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

Does a Mechanical Keyboard Make You Type Faster?

Switch and Click blog post: How to Type Faster

Question and Answer

Ever since the PC became a staple in everyone’s household. Or even now when PCs are becoming less common and laptops are taking over, being able to type fast is quite the skill. So, I wonder, other than taking classes in school or something, how does one teach themselves to type faster?

I think this would be a helpful resource for my parents who immigrated to America in their 20s, but the tech boom didn’t occur until later in life. How do I get my dad to stop pecking with just his index fingers?

According to a research study, a hunt and peck method can be just as effective as touch typing. Typing styles are as different as people. Both hands even move separately. Like handwriting, playing the guitar or piano, it comes down to practice, technique, and frequency of practice. Sure, a typing course would be helpful, but all that learning needs to be applied daily. Perhaps I should tell my dad to start a blog. A mechanical keyboard could help with the tactile and audio feedback while learning. It also adds confidence and responsiveness to each keystroke, but it is not the end all be all. Make sure that your posture and desk/chair allow you to be in an ergonomic position to type.

Is there research?

When doing research, I found a Youtube video that cites studies that analyze how the hands and fingers move during typing. Their related article can be found here.

In short, it would be beneficial to watch the video or read the post, but here are some highlights.

The study was done in 2016 called How We Type: Movement Strategies and Performance in Everyday Typing. It was done by Anna Maria Feit, Daryl Weir, and Antti Oulasvirta.

In summary, they concluded that someone does not need to use all 10 fingers to be a fast typist. A person with 5 fingers can be just as fast as someone with 10. Even without touch typing, you can type without looking at your fingers.

Taking a typing course doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be a faster typist than people who did not. Both hands move differently when typing. And there are many different strategies that are effective.

Touch Typing and Typing Speed

The definition of touch typing is the skill of typing using all of one’s fingers without looking at the keys. It also involves positioning the hands on the home row, which is the middle row of the keyboard with the left hand on the letters ASDF and the right hand on the letters JKL: and the thumbs at the space bar.

Typists who do not use the home row keys but do not look at their keyboard are called hybrid typists. I myself am a hybrid typist while my husband is a touch typist. Personally, hand size makes a big difference.

If I were to touch type, keeping my fingers on the home row, my fingers would be strained and stretched to reach the far ends of the keyboard. It is an adaptation of wanting to type fast but being limited by finger length.

Home row keys
Home row keys

Does hand size affect typing speed?

According to my online research, typing is very similar to playing the piano. People of all hand sizes can play the piano well, but their techniques differ to adapt to their bodies.

Some things that can affect typing speed include the size of the keyboard, posture, the height of the chair and surface of the keyboard, and whether you remember the location of the keys or not.

What are some free online typing classes I can take?

I work in a school district and some of the things that my students use to learn typing include the following:

Educational resources for typing:

  • Typing Club – a free resource that has interactive videos and practice sessions. It starts from the very basics and progressively gets more difficult. Also allows you to take a placement test to skip things you might already be good at.
  • EduTyping – an education-focused resource that you child might have access too and can practice at home.
  • Keyboarding Without Tears – a curriculum that is low cost for students who have a difficult time learning to type using other methods

Mainstream resources for typing:

  • Tipp10 is a free online resource for learning to touch type. It is available as a web app or as a downloadable software version as well.
  • keybr is another free resource that allows you to practice touch typing that offers a cool on-screen visual of where the keys are, so you don’t have to look down so much.
  • Typing.com has some free typing lessons, but it is limited. Not all their content is available without payment.
  • Speed Typing Online has basic lessons as well, but practice gets boring as it is super repetitive
  • Ratatype has basic lessons on how to start touch typing and practice as well.
  • BBC’s Dance Mat Typing lets you learn in a game-like fashion, super fun for kiddos and adults alike.  
  • Typing Study has comprehensive lessons, but like some above, it is a bit boring.
  • Pete’s Online Typing Cource has individual lessons on ergonomics, basics, and more. It involves more reading.
Practice
Practice equals speed.

Optimum Conditions for Typing Quickly

Posture

To use your hands and fingers quickly and properly, you must first establish a stable base. Make sure you are sitting in your chair and now slouched over or hanging off the edge.

The graphic below demonstrates ergonomic principles for sitting and doing deskwork such as typing.

Make sure your elbows are at 90 degrees and wrists are in neutral position, no bending up or down. The fingers are hovering above the keys and may be resting on the home row keys. You are ready to type, my friend.

frog warming up his hands
Have cozy warm, unstiff fingers before you get started. Warm those sausages up.

Other things that people may not think about include having a wrist foam pad, making sure that it’s warm in the room/office so your joints aren’t stiff and frozen, and having an appropriately sized keyboard for your typing style.

Ergonomic desk setup
Ergonomic desk setup

Does a mechanical keyboard make a difference?

Some say it’s a miracle. Others say they type just as fast on a membrane keyboard.

Personally, I type much faster on a keyboard that is personalized for me. When I was using the Razer Blackwidow Tournament Edition, I was typing a little bit slower albeit still fast.

I prefer a tactile keyboard that requires a soft-medium force to press. Others may prefer something completely different.

My husband prefers a soft force to press and clicky keys. It’s up to you to experiment with different keyboard switches that we explained in another post, our guide to common mechanical keyboard switches. It may be useful to know which switches to try out before making the big purchase.

For example, I type terribly slow with a keyboard with linear switches because it offers no feedback for when it registers your keystroke. However, a clicky or tactile keyboard will provide the feedback that I need to know when to stop pressing and move on.

