How do I clean my computer keyboard?
November 18, 2005 11:13 AM   Subscribe

I just spilled soda on a mac computer keyboard. How do I clean it?

The keyboard got completely drenched, I've mopped it up superficially but there is still liquid under the keys! Is it possible to take it apart? It's one of those new, clear plastic ones. Suggestions?
posted by anticlock to Computers & Internet (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Unplug the KB immediately. Use a thin intrument to gently but firmly start popping keys off from the right side (delete, \, return, shift, control) and work your way left. When you've removes all the keys, soak them and the keyboard in warm soapy water. After a good long soak, pull everything out of the water and allow to dry completely. (This is very important!) the keyboard itself will take quite some time to dry out and may need the assistance of a hair dryer of fan.

When you think it's all dry, wait longer. Then reassemble, plug in, and test.
posted by pmbuko at 11:26 AM on November 18, 2005

I think it was Pournelle who used to recommend taking a soiled keyboard into the shower with you.
posted by kindall at 11:50 AM on November 18, 2005

Letting it dry completely cannot be over emphasized. If there is any moisture left inside when you plug it in then the keyboard will be fubar'd within a few days or weeks.

Oh, and be sure not to melt the thing if trying to use a hair dryer on it.

I've also heard that running a keyboard through the dishwasher will clean it out really well, although since I don't have one of those fancy modern contraptions I haven't tried it myself.
posted by J-Garr at 11:57 AM on November 18, 2005

Don't do the dishwasher thing, at least not with detergent in it. The detergent is caustic, and will screw up the contacts in the keyboard. Remember what that new aluminum tray looked like after the dishwasher got through with it?

Long ago, a repair tech over on DealMac said to run copious amounts of clean water over the keyboard, until you're sure all the sticky stuff is gone, then let dry thoroughly. If you've got forced-hot-air heat, put it on a heat register for a few days. That amount of heat won't melt anything, and the air coming out is very dry.

BTW, this accident is known as the Pepsi Syndrome.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:10 PM on November 18, 2005

Usually you don't need to actually take the keys off. As long as you immediately unplugged it (to try to avoid frying the electronics), just rinse it thoroughly (under running water for several minutes is fine). This is to rinse out the soda, because it's the stickiness that will cause you problems. Then just air dry it for a couple of days (lie it upside down in a warm place). Works more often than not...
posted by littleme at 12:25 PM on November 18, 2005

The new clear plastic ones are layered membranes on the inside. I would be surprised if you could get all of the soda out from between the membranes without submerging the keyboard.

I suggest a bath of water, with a lot of agitation. Then, pour 91% rubbing alcohol through it to help get the water out.

Then let it dry for many days, preferably over a cool forced air appliance.

These keyboards can be opened once you find the screws on the bottom underneath the sticker. Getting to the membrane is another story - it's screwed on with about 75 tiny phillips head screws. Once you take the metal back off, don't tip or press on the key mechanisms - they'll fall right out.
posted by tomierna at 12:43 PM on November 18, 2005

I actually did the experiment once, I ran a keyboard through the dishwasher, upside down with no detergent. Then I left it over a furnace vent for about a month. It worked fine, except for one of the "6" keys, and we had another one, so we didn't care. It really didn't work to begin with, so it was a net gain.
posted by unrepentanthippie at 12:52 PM on November 18, 2005

I open up and clean my keyboards all the time. I just hate the feeling of typing on cracker bits.

The anatomy of a keyboard is fairly simple, yet fairly daunting.

The simple part: a few screws and the case opens (screws can be found exposed, or hidden 'neath stickers or rubber feet). Some keyboards are designed so you have to "pop" the key into place. With other keyboards, just opening up the case allows you to remove the keys. Either way, you should open it upside down just to make sure.

Directly under the keys are tiny rubber cups that provide the springiness in the key. In the center of the cup is a hard nub that contacts what looks like a giant simplified circuit board made of plastic. Don't lose any of these nubs. Just don't. They're as important as the keys themselves. Some keys have additional tiny springs and metal clips that give them extra "ooomph" because the keys are physically larger -- the space bar and enter key in particular.

