How To Clean a Mechanical Keyboard


mechanical keyboard cleaning guide on the Switch and Click blog

Question and Answer

You’re typing away on your keyboard when your fingers notice something wrapping around them, squeezing them into little sausages? You look down, it’s long, dark, and slightly irritating to your fingertips to pick up. It’s a long piece of hair that fell onto your keyboard and might have lodged itself under your key caps to live again for another day. Now that you have invested in an expensive mechanical keyboard, the question is: how do you keep it clean and well-maintained to get the maximum lifespan out of it?

Don’t look too far. The answer is near. Keyboards, not just the mechanical kind, are near things such as finger oils, food spills, and the occasional hair loss. Regular light cleaning can be done regularly, and deep cleanings can be done as needed. It’s important to avoid damaging the electronics such as wiring and switches within the keyboard. Some keys, such as the ones with stabilizers underneath may be difficult to take off and put on, so save those for the deep cleanings. Keyboard maintenance can be done with simple household supplies such as a vacuum, cotton swabs, all-purpose cleaner, microfiber towels, and a brush. Keep reading down below for in-depth cleaning.

dirty and dusty keyboard
Go from this nasty-looking thing.
clean mechanical keyboard
To this beautiful thing.

Regular Preventive Cleaning and Maintenance

Personally, a regular basis may mean once every 2-4 weeks, depending on how often your keyboard is near dust and food particles. Doing this regularly will keep your keyboard nice and shiny. It also prevents accumulation of the bad stuff. We don’t like the bad stuff.

Materials Needed

  • Vacuum cleaner with an attachment to reach the keyboard
  • Microfiber towels (2)
  • Warm water or diluted isopropyl alcohol or all-purpose cleaner

Steps to Basic Cleaning Routine

  1. Unplug your keyboard. You don’t want the power to be on while you’re doing this. It’ll be annoying if your keyboard is still connected to the computer and you start hearing those beeping sounds.
  2. Use a vacuum with an attachment tube to blow dust out or suck dust out. Using a vacuum cleaner, gently press on the keys while it’s on to get under those keycaps.
  3. Use a microfiber cloth with a gently diluted all-purpose cleaner to wipe the surface, top and bottom. Make sure that it’s just a little damp and not soaked.
  4. Dry it using another microfiber cloth that doesn’t shed particles. Do not use paper towels, those can shed easily and undo what you’ve just worked so hard to clean.
vacuum attachments
Use an attachment similar to the one on the left-most side.

Other Related Tips

  • Turning your keyboard upside down and shaking may be enough for a weekly basis if you’re feeling lazy and just want a quick fix that will delay the inevitable.
  • Using cotton swabs between the keys and pressing can also help get those grimy areas.
  • White keyboards may accumulate dust and grime much faster (or visibly show faster). Using a toothbrush will help you get deep in there.

Deep Cleaning Routine

A deep cleaning routine may be necessary every 6 months or so. This is when you’ll have to take it apart a bit to get to the root of the problems. Hopefully, you’ve been doing the basic cleaning routine often so this part won’t be as painful.

Materials Needed

  • Keycap puller, I first started with a paper clip that I Macgyvered to go under the keys and pull out. You can also find a  more official one on Amazon (not affiliated).
  • Cotton swabs
  • Safe solvent – see below
  • Bowl
  • Warm water
  • Microfiber towel
  • Possibly pillow case or old undershirt
denture cleaner
Use the cheapest denture cleaner you can find at the store.

Steps for a Deep Cleaning Routine

  1. Unplug the keyboard, should I even say this anymore?
  2. Pull out your keycaps using your keycap puller of choice. If it’s a low-profile keyboard, you’re lucky. You get to use your hands for this step. Be careful of the switches as they are connected in more complicated ways. Make sure you remember which ones go where eventually when you put it back together. The arrow keys are especially hard for me on this step.
  3. Vacuum and use cotton swabs to get at the dust that’s under the caps you just pulled. That should be it for that.
  4. Clean the keys using a safe solvent. Here’s where those denture tablets come in handy. Put all your caps into a large bowl, fill it with water, and drop in a denture tab. Of course, you can replace the denture tablet with a drop of dish soap, laundry detergent, or Simple Green. DO NOT THROW THEM IN THE DISHWASHER. It could melt your keys.
  5. Wait 20-30 minutes, then strain the keycaps. Rinse off the solvent with plain warm water.
  6. Lay out your keycaps on a microfiber towel to dry. It’s also possible to put the, inside a fabric that doesn’t shed and shake them until dry.
  7. Make sure they are completely dry before reassembling.
  8. This might be the time to lube your switches. I’ll link a resource here on how to go about doing that since I have no experience with it yet. It’s time-consuming, but I’ve heard its worth it.
Keycaps spread out on carpet
Hmmm, clean keycaps.

Important Information Below Cleaning Your Keyboard

  • Make sure you use safe solvents to clean your keyboard or bad things will occur.
  • The safe solvents are:
    • Denture tabs
    • Water with a drop of laundry detergent
    • Simple Green All-Purpose Cleaner (diluted)
  • The unsafe solvents (AVOID) are:
    • Acetone
    • Ethyl alcohol
  • Do not use compressed air on your keyboard. Compressed air usually comes out cold and then condensates within the plastic.

Summary

We’ve looked at a simple preventative and simple maintenance routine that’ll keep your keyboard looking nice and shiny for when your coworkers or friends come over to check out the feels. We’ve also looked at a more deep and comprehensive cleaning routine that should be done every 6 months.

This is something that I have yet to do myself on my Massdrop CTRL keyboard I got recently, but I know I need to soon. In another guide article, we’ll gather up the resources on what to do if a spill occurs (gasp!), but in the meantime, don’t spill anything on your keyboard that can’t be wiped up with a quick towel.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to post them down below! I hoped this helped you as it did me, I’ll be doing more routine cleaning for my keyboards in the meantime.

Happy typing! And thanks for stopping by.

cotton swabs
Can’t forget these bad boys.

Sources

Updated Guide: How to Clean a Mechanical Keyboard. Daskeyboard.com

Ripster Guide: Cleaning Keyboards reddit.com

How to Clean a Mechanical Keyboard youtube.com

How I Lube MX Switches with Thin Lube youtube.com

Jake Harrington

Jake has been an avid mechanical keyboard user for the past six years. He has a background in Mechanical Engineering and wants to apply his expertise to break down how mechanical keyboards work and show the world all of the cool aspects of the mechanical keyboard hobby.

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