Tuesday, April 28, 2009

How to clean your keyboard

So you've decided to clean your keyboard. Whatever the reason (maybe a stuck key got you killed in your favourite game), you need to use a very methodical approach to complete this task.

Before I begin, I should mention that keyboards are a very inexpensive commodity. If you have a cheap keyboard it may be a better idea to just go out and buy a new one, rather than spending all the time on cleaning the one you've got. But that all depends on how much your time is worth to you. An experienced cleaner can get the job done fairly quickly, but a thorough job by a first-timer may take up to an hour.

So to begin, here is what you will need:

1. A flat-headed screwdriver (or some other implement to remove the keys)
2. A bowl of warm, soapy water
3. Q-Tips. A lot of them.
4. A small device to clean out crevasses. I used a plastic toothpick.
5. An absorbent cloth. I used a chamwow, but paper towel works just as well.

So to begin, take careful note of the layout of your keyboard. PC Guide has an excellent write-up with pictures of several keyboard layouts here.

Make sure that your keyboard is not plugged in while you do this - water and electronics do not mix. If you have a USB keyboard you don't have to turn your computer off. If you have a PS/2 keyboard, or an even older AT Keyboard, you will have to shut down your computer before you can start using the keyboard again after you are done.

Next, we need to remove the keys. I usually start with the large keys (i.e. the space bar, CTRL, ALT, Enter, Backspace, etc.) and then worry about the smaller ones later. When removing these larger keys, take special note of how they are connected to the keyboard. Many keyboards use special connectors to help keep them in place and maintain the ability to use them regardless of where on the key they connect. This will become very important when you put the keyboard back together.

Once you have all the keys removed, place them in the warm, soapy water. This will allow them to clean off while you focus on the real dirty work - underneath the keys.

Use Q-Tips to clean out the area around the keys. I like to dip a q-tip in the water and then run it between the key wells. Repeat this until you have removed the majority of the grime that has built up.

Next you need to focus on the harder areas. Many keyboards have small crevasses in which grime builds up very quickly. Use something small to make sure that these areas are cleaned out well, and follow up with a brush of a Q-Tip to make sure the job is done.

After we have the main area of the keyboard clean we need to focus on the holes that the keys go into. I recommend not using any water for this part, as the key holes do go down into the electronics of the keyboard. For particularly bad messes, though, it is acceptable to use a small amount of water on the Q-Tip.

Make sure to get all of the holes cleaned out. Wipe everything dry with another Q-Tip (make sure it's a clean one!). Once this is done it is time to start putting everything back together. Are you glad you took note of your keyboard layout now?

Before putting the keys back where they belong, take a moment to dry them off. Make sure that there is no gunk built up on the sides of the keys, and check underneath to ensure that there is nothing there either. Then, carefully, replace the large keys first. This will give you a better framework to work with when connecting all the other keys as well. As mentioned before, this can be tricky, so take your time. Make sure that you get the keys connected up the same way they were before you started. Once you have all the special keys in place, go ahead and start putting the rest of the keys in. Once all of the keys are back on, you can go ahead and reconnect your keyboard. Test it out in your favourite word processor (mine is Notepad) to make sure that your keys are all in the correct spot and have an appropriate amount of bounce to them.

There you go, you're done! That was easy, wasn't it?

Of course, if this doesn't help you (too much Pepsi in the keyboard perhaps?) you can always go to the nearest computer store and purchase a new keyboard. You won't pay more than $20 for a standard 104-key Windows keyboard, which should satisfy all the needs of any computer user. Extra buttons may seem like a nice feature but they are completely superfluous.