How to Clean a Keyboard in 7 Simple Steps

Updated: Mar. 16, 2023

Keep your computer—and your health—in tip-top shape by learning how to clean a keyboard simply and effectively

Whether you use your computer for work, social media, gaming or some other purpose, it’s important to maintain keyboard hygiene. Maybe you’ve noticed that dried drop of taco sauce near the trackpad, or crumbs between the keys from the granola bar you scarfed down. Even if you never eat at your desk, debris can accumulate in your keyboard, including skin particles, bits of hair (perhaps mixed with your pet’s), dust and other grime. That means learning how to clean a keyboard is not only a critical component of caring for your electronics, it’s also an important step to disinfect items you use daily.

Just like you’d want to clean a computer screen, clean a cell phone, clean an iPhone charging port or clean a TV screen, cleaning a keyboard will make sure you’re not settling for sticky and unhygienic keys. And because we all have so many electronics to maintain these days, consider including them in your routine cleaning schedule.

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Why you should clean your keyboard

Keyboards are one of the dirtiest items in the home. And they’re not just gross; they’re health hazards. In a 2018 study, researchers swabbed 25 keyboards and 25 cell phones and tested the samples for the presence of bacteria. One or more types of potentially sickening bacteria was found on 96% of the keyboards. Bacillus and staphylococci were present on more than 80% of keyboards, and enteric bacteria were found on nearly two-thirds. (Cell phones were almost as bad!)

Considering how often we have our fingers on the keys—and then our mouths, noses or eyes—the risk of infection is real, and even worse for immunocompromised folks. So for your own health, it’s important to clean your laptop and your keyboard often.

When it comes to your computer’s health, sticky liquids and crumb particles between or underneath the keys could require extra pressure to make the keys work. If you work on a mechanical keyboard, that could damage the switches housed beneath the keys.

How to clean a keyboard

Whether you want to learn how to clean a keyboard on a laptop or how to clean an external keyboard, the process is the same. There’s also no difference between cleaning a PC keyboard and cleaning a MacBook keyboard—just be sure to disconnect your keyboard from its power source.

How to clean a laptop or external keyboard

Gather your supplies

Once you have all your supplies, work your way through these steps to clean a laptop or external keyboard.

  1. Disconnect any source of power. Shut down your laptop and remove the power cord from the computer. If you’re using an external keyboard, unplug it from its power source. If it’s wireless, remove its batteries.
  2. Hold your laptop or keyboard upside down over a trash can and gently shake or tap it to dislodge any large particles.
  3. Use your soft-bristled laptop cleaner brush to sweep away any other visible debris from between the keys. For best results, tilt your keyboard one way and then the other during this step.
  4. Blow a few bursts of compressed air between and underneath the keys to push out any remaining debris.
  5. Still not clean? Use a mini desk vacuum, cleaning slime, cellophane tape or sticky notes to pick up remaining bits of dust.
  6. To wipe away those germs, use a screen wipe (or a microfiber cloth lightly moistened with isopropyl alcohol). Very lightly swipe across the tops of the keys and between them. If using alcohol, never directly pour it on the keyboard. Never use a household spray to clean a keyboard, either.
  7. Dry and polish with a clean microfiber cloth.

How to clean a mechanical keyboard

A mechanical keyboard has switches made of springs and metal contacts beneath its removable keycaps. It generally has more space between the keys, which allows for even more debris to build up. Here’s how to clean a mechanical keyboard.

Gather your supplies

For routine cleaning, the steps are the same as for any other keyboard. But for a deeper clean, follow these steps.

  1. Take a photo of the layout of your keyboard (on your sanitized phone, of course).
  2. To remove the keycaps, use the prongs of the wire keycap puller, grab the edges and lift straight up.
  3. Put the keycaps into a sealable container. Add dishwashing detergent or a denture tablet, and fill with hot water. Put the lid on the container and gently shake and swirl the keycaps around. Let them soak for about half an hour.
  4. While the keys are soaking, clean around the switches using cotton swabs dampened in isopropyl alcohol.
  5. Rinse off the keycaps and drain them in a colander. Then place them on a towel overnight to dry.
  6. Replace them the next day, referring to the photo you took.