automatic keycap cleaining?
February 28, 2008 9:53 PM   Subscribe

What (automatic) methods would you recommend for cleaning grime off the keycaps of a keyboard?

The keyboard on my desktop went out the other day. I have a backup I can use, but it's really dirty. I've taken off the keycaps, and cleaned underneath, but I still need to clean the crap off the keys. I really don't feel like scrubbing them off one-by-one.

I have this awesome idea to put them in the washing machine, but am not sure if this will work without damaging them.

If you have a better idea, let me have it!
posted by ArgentCorvid to Computers & Internet (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Unless it's a super-fancy keyboard with weird electronic features, just run it through the dishwasher. Then allow 3 days or so for it to completely dry before plugging it back in. Many people have done this successfulyl, as a google search will verify.
posted by chrisamiller at 9:56 PM on February 28, 2008

Also, you probably want to use less soap than normal and turn off any super-hot drying methods. If it won't warp something like tupperware or cheap plastic cups, your keyboard will be fine, though.
posted by chrisamiller at 9:58 PM on February 28, 2008

I've heard of putting the whole keyboard in the dishwasher. Googling that shows some news articles recommending it and other not recommending it. Generally submerging electronics in water isn't a problem as long as they aren't on, and you don't turn them back on until they are completely try. Water just shorts the wires in the system, so if no electricity is flowing, there is no problem. Make sure you remove any batteries (there shouldn't be any in your keyboard), and don't use soap or anything else that might leave a residue when it dries.

I have personally taken keyboards apart and washed just the plastic shell in the dishwasher with success. With some keyboards the electronics easily come out and other not so much. I've also had a cellphone survive the washing machine (after I put in a new battery), but I was probably lucky in that case.
posted by recursion at 10:00 PM on February 28, 2008

Response by poster: oh, yeah. I forgot. I don't have a dishwasher. should have out that in the question...
posted by ArgentCorvid at 10:05 PM on February 28, 2008

Bioré Daily Facial Cleansing cloths will take unbelievable amounts of grime off keys while not damaging the painted on characters. They come in little packs of 30, you can use the remainder on your face too. I use them on white Apple keyboards and...well, my keys are bright white. Also great for cleaning that weird black stuff that magically appears on the bottom of mice.

I've also used Fantastik or 409 sprayed onto paper towels, but this requires more scrubbing and repeated applications will eventually eat away the silkscreening.
posted by jamaro at 10:11 PM on February 28, 2008

Oops sorry, I totally missed the 'automatic' tag.

I don't think a top loading washing machine will work at all; such clothes washers are designed to rub fabric together to facilitate cleaning and the agitator is very hard plastic powered by a very power motor in the middle of a metal drum. I suspect your keyboard won't last the wash. If you have access to a front-loading washer, maybe on a delicates cycle, but still it's going to be tumbling your keyboard around in a metal drum.
posted by jamaro at 10:18 PM on February 28, 2008

Response by poster: I already have the main unit of the keyboard clean. It's the keys themselves that I need to clean now.

jamaro: maybe it would be more effective If I put the keycaps in the washing machine with a couple towels?
posted by ArgentCorvid at 10:31 PM on February 28, 2008

If you're talking about the removed keys themselves, I'd soak 'em in a bottle's worth of rubbing alcohol / Isopropyl overnight. $2 at the drugstore. In the morning just wipe 'em dry and the dirt should just fall off without any scrubbing.
posted by dobbs at 10:34 PM on February 28, 2008

I've usually found that if you spray something like Formula 409 on a keyboard and give it a few minutes the grime comes off pretty easily. You certainly may have super-grime, though. But remember much of the dirt is oil from your skin so if you were only using water you need detergent / soap too.
posted by XMLicious at 10:36 PM on February 28, 2008

maybe it would be more effective If I put the keycaps in the washing machine with a couple towels?

Oh! I thought you wanted to run the entire thing through but if you don't mind prying off the keys, toss them into a lingerie bag* so they don't get wedged under the agitator.

*available at walmart, target, kmart, etc for a few bucks.

