful when we got done. It was as if we’d gone out and bought a brand new keyboard. Just think of it! We did our part for the environment by re-using a piece of perfectly good hardware, and we also saved about $60. Pretty cool!

Apple keyboard after thorough cleaning


3 Comments

  1. I know I can remove the keys, but it’s a real hassle compared to that big plastic keys on a normal keyboard. I try to clean the keyboard once in a while without taking it fully apart, but it’d definitely be nicer to give it a full cleaning trip… 😉

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  2. It should be though. Try to cautiously pop off one of the keys and see if it works. If it doesn’t, you can take it in for service, provided you bought AppleCare. If it does, remove all of the keys, and clean the keyboard’s base with either a dry cloth, or one moistened lightly with rubbing alchol or some cleaning solution safe on plastic.

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  3. Nice work, really have to do that with my old Apple keyboard. Now if it only was so easy with the MBP keyboard… 😦

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