It’s not something that many people like to admit, but laptops can get quite filthy. Keeping these computers shiny and pristine is no easy task! Thanks to their portable nature, most laptop keyboards are exposed to more messes than a desktop keyboard.
To make matters worse, manufacturers aren’t exactly known for making their products easy to clean. Tiny bezels, thin keys, complex switches, and virtually no wiggle room make keyboard cleaning a bit more complex than you might think.
The good news is that cleaning your laptop keyboard is relatively easy with a bit of know-how and the right tools. Here are some ways that you can take care of messes big and small.
How To Clean A Laptop Keyboard
Basic Laptop Keyboard Maintenance
Regular cleanings are a great way to maintain a clean keyboard. Basic maintenance tasks can help you avoid an accumulation of crud in the long run. Not only does this improve the appearance of your laptop, but it can also prevent performance issues and sticky keys!
Basic maintenance is meant to take care of recent messes and airborne dust that tends to accumulate. It’s the first line of defense against grime and should be done frequently in between deeper cleanings.
What You Will Need:
- A can of compressed air
- Handheld vacuum cleaner
- A dry microfiber cloth
- A damp cloth
- Disinfecting wipes
First things first, shut down your laptop and unplug it from the power cord. While regular maintenance tasks are relatively mild compared to deep cleanings, it’s still a good idea to take some safety precautions. Unplugging your device will keep you safe from shocks. Meanwhile, shutting down your computer ensures that you don’t lock your device down or send any accidental emails as you clean.
Carefully turn your laptop upside down. Open it up and give it gently shake. This can help dislodge dust bunnies and remove any loose particles that may be hiding between the keys.
You can also move your laptop around a bit. Sometimes, food crumbs can get stuck behind keycaps. Tilting it around can help you remove some of the mess and prevent any damage to the key switches.
Now, take your can of compressed air and start blasting dirt away! Make sure that you attach the straw to get a precise stream of air. Approach the keyboard from the side and do short bursts. Pay close attention to the space between the keys.
Never use compressed air cans upside down! This could cause some of the chemicals inside to blast out with the air.
After that’s done, you can whip out your vacuum cleaner to suck up anything that was left behind. Any handheld device with a hose or tube will work. Though, we recommend investing in a dedicated keyboard vacuum. Available at most office supply stores, these vacuums are specifically designed to clean keyboards. They’re small enough to get around the keys, which is a huge perk.
If your keycaps are starting to look a bit messy, you can wipe them down with a damp microfiber cloth. Run the cloth under some warm water and wring it out completely. You don’t want any drips to affect the circuitry underneath.
Wipe each key down individually to remove finger oils.
After using a damp microfiber cloth, follow up with a dry one. This will help to absorb any extra moisture that was left behind.
This step is optional, but we recommend it. Use a disinfecting wipe to sanitize the keys. Spend some extra time cleaning frequently used keys, such as the spacebar, enter key, and ESC key.
Most wipes have some kind of alcohol to kill bacteria. Not only does this keep things sanitary, but the alcohol will evaporate quickly.
Deep Laptop Keyboard Cleanings
If your laptop keyboard still needs some attention, you can provide a deeper clean by removing the keys. This should be done if crud has gotten underneath the keycaps. Sleek modern laptops from Samsung, Apple, and other major brands have very little clearance under the keys. Thus, it doesn’t take much to affect the switches.
Removing the keys allows you to tackle messes on both sides of the keycaps. Plus, you can take care of any grime that has accumulated on the hinge or switch that’s causing sticky keys.
This cleaning technique should be done alongside the previous one to make sure that everything from the keys to the crevices is crud-free.
Tools That You Will Need:
- Key puller or pry tool
- Lint-free cloth
- Cotton swabs
- Isopropyl alcohol
- Soft brush
- Compressed air
- Handheld vacuum cleaner
- Large bowl
- Dish soap
- Warm water
Before you do anything, perform a bit of research on your specific laptop. Many brands use their own proprietary switching mechanism. For example, Macbooks made after 2016 use an impressively thin Butterly switch. Meanwhile, other brands may use a rubber dome switch.
The switch design affects how the keycap is attached. Many are only held together by tiny tabs that are very easy to break. To avoid damage, you need to learn what type of switch is used, how the keycaps are attached, and how to safely remove them.
Shut down your computer and unplug it from the power source. Because moisture will be involved, we recommend removing the battery as well if it’s possible for your laptop model.
For peace of mind, we recommend taking a few photos of your keyboard layout. While you might use your laptop every day, you’d be surprised at how difficult it can be to figure out where those keys go. Having photos for reference can make the process much easier.
Now, it’s time to remove the keys. Some laptop makers offer specially made pullers that are designed to remove keys safely. However, most do not. So, you’ll need to use a pry tool to get the job done.
These are usually small flat tools made out of plastic or metal. They can get underneath the keys, allowing you to use leverage to snap them right off. You can also use a small flathead screwdriver. Though, exercise some caution to avoid scratching the material underneath.
