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How to clean your mechanical keyboard

How to clean your mechanical keyboard

Vacuum your keyboard

Your mechanical keyboard is likely the dirtiest item on your desk. It gets the most physical contact, and has so many crevices that lint, dust and crumbs can hide in. Here's a guide that covers how to do a quick spruce up, or a complete cleaning.

Keychron K8 Wireless Mechanical Keyboard
Keychron K8 Wireless Mechanical Keyboard (Image: Keychron)

Quick clean

The most time consuming part of cleaning a keyboard is taking it apart. Without removing keycaps, you can do a quick clean that will take about 10 minutes.

1. Turn off your keyboard

If it's a wireless keyboard, turn it off. If it's a wired keyboard, just unplug it.

2. Remove dust using vacuum cleaner or cleaning gel

You can use a battery-operated vacuum cleaner with small brush heads to remove dust on the keyboard chassis and between the keys. If you don't want to get a dedicated vacuum, your home vacuum cleaner, like the Dyson V15, will likely come with a smaller brush, just go ahead and use that. 

Alternatively, get some cleaning gel. This is a sticky blob, similar to silly putty you probably played with as a child. Press the cleaning gel onto the keyboard so it gets into the crevices, and you should be able to pick up most of the dust and crumbs. 

3. Wipe down the keycaps with a wet wipe

Wipe all the keys with a wet tissue to clean the surface. Make sure the wipe is damp, and not dripping wet, since your keyboard is probably not waterproof.

Keychron K2 wireless mechanical keyboard

Thorough clean

To get to the filth, both visible and hidden, you'll need to remove the mechanical keyboard's keycaps. This will give you access to parts that can be cleaned with a vacuum cleaner and alcohol wipes. Prepare to spend 30 – 60 minutes on this.

1. Turn off your keyboard and remove all keycaps

Turn off or unplug your keyboard, then take a photo with all the keys visible for a record of where each key goes. Once you've done that, start removing the keycaps one by one, either with your finger, or with a keycap remover. If you are new to this, removing the longer keys like the spacebar may be challenging. Rest assured that they are meant to be removed, so just be patient.

2. Soak your keycaps in soapy water and wipe them down

Put all your keycaps in a container, then fill it with water and some dishwashing liquid. Leave it for 15 to 20 minutes. Drain the liquid, and dry each key by wiping with a dish cloth or paper towel. This last step will allow you to remove any stubborn stains or grime.

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Keycaps soaking in soapy water
Credit: John Chan/Can Buy or Not

3. Clean the dust off your keyboard with a blower or vacuum

If this is the first time you've removed all your keycaps, you may get a shock. Dust, crumbs, bugs and other unspeakable things lie in wait. There are two ways to go about this, you can use a blower or a vacuum cleaner. To blow, use compressed air or an electric duster. Hold the keyboard over a bin so the filth has somewhere to go. I prefer to use a vacuum cleaner as it's neater — the filth doesn't go everywhere. Use one of the smaller brush attachments that comes with your vacuum. Now, some will say never to use a vacuum cleaner on electronics due to risk of electrostatic discharge. However, in a humid environment like Singapore, the chance of this happening is very small. In addition, the keyboard's PCB is not exposed during the process.

Vacuum your keyboard
Credit: John Chan/Can Buy or Not

4. Clean areas between switches with alcohol wipe

With all the keycaps removed, you can now use an alcohol wipe to clean previously hard to reach areas between the keycaps. The edges of the switches will be where you want to focus on. If you don't have alcohol wipes, a cotton bud with isopropyl alcohol works too. Avoid using water-based wipes for this step as you don't want to risk water dripping through to your PCB.

Credit: John Chan/Can Buy or Not

5. Reassemble your keyboard

After your keyboard and keycaps are dry, return the keycaps to their rightful positions using the photo you took in Step 1 as a guide.

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