Before I accidentally discovered the magic of Bioré, I would pry keys off, drop them into a bowl with dish soap and warm water and stir with a big spoon. Dunno if that qualifies as automatic enough, though.
posted by jamaro at 10:47 PM on February 28, 2008

Wow, you all astound me, I had no idea you could resort to something as drastic as a dishwasher. My analog-to-digital engineer dad taught me to clean everything with cloths/Qtips dipped in isopropyl alcohol, which has always served me well. It evaporates quickly, preventing corrosion damage.

But I may be a little too fey, or behind the times, or something.
posted by Miko at 10:48 PM on February 28, 2008

A new keyboard costs $20. Why bother trying to fix the old one?
posted by Class Goat at 11:49 PM on February 28, 2008

But I may be a little too fey, or behind the times, or something.

Well, unless you've got mad-Q-tipping-skillz, you're not getting any of the dirt and grime in between the keys. I realize that wasn't in the OP's request, but I know I wouldn't bother going through all the trouble of cleaning a keyboard if it wasn't going to be perfect when I finished with it.

The only "automatic" way I've ever used (and I use the term loosely) is to open the keyboard, remove the keys, dump them all in a big bucket of water, throw in some Mr. Clean, agitate, agitate some more, rinse, dry off, and put keys back on. It's a pain in the ass. I wouldn't recommend a dish washer, only because the water you're using isn't pure and will be filled with sediments that can cause problems after drying. (Can--not necessarily will).

If you think your time is worth more to you than $7/hr., just get a new keyboard. They're cheap as fuck. $6.99 for a brand-spankin' new keyboard. Buy ten of them and, with shipping, you're looking at $8.00/keyboard.

Five or ten years of never having to worry about this shit might just be worth it.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:50 PM on February 28, 2008

Used to pry off keys and clean in soapy water. Now, blank screen and Clorox Disenfecting Wipes, and a can of Air Duster. Over thinking a plate of beans.
posted by zengargoyle at 11:55 PM on February 28, 2008

Hey look, here's another for $4.99. Four dollars and ninety-nine-fucking cents.

Keep in mind, these are the decent keyboards. If you want a real el-cheapo, you can get one for $3.99. Less than four dollars. You can get ten of these and they'll still cost you less than the cheapest keyboard at your local big-box retailer.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:57 PM on February 28, 2008

A new keyboard costs $20. Why bother trying to fix the old one?

Because this kind of disposable-everything lifestyle is what's raping our environment and using up our oil reserves needlessly.
posted by chrisamiller at 12:59 AM on February 29, 2008 [5 favorites]

He might like that keyboard. I can't imagine how you get it so dirty though, I've had mine for a couple years now and use it daily/at lans and it's still mostly clean.
posted by Submiqent at 1:10 AM on February 29, 2008

Prise off the keys, put them in a pillowcase, tie the pillowcase really tight. Put this in another pillowcase. Tie that too. Then wash the whole thing in the machine. No lost keys. No broken washing machine. Two clean pillowcases.
posted by essexjan at 1:19 AM on February 29, 2008

posted by Wet Spot at 5:46 AM on February 29, 2008

Generally submerging electronics in water isn't a problem as long as they aren't on

Yeah, just throw your whole computer in the dishwasher. I'm sure it'll be fine. NOT! This is a pretty insane statement to make. Water can cause all manner of problems with electronics that will lead to premature failure of the electronic components. That said, I can see where washing a whole keyboard might be the worst idea, but I can also see where it could cause damage as well.
posted by Doohickie at 5:50 AM on February 29, 2008

The dishwasher keyboard trick might work in the short term, but probably not in the long term. My opinion is that it's a hoax being perpetrated upon the public, but that's another story.

Get some generic glass cleaner, the kind with ammonia in it. Not the kind with butyl cellosolve in it (brand name Windex). Either use a qtip to clean the keys individually. Or my preferred method is to LIGHTLY mist it directly onto the keyboard. You are just moistening the keys, you don't want it on there so heavy that it would drip into the works of the keys. Let it sit for a moment, and wipe off. Repeat as necessary. The ammonia is an excellent degreaser, and keyboard funk is almost all skin oils.
posted by gjc at 6:55 AM on February 29, 2008

Dump the caps in a bowl, add water and a denture cleaner tablet (or two or three). Let them soak for an hour or two (longer if they're really grubby), then rinse all that grunge away.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:16 PM on February 29, 2008

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