How to Clean a Mechanical Keyboard

How to Clean a Mechanical Keyboard

There are few computer accessories as heralded as mechanical keyboards. Not only do they provide you with a better level of accuracy and responsiveness than a membrane keyboard, but they also just feel cool underneath your fingertips. And even better, a mechanical keyboard is significantly easier to clean than its membrane keyboard counterparts.

But that doesn’t mean that you don’t need to take care when you do decide your keyboard needs cleaning. Despite (or because of) all the advantages of mechanical keyboards, they tend to be far more expensive than membrane keyboards, so the last thing you want to do is cause damage when you’re cleaning your keyboard. We’ll show you how to clean mechanical keyboard models properly and make sure you know how to regularly maintain your mechanical keyboard so you won’t have to keep cleaning it as regularly.

Preventative Maintenance

They say an ounce of protection is worth a pound of cure, and that’s as true for cleaning your electronic devices as it is for anything. If you make a regular habit of cleaning up mechanical keyboards once a week, you can ensure it will last for years to come (and avoid having to more thoroughly service it with regularity). And you can complete the regular maintenance process in a time span of just a few minutes. Here’s the cleaning process you should use every week or two.

  • Unplug your keyboard. While you won’t be going through a deep cleaning process with your weekly or biweekly maintenance, you should always make sure that it’s unplugged from any power source before you do anything to it. You’ll also want to make sure that it stays unplugged until it’s fully dried. This isn’t so much for your own safety as it is a precautionary process to avoid damage to the keyboard.
  • You’ll want to start by getting up any dry debris like crumbs that may have gotten stuck underneath or in between your keycaps. We actually advise against using compressed air for this process. If you have a cheaper mechanical keyboard or only plan on doing this maintenance irregularly, compressed air probably won’t be a huge issue, but canned air can also blow debris into the switches themselves or cause corrosion in the long term. You’ll ideally want an anti-static vacuum cleaner with smaller brushes for more detail-oriented cleaning.
  • Get a microfiber cloth nice and wet with warm water. Microfiber is the right way to go because it’s especially soft and isn’t going to wear down the surface of the keycaps. While using a coarser cloth won’t hurt the keycaps in the short term, it can start to wear down the surface of the keys over longer periods of time. Paper towels, by contrast, can leave particles behind or scratch the surface.
  • Rub down the surface of the keys and the spaces in between with a dry microfiber cloth. Wait until the keyboard is completely dry before you plug it back in.

Irregular Cleaning

The process listed above is perfectly fine for day-to-day operations, but a mechanical keyboard will build up a lot of grime, oils, and dust over time, and that means that every few months you’re going to want to be a bit more thorough. We’ll show you how to clean a keyboard completely so you won’t have to replace it any time soon.

  • As you do when performing preventative maintenance on your keyboard, make sure to remove your keyboard from any power source to start. Also, be sure it’s completely dry before you plug it back into any power source.
  • Identify the position of all of your keys. Most of the keys are sized the same way, and it can be easy to forget where they go if you don’t save them. You can either take a picture of your keys so you have a reference to look back to or write them down on a sheet of paper. Either way, it will make the reassembly process easier.
  • Use a keycap puller to remove each of the keys individually. A keycap puller can be found at any office supply store, and it’s worth the investment since the keys and switches on a mechanical model keyboard can be expensive. Larger keys can be a little more difficult to remove, even with a keycap puller, so if you’re worried, you may want to just wipe them down.
  • Bathe all of the keys together. Fill a bowl with warm water and either dish soap or a denture tablet. The latter in particular is great at pulling oils from the surface of keys, and it also sterilizes the keys while leaving almost no residue behind. You’ll want to soak them for at least six hours, but we generally recommend leaving them in overnight to really be sure they’re thoroughly cleaned. A pipe cleaner can also work well. In either case, you should soak them in rubbing alcohol to more thoroughly wipe off any debris that’s stuck to the surface.
  • Take a small brush or a q-tip and go to work on the stems of the switches. A brush is generally better since it isn’t going to leave particles behind, but be sure not to get one that’s too harsh, as you don’t want to damage the actual surface of the switches.
  • Rinse the keys thoroughly of any soap residue and then let them dry. This can be a time-intensive process, but it’s important to be sure that they aren’t damp at all before you realign them on your keyboard. Place them stem-up on a cloth for at least a few hours, and be sure to check and be sure they’re fully dry.
  • While your keys are drying, you should follow the same process with the keyboard. Use a dry microfiber cloth along with pipe cleaners to be sure that the keyboard and undercarriage are thoroughly dried. Once you’re done, be sure to set your keyboard face-down, as this will prevent dust from building up while the keycaps dry.
  • Reassemble your keyboard. As long as your keycaps and your keyboard are fully dry, you should be fine plugging it back in and using it like new. And as long as you saved the positioning of the keycaps, the process shouldn’t be difficult.

Addressing Spills

If you’ve spilled a drink on your keyboard, you might not have the time to deal with the more rigorous cleaning process. In this instance, unplugging your keyboard as soon as possible is essential, as extended contact with liquids can very rapidly cause irreparable harm.

But how bad is liquid for the switches and keycaps of your keyboard? That really depends. Water isn’t going to cause too much damage as long as you disconnect it and thoroughly dry it. But sticky and sugary drinks can really wreak havoc on the switches. Before you remove the caps entirely, you can test out the keys to see if they work. If not, you’ll probably need to replace the keyboard entirely. If they do, you can just use the irregular cleaning process we listed above.

Extreme Cleaning Methods

The vast majority of customers will be able to fully clean their keyboards with the methods listed above, but if you have a more serious keyboard or you’re meticulous about keeping everything clean, you might like to invest in a device known as an ultrasonic cleaner. They may cost a little more, but they can also be used to wash jewelry and other household objects.

The first steps of using an ultrasonic cleaner are pretty similar to the standard cleaning processes above. But once you remove the keycaps, you’ll want to stick the keycaps in the cleaner instead of in a cleaning basin. The ultrasonic cleaner can also be used with a denture cleaner or with dish soap, and it vibrates them at high frequencies for more thorough cleaning. Instead of taking you a few hours, you can wash mechanical keyboards in a matter of time minutes or less.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Do You Clean Dirty Mechanical Keyboards?

If your keyboard has gotten dirty over time, you’ll want to be more thorough with your cleaning. You can find detailed instructions on how to accomplish this in the guide above.

What is the Best Way to Clean Keyboard Keys?

In either case, you need to remove the keycaps from the keyboard. The best method is to use an ultrasonic cleaner, but you don’t need to invest in such an expensive device to keep your keyboard decently clean. A little bit of rubbing alcohol along with some soap or denture cleaning tablets can accomplish the job perfectly well.

How Often Should I Clean My Mechanical Keyboard?

We recommend that you do a quick wipe down of your keyboard about once a week and go through a more thorough process every three to six months. You can find instructions for both processes outlined in the guide above.

Can You Put Mechanical Keyboards in the Dishwasher?

While it’s technically possible to use a dishwasher to clean a keyboard, that’s only true of membrane keyboards, and only those made from plastic. You should never use a dishwasher to wash mechanical keyboards due to the sensitivity of their parts and the materials they’re made from.

Wrapping Up

Mechanical keyboards may be relatively complex devices, but cleaning them doesn’t have to be a chore. We hope you’ve learned everything you need to know above but feel free to get in touch with us if you know any methods we might have missed.

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