How to Clean Your Keyboard and Why You Should

We all use a keyboard, at least I assume you do, because you are reading an online article. For those of you who navigated here sans keyboard, great job: you are safe from the evil germs lurking below your keys. For everyone else, read on for an explanation of how to clean your keyboard, and why you should!

Why You Should Clean Your Keyboard

We know you do this too! 

We know you do this too! 

Your home or office work space is likely an environment that you spend a lot of time in, which is why proper desk hygiene is incredibly important. We eat at our desks, talk on the phone, enjoy coffee, and occasionally come to work while sick. All of these activities are sources of dirt, grime and germs that can linger around your keyboard long after you’ve left for the day.

There are some really scary and horrifying statistics out there. Let’s start with my personal favourite: did you know that some studies suggest that your keyboard may be five times dirtier than a toilet seat. One study found that out of 33 keyboards swabbed, four were considered health hazards. Your keyboard is an excellent representation of your nose and your gut. Sneezing, coughing, even laughing, all contribute germs to your keyboard. In a shared work environment, where keyboards are used by multiple employees, the dirt and grime situation only escalates. Co-workers may be sick, or have poor personal hygiene. I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.

That's nasty! 

That's nasty! 

Keyboards can also harbour crumbs, dust, loose hair, and beverage stains. This type of dirt is not necessarily dangerous, but it is unsightly. Over time, debris and stains can also contribute to poor keyboard performance by causing keys to stick or fail entirely. For higher end keyboards, such as the Matias Tactile Pro that I use, keeping dirt and dust away from your equipment can help you get a lot more milage out an expensive piece of hardware.

A keyboard is the perfect environment for germs to survive and thrive, which means that we all need to do our part to keep our computers from becoming potential dangers to ourselves or others.

How to Clean Your Keyboard

The level of detail and attention with which you clean your keyboard is going to vary based on how much it gets used. If you are a gamer or designer like me, who eats, sleeps and basically lives with your hands on your keyboard, I recommend giving your keyboard a good “detailing” every 6 months or so. If you are a more casual user, just popping in on Sunday mornings to check Facebook and email, chances are your keyboard will not need the same level of attention.

I’m going to assume that your keyboard is in truly rough shape, so feel free to skip steps that are overkill; and remember any level of cleaning at all is going to make some sort of improvement. Bear in mind, this is a daunting, and potentially disgusting task. Make sure you have time to complete it properly.

What You Will Need

Here's What I Started With: 

This keyboard is rapidly approaching health hazard status. 

This keyboard is rapidly approaching health hazard status. 

Step 1: Remove all the Keys

Start by unplugging your keyboard from your computer. Next, grab a small screwdriver and take your keyboard apart.* Gently remove all of the keys from your keyboard. Please research how to do this for your particular keyboard. For example: on some keyboards is not possible to remove the spacebar, and each and every keyboard will work a little bit differently. 

Step 2: Give the Keys a Bath

Place all of the keys in a plastic bag. Partly fill the bag with water and a gentle dish soap such as ZU's Dishwashing Liquid. Give it a good shake to agitate the soap, and then thoroughly rinse. Repeat until the keys are perfectly clean. There may be a few stained keys that do not come clean in this bath, we will address them in the next step. After you are done rinsing, drain the bag and leave the keys to dry while you take care of the next steps. I like to leave them drying on a microfiber cloth to absorb the excess water.

Step 3: Swab Yer Keyboard, Matey! 

After you've removed the keys and taken apart the keyboard with a screw driver, chances are you are left with something that looks like the above photo. If you haven’t said “EW” at least once yet, you’re probably doing it wrong. Or your keyboard didn't need a deep cleaning.

Grab a microfiber cloth, a gentle cleaning agent and a few cotton swabs. Add a little bit of cleaner to your cloth, and start gently removing dirt from the outside edges of the keyboard and the tray under the keys. After you've gotten the spots you can reach with a cloth, grab your cotton swabs for detail work. Make sure to get under the space bar! 

Once done, if possible, give the tray a rinse in the sink to make sure that all the dirt, grime, and cleaning agent are gone. When your keyboard tray is squeaky clean, set it aside on a microfiber cloth to dry.

Most keyboard cleaning guides will suggest that you use Windex and paper towels. I prefer to use an all-natural cleaner instead, such as our ZU Universal Cleaner. I don’t like to use Windex on my keyboard because I don’t want to pick up any lingering ammonia or chemicals after the job is done. I also prefer to use a ZU Micro Cleaning Cloth to avoid wasting paper towels. Paper towels go directly in the garbage, while the micro cloths can be washed up to 300 times, and will collect up to 99% of bacteria along the way.

Step 4: Put your dry keyboard back together and enjoy the results!

Ongoing Maintenance 

Meet your new best friend! 

Meet your new best friend! 

Once you've reach your goal of a clean keyboard, you want to keep it that way. Let’s face it, this was a lot of effort! I keep my keyboard clean by hitting it with compressed air at least once a month. After I spray it out thoroughly with air, I use a Micro Cloth on the surfaces, then finish with a quick dusting of the keys. If you find small coffee spots and fingerprints on a keyboard with a shiny finish, a little bit of Universal Cleaner on the microfiber cloth with polish the surfaces nicely. 

If you follow the above steps, and do a little maintenance once a month, your keyboard will never be considered a health hazard again!

*Disclaimer: Only attempt this if you feel comfortable disassembling and reassembling your keyboard. Read keyboard warranty and user guide before you begin. Always test ZU Collection products on an inconspicuous surface prior to use. ZU Collection assumes no responsibility for damage or void of warranty that results from following this guide. Attempt at your own discretion.