If you’re trying to be a superhuman typist, then learn the actuation point of your keyboard and don’t bottom out. Press just enough to register the keystroke and then keep going. It takes practice.

Practice is probably the number one thing that will make you type faster, not some new keyboard with brand new switches, although that does sound like a good proposition.

This may be crazy, but some people prefer the chiclet keys that are on a Macbook or similar type keyboard on laptops. Outrageous because those really hurt my wrist and fingers. Oh well, everyone is different, I suppose.

Anyways, hope this article helps you out! Or you could be a speed demon, that’s okay too.

Happy typing! Feel free to leave a comment down below if you have any concerns, comments, or questions.

For a talking summary, watch our Youtube video on The Switch and Click

TKL, 60%, or 75% Keyboard? Guide to Keyboard Sizes

Keyboard sizes blog title on Switch and Click

Question and Answer

When I first started looking into mechanical keyboards, I found that there were a bunch of different sizes that I could purchase. I knew that the full-size keyboard wasn’t for me, but what did all these other numbers mean?

I did a bit of research from different resources, and this is what I learned.

A full-size keyboard is 104 keys. It includes everything you can think of, including the function keys and the number pad.

A tenkeyless (also known as TKL) has 87 keys (which makes it an 80% keyboard), all that’s missing is the number pad.

The next smallest size is a 75% keyboard is a TKL keyboard that’s been shoved together to save space. They shrink or remove a few keys, but most of the space difference is from the rearrangement of keys such as the arrow keys and the keys such as Insert, Home, End, Del, PgUp, and PgDn.

The 60% keyboard is another common design layout. It ditches the number pad as well as the function row, the F buttons, at the top. On certain keyboards, they also omit the arrow keys. They can be programmable to have a 2nd layer where the arrow keys can be accessed as well as media controls.

Let’s get even smaller, to the 40% keyboard. This keyboard ditches the number row as well as the function row and number pad. All that’s left are the letters and the modifier keys such as enter, ctrl, shift, alt, caps lock, etc. This is known as the smallest usable keyboard layout and are not commonly sold by companies.

That’s it for the main sizes of keyboards. Let’s dive in deeper into each category.

Ortholinear keyboard that is 40% layout that's been modded.
Ortholinear 40% keyboard that’s been modded.
Full size keyboard
Full size keyboard, Photo by 小谢 on Unsplash

Full-size layout

These keyboards are what you see primarily out there in the general keyboard world. Most membrane keyboards are a full-size layout.

It includes all the modifier keys and the number pad, which makes this keyboard convenient for office jobs where data entry is a key component of their workday.

Imaging having to key in all those numbers while jumping around the number row. It’ll be quite easy to make a mistake and not even know it.

It’s also convenient to have in situations such as helicopter/plane flying in GTA 5. Trust me, I’ve done it without the number pad and it’s horrendous.

If you’re not into GTA 5, then a number pad also comes in handy for flight simulations as well.

tenkeyless keyboard
TKL keyboard, Photo by Gilbert Pellegrom on Unsplash

Tenkeyless (TKL)

This is my keyboard of choice. It saves a lot of space on your desk and makes it ergonomic to access your mouse and keyboard without stretching your arms too wide.

Side note: I am 5’1”, so my arm span is not super long. If your arms are longer, you might not mind having a larger keyboard.

TKL keyboards are available from many mainstream manufacturers. Some examples include the Razer Blackwidow Tournament Edition or the Razer Huntsman Tournament Edition. We’ve discussed good and bad things about Razer in another post.

These are very common, and there are plenty of Top/Best TKL Keyboards posts out there such as this one from IGN.

Making the switch from a full-size keyboard to the TKL keyboard is easy because not many people use the number pad in the first place. It’s much easier to bring a TKL keyboard in your backpack or briefcase.

Tenkeyless keyboard
Tenkeyless design without the number pad.

75% keyboard

As I’ve said before, these are exactly like the TKL keyboards with shrunken or removed keys. Its primary goal is to save space by taking away space between the arrow keys, space between the Esc button, function row keys, and other modifier keys.

Typically, these come with arrow keys, so you’re not losing too much in the trade here.

These keyboards are pretty and space-efficient.

65%

Moving one step smaller to the 65% keyboard. These are just like the 60% keyboards with some navigation keys and arrow keys.

It is one step-below the 75% keyboards in the sense that the function row is taken away.

These keyboards have about 68 keys.

60%

At 60% keyboards, you start losing some convenient functions such as the arrow keys.

It is possible to program additional layers to bring the functions back using key combos such as pressing the Fn or Fn+Ctrl buttons. Many of these keyboards are QMK-compatible.

These keyboards still have the number pad.

For people with small workspaces, this is super convenient.

60% keyboard
60% Keyboard, Photo by 1AmFcS on Unsplash

Summary

In summary, we’ve discussed the main characteristics of different keyboard size layouts.

For people who use the number pad often, you’ll probably prefer a full-size keyboard. However, if you don’t, you can move to smaller sizes for a minimalist aesthetic, portability, and space saving.

TKL and 60% are very popular sizes when looking at the smaller keyboards.

65% keyboards are the smallest size keyboards that still have the arrow keys.

40% keyboards are the smallest functional keyboards.

Personally, I prefer TKL keyboards. Perhaps I would also enjoy a 65% keyboard if I made a custom-build. For me, arrow keys are a must. You never know when you might be gaming or playing the next Runescape.

It’s super aesthetic on my table, and here’s a plus side. If you go somewhere, you can stow your sweet keeb inside your jacket. Surprise!

If you guys/gals have any additional questions that may be something I haven’t questioned yet while getting into this hobby, feel free to post it down below!

We’d be happy to do the research and summarize it all for you.