How-To: Clean Your Disgusting Mechanical Keyboard

By Published August 05, 2014 at 12:47 pm

Computers can get gross. We've already posted disturbing, NSFL before-and-after photos of preventative maintenance for extremely dusty, uncleaned PC internals; now it's time to look at the only component to accumulate more human filth than the inside of a power supply -- keyboards.

Luckily, cleaning keyboards isn't overly difficult by comparison. Sometimes. Then again, we've all seen the decade-old boards that are caked in brown fuzz, and I'm not so sure I'd even bother cleaning something like that.

Mechanical keyboards have the advantage of easily-removed keycaps and wider spacing between the keys. With the right tools and about 30 minutes of time, a dirty mechanical board can be restored to mostly pristine conditions. In this quick guide, we'll cover the basics of cleaning a mechanical keyboard by removing the keycaps, applying some putty, compressed air, and adding a bit of elbow grease.

Tools for the Job

With lightly-used keyboards, you can get away with just the keycap puller and compressed air; jobs that involve more hair or caked-in nastiness would do well to add the 3M scrub brush and Cyber Clean material.

Not all of these are necessary, though for particularly tough jobs, they can make life easier. You might also opt for a Hazmat suit and hellfire missiles (out of stock on Amazon) in the case of especially toxic keyboards.


Keyboard Cleaning Procedure

This is pretty straight forward and doesn't require much in the way of paragraph structure. Here's your step-by-step:

  • Remove all keycaps with the keycap puller. We'd suggest that you separate them by "right" and "left" halves of the keyboard, in case your shift / ctrl / alt buttons are of different sizes.
  • Get thee to a shrubbery. Head outside, flip the keyboard over, and lightly tap the loose flakes out from the bottom. Your dead skin has now rejoined the environment as soil, making this process officially "green."
  • Blast some compressed air into the keyboard while it's flipped over. Don't tip the canister upside-down unless it uses a nozzle that will allow this.
  • If you've still got hair stuck in switches or dead skin in the crevices, this is where you can apply the Cyber Clean compound to grab semi-loose particles that are more stubborn. Cyber Clean won't grab everything, so you'll still need to do some more work. There are stickier compounds out there, but you risk leaving sticky residue on the keyboard / switches that could cause switch sticking in the future. We wouldn't recommend anything stronger than what was linked above.
  • To remove final remnants, use the 3M scrub brush and solution (you could also apply any scrub brush or pipe cleaner with some rubbing alcohol) to scrub-out what's left. If using solution of some kind, allow the solution to fully dry before remounting the keycaps and connecting the keyboard electrically. A Q-Tip will also do the trick, but requires more elbow grease.
  • Re-apply keycaps.

Things Not to Do

  • Do not apply high-pressure spray (blasting it with a hose) as this can damage or rust springs and underlying PCBs. Some keyboards will have the PCB protected with a plastic cover to guard against spills, but that might not hold against high-pressure blasting.
  • If using any kind of liquid at all to clean the keyboard, do not reconnect it to a system before the liquid dries. This can short the board and destroy it.
  • Don't use sticky compound that is too sticky. Just make sure you check user reviews if straying from what is recommended here. Residue can cause switch sticking.

And that's about it, really. Once all of this is done, your keyboard should be more responsive on the switches with fewer instances of switch sticking, it'll be cleaner / safer in terms of health, and you can stop cringing every time you accidentally look top-down.

Consider taking this opportunity to buy some keycaps that are tailored to your favorite games, while you've got all the caps pulled.

- Steve "Lelldorianx" Burke.

Steve Burke

Steve started GamersNexus back when it was just a cool name, and now it's grown into an expansive website with an overwhelming amount of features. He recalls his first difficult decision with GN's direction: "I didn't know whether or not I wanted 'Gamers' to have a possessive apostrophe -- I mean, grammatically it should, but I didn't like it in the name. It was ugly. I also had people who were typing apostrophes into the address bar - sigh. It made sense to just leave it as 'Gamers.'"

First world problems, Steve. First world problems.

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