Be extra careful when removing large keys. The spacebar, in particular, is held down with multiple attachment points. Due to the large size of the spacebar, it’s very easy to snap those connections once you start prying things off. Work slowly and pry the key off incrementally at multiple points.
As you remove the keys one by one, place them aside in a safe container.
Some keyboards have small plastic actuation hinges. This is pretty common with very slim laptops from Apple. You can remove the hinges for cleaning.
Don’t worry, aside from large keys, the hinges are all designed the same regardless of the key. However, they are delicate, so be careful! Place the hinges in a large bowl for cleaning.
Fill the bowl with actuator hinges with warm water. If you have accidentally spilled something on your laptop, the actuation hinges could get sticky. Giving them a good soak will take care of that issue in no time.
Add a few drops of standard dish soap. Dish soap is made to cut through grease, so it’ll take care of any grime that’s affecting the movement of the hinges. Alternatively, you can use a couple of denture tabs. In addition to dissolving oil and grease, they will sanitize the hinges.
Let the hinges soak for about 10 minutes. Then, rinse them off with warm water. Make sure to get rid of all the soap. Otherwise, you’ll have soap residue to deal with! Once that’s done, let the hinges dry on a paper towel.
Turning your attention back to the keyboard switches, you can now use your can of compressed air and vacuum cleaner to remove dirt. The goal for this step is to remove loose debris that’s stuck in those previously unreachable crevices.
If there are some caked-on particles that won’t budget with air or suction, you can use a soft brush to dislodge them. Any brush with soft bristles will do. You could even use a clean toothbrush.
Just be careful around the switches. Avoid pushing any dirt into the switches. These components are quite fragile, so always use a light hand.
At this point, you can remove any oils or residue that’s affecting the performance of your keys. This is what the isopropyl alcohol is for!
Often marketed as rubbing alcohol, this cleaning solution is one of the best for removing grease. Any isopropyl alcohol over 90 percent can dissolve messes in seconds. Plus, it’s pure enough to not affect electronics.
Of course, you should still be careful! Dip a Q-Tip into the alcohol. Wring the cotton out a bit by rubbing it on the side of the bottle. You want the cotton swab to be saturated but not dripping.
Then, use the cotton swab to wipe the area beneath the keycap. Work cautiously around the key switch and swap out your Q-Tip for a new one regularly. The alcohol should evaporate almost immediately, eliminating the need to follow up with dry swabs.
Now, you can focus your attention on the individual keys. Examine each key closely to determine your course of action. Typically, a good wipe down with a lint-free cloth and some rubbing alcohol is good enough. This will remove finger oils on the surface of the key and any gunk underneath.
However, if there are any messes that require special attention, use a brush or cotton swab to take care of the issue.
After all is said and done, you can reassemble your laptop keyboard. Place a plastic actuation hinge and align the keycap on top. Apply some light pressure on the bottom of the key. It should click into place and function normally.
How to Handle Spills
Accidental spills are the bane of any laptop owner. All it takes is a few drops of sugary soda to completely ruin your laptop. In addition to affecting the computer keyboard, there’s the risk of damaging key electronic components underneath.
If you accidentally spill something on your laptop, time is of the essence! You need to act quickly to minimize damage and prevent injury.
What You’ll Need:
- Lint-free cloth
- Paper towels
- Cleaning tools from previous methods
Immediately after the spill, disconnect the laptop from the power supply and remove the battery. Then, carefully examine the device.
If you notice any smoke coming out of your laptop do not touch it. The liquids could have affected the battery. You may also notice some swelling or bulging around the battery. Step away from the laptop to avoid any potential burns or electric shocks.
If there’s no smoke or bulging, that’s a good sign. There’s a chance that your laptop can be salvaged!
Open up the laptop completely and place it facedown on a towel or old t-shirt. The goal is to protect the laptop screen while giving gravity the chance to work its magic. Ideally, excess liquid will fall out of the keyboard and onto the towel.
Wipe away any excess liquids that are visible. Use a paper towel or soft cloth to blot away as much moisture as you can see.
The next step is to simply wait. You need to let the liquid evaporate completely before you attempt to clean it. At the very least, wait for 24 hours. Though, we recommend letting the laptop dry for about 2 days. Even if the surface of the laptop is dry, there still could be liquids inside. The lack of airflow extends the evaporation process quite a bit.
After a couple of days of drying, you have a couple of options on how to proceed. You can either take it to get professionally cleaned or you can attempt to do the job yourself.
You can follow our steps to perform a deep clean of the keyboard. However, those methods won’t do you any good if the liquid went past the keyboard and started affecting other components. In that case, we recommend investing in professional cleaning services.
With a successful cleaning job, you should be able to safely turn the computer on again. If all goes well, the laptop will be as good as new. You never know until you turn it on. Sometimes, liquids can harm specific components and leave others unscathed. A professional cleaning service will be able to diagnose the damage fully and let you know what components need to be replaced.
There you have it! We hope that these cleaning tips can help you keep your laptop keyboard keys in pristine condition. The great thing about laptop cleaning is that it can be as simple or complex as you need. If you stick to a regular maintenance schedule, deep cleanings will be few and far between.