Many people spend hours of their day in front of their computer. Whether you are working, gaming, or just browsing the web, we invest quite a bit of time interacting with our mouse and keyboard. Because of this, wear and tear are commonplace. Your keyboard will suffer the most out of all of your peripherals, constantly being touched by (our sometimes less than clean) hands. It can be helpful to occasionally clean out your keyboard to remove any debris that may be on the board underneath. Whether it’s dust, bits of food, hair, or any other dirt, removing these particles can extend the life of your keyboard. To this end, it’s important to know how to remove keyboard keys.
Luckily, it is fairly simple to clean these things out and return your keyboard to sparkling new condition. The most effective method is by removing the keycaps, exposing all of the dirt and grime below for an easy clean up. We will discuss the various methods you can use to clean out your keyboard, as well as which tools you can use to remove the keycaps for easy access.
Why Would You Need to Remove Your Keyboard Keys?
As we mentioned above, being able to remove your keycaps is the most effective method in cleaning out the board and switches below. Often times you will see compressed air being used to clean out debris. Unfortunately, this will only act to remove a portion of the dirt below while pushing the rest deeper into the keyboard and underneath the switches. Removing the caps and using a cotton swab, or something similar, to directly clean the board is a superior method.
Cleaning the caps themselves can also extend the life and appearance of your keyboard. This is especially helpful if you have white or light colored keycaps, as dirt and grime can easily build up and darken the look. Using a light soap-based cleaning product along with a cotton swab or Q-Tip can help with the cleaning process of the caps. Be careful to avoid harsh cleaning products, as these can remove the outer printing on the keycaps. Harsh cleaning products can also fade the color depending on the type of plastic or coating layer on the cap, and will eventually ruin the overall aesthetic.
Keyboard Rebuilding and Collecting
There is a huge community of keyboard enthusiasts who build and collect various styles of mechanical keyboards. Changing out the switches for a “clicky” typing experience, or possibly going with a linear switch for smooth typing are a regular part of mechanical keyboard use. Getting access to the board below the keycaps is where you’ll be able to change out the switches, thus requiring easy removal of the caps.
Another aspect of mechanical keyboard collecting is the replacement of the keycaps themselves. Keycaps become a statement of style with high-end boards, with various fonts, colors, build quality, and even images being printed on the top. Being able to remove the keycaps easily and without damage is a vital part of rebuilding and modifying your keyboard.
How to Remove Keyboard Keys/Keycaps
There are a number of methods you can utilize to properly remove your keyboard keys/keycaps. You can make use of both household items and specialized tools, although the results may vary. Below we’ll discuss the pros and cons of using specialized keycap pullers as opposed to items you may already have around the house.
There a few household items that you can make use of when looking to remove keycaps from your keyboard. Generally, any thin and flat object that can fit underneath the edge of the keycap will be able to provide enough force to pop the key off its switch. These household items can include, but are not limited to:
- Flat Head Screwdriver
- Butter Knife
- Blade from a Pair of Scissors
- House or Car Key
Taking the flat side of these objects, you can then place the tip under the corner of your keycap. Slowly apply pressure until the cap begins to lift off its switch. Although these objects can be used, there are a few draw backs. While an object like a knife may be able to fit under the keycap, you run the risk of cutting or scratching the cap (or possibly yourself) in the process. If you have an older keyboard this may not be a big issue, but with more expensive boards it is best to use a specialized tool.
Keycap pullers are exactly what the name implies. Coming in various designs, they are specifically built to remove keycaps without damage to the keyboard or caps themselves. These are the preferred tool for removal among keyboard enthusiasts, and are a risk and hassle free method.
There are two main designs of keycap pullers. Wire pullers are the most common keycap removers, expanding and fitting around almost any style of keycap. With the ability to lift from opposite corners of the cap, you simply lift with light pressure until it is dislodged.
The second design is a more custom fit plier design, fitting around the edges of the cap. Once around the edges, you simply squeeze the puller and lift straight up. The benefit of this design is that it can also be used to remove the switches underneath. This subsequently can speed up the process of removing the switch and keycap without changing tools. Below we’ll break down a few examples of these tools, explaining which puller is best for your keyboard.
Some Usefull Keycap Pullers
The classic wire keycap puller, this is the most common tool used when removing caps. With a black handle and stainless steel wires, this is a simple and inexpensive tool that will effectively remove caps with ease. Some of the key features of this product are:
- Ability to remove up to 3 keycaps at a time
- Comptatible with a wide variety of mechanical and non-mechanical keyboards
- Flexible wires for easy use and removal
This keycap puller is a bare bones product with a simple design and use. Although this is a no frills puller, it is effective in safely removing keycaps for cleaning and replacement.
This multi tool is similar to the first, with a wire puller on one side and the previously mentioned plier design on the opposite end of the tool. The plier side is especially useful for mechanical keyboard owners, aiding in the process of removing keyboard switches. Some of the key points of this product are:
- Stainless steal wire design
- Ability to pull up to 3 keycaps simultaneously
- Ability to remove Alps, Cherry MX, Topre, and other mechanical keyboard switches
This puller is a great all in one option for mechanical keyboard owners, providing both tools required for completely disassembling your keycaps and switches.
This bundle of keyboard cleaning tools covers all the bases. Containing a keycap puller, brush, and air blower, this will give you all the essentials in cleaning beneath your keycaps. Some of the key features are:
- Wire puller capable of removing most keycap styles
- Air blower to dislodge debris
- Brush to clean dust above and below keycaps
This 3 in 1 package is both inexpensive and multifaceted when it comes to keyboard maintenance.
Final Tips and Best Practices for Keyboard Cleaning
After finding the right tools for breaking down your keyboard, there are a few things to keep in mind when performing maintenance.
Remove Keycaps Slowly
While you may feel the urge to pull your caps as quickly as possible because of the vast number, it is important to take your time when you remove keyboard keys. Scratching or damaging the keycap can be a costly mistake, either leaving you to buy a new set of caps or living with a chipped keycap.
You can also damage the key switch itself, which is an even more dire outcome. If you use your keyboard daily, having a non-functioning key can practically make your keyboard unusable. While switches can be replaced, it is a nuisance well worth avoiding.
Be Careful With Which Cleaning Products You Use
Although many keyboards are “mechanical”, it doesn’t mean you can’t ruin the electronic board beneath the switches. If you choose to use liquids, always lightly apply them to the cotton or cloth you are using. Whether it is a Q-Tip or a cotton swab, only use the bare minimum amount of liquid to avoid any electronic damage. Certain products can also damage the coloring on the board and keycaps, so avoid using harsh chemicals during the cleaning process.
Reassembling the Keyboard
After your keyboard is back to sparkling new condition, replacing the switches and keycaps is the final step. Reference your keyboard layout when reapplying the keys to avoid mistakes while simultaneously speeding up the reassembly process. Remember to gently reapply the keycaps to avoid breaking the switch below. The best method would be to line up the keycap and simply press down with a normal keystroke until it is attached.
If you have followed all the steps correctly your keyboard will retain its new appearance. Repeat this process every couple of months or as needed, and you will greatly extend the lifespan of your keyboard.