Under the rubber cups are two pieces of plastic film connected to each other on a side. It's a very finely etched, very flimsy circuitboard. All the leads terminate near the top of the keyboard to a small "real" circuitboard with the basic keyboard IO circuits on it. These days, it's basically a single chip. Here there will also be connections to any lights on your keyboard (in particular the capslock, numlock and scroll lock lights). A cable connects to this circuit board and snakes its way out to your computer.

That's the simple part. The complicated part is that there are at least 101 individual keys and rubber cups to keep track of. Lose one and you might as well get a new keyboard. Putting the keyboard back together is a good exercise in learning your home keys (if you're ever taken a typing class). You may want a reference keyboard so you don't put anything in wrong. The 'T' arrow keys are the hard ones 'cause they all look the same. Just remember that keys are designed to slant upwards, thus the longer side of the key goes towards the front (the typist).

Now, actually addressing your question: once you've separated the keys and cups from the rest of the board, you'll want to get a large bucket of soapy water and just dump them all in it. Let them soak for an hour or so; if you feel like aggitating the bucket for better cleaning, feel free. Just don't lose anything. When you're done, place the keys and rubber cups on a giant paper towel to dry.

Now, with keyboard spills, the real problem is the circuit film under the keys. Because there are two layers of film, liquid has a tendency to get in between the sheets. If this liquid is anything caustic (like, say, Coke), your keyboard could be fucked. The acids in soft drinks can really do a number to this film. You'll have to clean off both sides of each sheet thoroughly and dry them. I must warn you that this film is a lot more delicate than it appears: I just recently went through the whole "key-cleaning" process only to find that the circuit film on my last keyboard was fucked by Coke, so it was all a wasted effort. But don't let that discourage you! :)

When you're ready, put the rubber cups under the keys and install them one at a time. Now comes the single hardest part of reassembly. You'll need to line up the section holding the keys+cups with the circuit film. If you misalign them, it won't work (or it won't work well). Of course, you'll only know for sure after you've powered up your computer and tested each of the keys. And make sure you test EACH AND EVERY KEY just to be safe.

Or, you know, you could just shell out $20 for a new keyboard.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:14 PM on November 18, 2005 [1 favorite]

Be careful. Once you make a spill like this the keys stick and you are screwed.
posted by xammerboy at 11:34 PM on November 18, 2005

civil: $20 for a new keyboard ? Gotta be a shiny Logitech to cost that much.
posted by elpapacito at 8:09 AM on November 19, 2005

Yeah, well Best Buy stopped carrying the no-name Korean boards, so I had to shell out $25 for the simplest no-bullshit-no-media-buttons keyboard I could find, and even that has backlit keys. Ugh.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:51 AM on November 19, 2005

Not as good as my old IBM that I literally wore out the ctrl keys on, but I have two of these no-frills Belkin keyboards and I've been pleased. Pretty cheap too, I think I got them at office depot or something.
posted by crunchywelch at 4:40 PM on November 19, 2005

Note that many keyboards' rubber cups are all part of a single, rubber film wih the "cups" indented on it, making that part of the task very simple. What can also be a bit tricky is reattaching the large keys (e.g. spacebar, enter) as they have a metal bar which must be slid underneath small plastic tabs (you'll know what I'm referring to once you pry off one of said keys) before you snap the key back into place.
posted by rmannion at 9:41 PM on November 22, 2005

Apple Pro Keyboards, which are PC compatible, and have onboard USB hubs, are pretty much spill resistant these days - the keys are fully removable, but underneath, the workings are sealed off from dust, crumbs and other nasties.

Highly recommended. Cleaning mine recently was a pleasure.
posted by armoured-ant at 4:32 PM on November 24, 2005

I've run 3 keyboards (one of the original IBM PC keyboards, a 2001 Microsoft Natural, and a 1997 Dell) through the dishwasher (no soap, no heating cycle) and come out with 3 completely functional and clean keyboards. Probably wouldn't try this technique with a wireless keyboard though.
posted by longdaysjourney at 4:58 PM on December 1, 2005

Hi, I have been known to totally submerge a keyboard in water and scrub it (regular and laptop variety). Obviously they are disconnected at the time. After letting them dry an appropriate amount of time, plug them back in and you are good to go. Your mileage may vary.

P.s. This is a serious comment I have actually done this successfully on a number of occasions.
posted by nasim at 3:47 AM on December 4, 2005

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