No dishwasher needed to get a computer keyboard clean - East Valley Tribune: Data Doctors

No dishwasher needed to get a computer keyboard clean

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Posted: Sunday, January 23, 2011 12:00 pm

My keyboard has gotten very grimy and sticky I seem to remember an article that said it could be put in the dishwasher, but I don’t remember if it was with soap or not and for how long. Any suggestions? — John

We all know that the dirt “catch-all” in the computer world is the poor keyboard and with very few exceptions, everyone reading this column could benefit from a little cleaning of the crumbs, and grime that have built up over time.

Before doing anything as drastic as testing this old dishwasher legend, you would be better off trying a couple of more traditional cleaning tactics.

The first is to simply unplug it and turn it upside down and shake it back and forth (do this outside or somewhere that the “snow” won’t cause a mess). While it’s still upside down, run your hand over all the keys to loosen even more junk.

If you really want to force the junk out, get a can of compressed air and hold the keyboard at a slight angle (keys down) and spray out all the cracks and crevices between the keys.

To address the grimy build-up, use cotton swaps and isopropyl alcohol (or other plastic surface cleaners) as well as a lint-free cloth that can get all the exposed surfaces clean.

If you really have no life, you can remove each key for cleaning (they will generally pop off by prying from the bottom of each key with a small flat blade screwdriver; avoid removing the larger keys such as the space bar as they can be difficult to get back on.)

NOTE: Removing the keys of a laptop keyboard is not recommended unless you know what you are doing!

Now let’s address the keyboard in the dishwasher approach...

First of all, no manufacturer of standard keyboards recommends that you introduce water to your keyboard in any scenario, so you would be going against the manufacturer’s recommendations.

The only reason I can think of using the “dishwasher method” is if you have spilled a large amount of liquid (water, coffee, soda, beer, etc.) which means the keyboard may already be toast and you are going to replace it anyway.

This should never be done with laptop keyboards, wireless keyboards, keyboards with any type of display (calculator, etc.) or keyboards that don’t have a membrane layer under the keys (you have to remove a few keys to check if you aren’t sure).

You can run it with or without other items (I recommend without) but it is important that you not use hot water or high heat on the drying cycle (either can ensure that you ruin the keyboard or warp the casing).

Place the keyboard (keys down) in the rack and run a regular cycle without any detergent.

Once it has run through its cycle, you are still two to four days from seeing whether it worked because you must make sure that all the moisture has evaporated before attempting to test it.

Pull it out, wipe it down with a towel, shake it to loosen trapped droplets and use compressed air to force large droplets out of all the openings.

Place the keyboard (keys down) on an absorbent towel for a couple of days and pick it up, turn and shake it every eight hours or so. If you really want to make sure all the moisture has been removed, you can pop the keys off again.

If after all this, you plug it in and it doesn’t work at all or certain keys automatically repeat when you press them, you need to give it more time to dry or try hitting it with more compressed air.

Back when keyboards where built like tanks and cost $100, I could see going through all of this trouble. But since standard keyboards are as cheap as $5 to $10 and really good ones are $30 to $50, I don’t see how this option makes much sense anymore.

Ken Colburn is president of Data Doctors Computer Services. Follow him on Twitter at

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  • Ken Colburn is president of Data Doctors Computer Services and host of the Data Doctors Radio Program, noon Saturdays on KTAR 92.3 FM or at
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