If you’ve never learned how to clean a mechanical keyboard, there’s a good chance yours is harboring tons of dust and bacteria under the keycaps.
By cleaning your own mechanical keyboard, you can avoid costly switch repairs and maintenance services.
Light, Preventative Cleaning of Mechanical Keyboard
With the proper preventative cleaning schedule, you can limit how often you have to plunder the dank depths of your keycaps.
It only takes a few supplies, especially if you do preventative cleaning in between deep cleaning.
When learning how to clean a mechanical keyboard, start by developing a habit of performing routine maintenance.
Once a week, take five minutes to give everything a quick polish and vacuum.
Tools and Supplies:
- Handheld vacuum cleaner or electronics-grade cleansing putty
- Slightly damp microfiber cloth or disposable wipe
- Dry microfiber cloth
- Unplug your keyboard. Place it on a clean work surface away from the rest of your computer.
- Carefully clean all loose dust and debris from the keyboard with the vacuum or the cleansing putty.
- If you don’t have a handheld vacuum cleaner, use a narrow hose attachment to get into hard-to-reach spaces.
- Wipe across the keyboard case and keycaps with the damp cloth, carefully running it between the keys.
- Wipe everything off a second time with the dry microfiber cloth.
Be sure that everything is dry before you plug your keyboard back in to avoid electric shock or damaging fragile electronic components.
Heavy-Duty Deep Cleaning of Mechanical Keyboard
Even the most rigorous preventative cleaning scheduling can’t protect you from the deep cleansing your mechanical keyboard needs every few months.
Unlike membrane or butterfly keyboards, which sit relatively flush to the case, mechanical keyboards have large spaces for dust, hair, crumbs, and grime to accumulate.
Over time, that build-up becomes more troublesome than disgusting.
If enough gunk creeps between the switch mechanisms, it can affect key response times and cause severe lag.
The only solution is to pull your keycaps and start scrubbing.
Tools and Supplies:
- Keycap remover or flathead screwdriver
- Microfiber cloth
- Warm water
- Mild soap or denture cleaning tablets
- Cotton swabs
- Isopropyl alcohol
- Handheld vacuum cleaner or narrow nozzle attachment
Setup Your Workstation
First, gather all your tools and keep them close at hand. The better organized you are, the less likely it is that you’ll misplace a component.
Fill a bowl big enough to hold all of your keycaps with warm water and a few drops of soap or a fizzing denture tablet.
Either option will break down finger oils and stuck-on particles.
Remove the Keycaps with Stabilizers
Arm yourself with your keycap-remover of choice. A tool specially designed for the job is best, but a flathead screwdriver works in a pinch.
Always start with the larger keys, which are typically attached to a stabilizer. That includes:
- Left-shift and right-shift
In 10-key mechanical keyboards, there are additional stabilizers under the plus, 0, and enter Numpad keys.
Start with the spacebar, carefully moving it to the left and right to detach from the stabilizer.
Be gentle and patient, allowing the tool to apply pressure until you hear a soft popping sound indicating that the cap is off the key.
Continue with the rest of your stabilized keycaps, putting them in the bowl of warm water as you work.
Remove the Remaining Keycaps
Once you remove the larger keys, it’s much easier to pry up the rest.
Slide your tool under the edge, putting gentle pressure to lever the keycap up.
If you are having trouble getting under keycaps blocked by the molding around the outside of the case, swap out for tweezers.
As you work, continue tossing caps into the bowl of water.
Remove Large Debris
Now that you’ve revealed the full scope of the grime lurking under your keycaps, it’s time to put in some elbow grease.
Run a small tool around the edges of the keys, loosening any stuck debris that a vacuum might miss.
Shake the keyboard into the garbage can to get rid of the larger detritus.
Next, you’ll vacuum up specks of dust.
When first learning how to clean a mechanical keyboard, you may worry that putting a vacuum cleaner against the naked keys is dangerous.
Your keyboard will be fine as long as it is unplugged and you don’t mash the hose into the components.
It’s time to bring out the cotton swabs and rubbing alcohol.
This particular choice of cleaning liquid kills bacteria and evaporates virtually on contact, so you don’t have to stress about your mechanical keyboard holding on to any moisture.
Dampen the swab in the alcohol, then run it between each of the keys. Apply a little pressure to tackle stuck-on grime.
Once the swab starts to unwind, swap out immediately or risk bits of cotton sticking to the delicate mechanisms your keycaps protect.
Reswab the channels as many times as necessary until you’ve dislodged all oil, dust, and hair.
Set the cleaned case aside to dry completely.
Wash and Dry the Keycaps
Tackle the soaking keycaps.
With a microfiber cloth, wipe down the tops, where your fingers strike the keys.
Never use paper towels because they can scratch the surface and create more crevices for dirt.
As you clean each keycap, lay it right side up on a dry microfiber cloth.
Let the caps sit for at least a couple of hours. This helps all moisture drain out.
Go over everything once more with a dry cloth, paying particular attention to the part that attaches to the switches.
Wipe Down and Dry the Case
Before you reassemble, give the outside of the plate a quick wipe down with a damp microfiber cloth, then a dry one.
Double-check the channels between the keys and touch-up spots you might have overlooked.
Reassemble the Keyboard
When everything is disinfected and dry, it’s time to reassemble.
Start with the stabilized keys again, hooking one side then maneuvering the other side onto its latch.
Continue working your way across the keyboard, referring to a key layout diagram if necessary.
How to Clean a Mechanical Keyboard After a Spill
After you spill something liquid on your mechanical keyboard, the most crucial step is to unplug it, or the liquid might cause a short in the circuit board.
The faster you unplug the keyboard, the more likely you’ll be able to recover from the spill.
Let the Keyboard Dry Out
Flip the keyboard over onto a towel, allowing it to drip dry for at least 24 hours. Do not attempt to plug it back in during the dry time.
If water is the culprit, there’s a good chance your keyboard will make a full recovery, but you should disassemble everything to check for lingering moisture before you use it again.
Cleaning Up Sugary Spills
Even soda and other sugary drinks don’t necessarily spell the end of your keyboard’s life.
Once you’ve learned how to clean a mechanical keyboard, use those same steps to clean up underneath the keycaps.
Test the “clickability” of each key once you’ve reassembled it. If you notice jamming or sticking, remove that keycap and double-check the switch.
It’s possible that you missed a sticky spot, so swab the area again for good measure.
Keep your mechanical keyboard in tip-top shape with preventative cleaning once a week and deep cleaning every couple of months.
In the event of a spill, unplug your mechanical keyboard immediately and let everything drain before you attempt a cleanup.
By maintaining a regular keyboard cleaning routine, your investment will last for years.
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