How To Clean a Mechanical Keyboard: Everything You Need To Know
Updated: December 09,2022
If you’re a passionate gamer or a writer who types a lot, chances are you already have a mechanical keyboard. Depending on how long you’ve been using it, perhaps the time has come for some maintenance. Luckily, keycaps in mechanical keyboards are removable, so with a little effort, you’ll be able to make it shine in no time.
In this article, we’ll provide detailed instructions on how to clean mechanical keyboard caps and other elements, what to do if you spill liquid on the keyboard, and what tools you’ll need. Those who want to ensure the keyboard is as clean as new can find detailed instructions for advanced cleaning.
You’ll need a few items to ensure that your keyboard is thoroughly cleaned and that you won’t have to worry about it for a long time. Each of these products is relatively cheap and can be easily found online.
A Keycap Puller
Before you start cleaning your mechanical keyboard, you need to safely detach all of the keycaps without damaging the hardware, and keycap pullers are ideal for that. These fairly affordable tools have a handle with two flexible wires that go around and under the keys so they can be safely lifted and cleaned separately.
If this is your first time trying to do a deep cleaning of your typing surface, and you don’t know how mechanical keyboards work, you can do some light reading ahead.
Ordinary paintbrushes can be handy tools for cleaning your mechanical keyboard. Almost any type will work, as long as they’re not too big. Of course, they must be completely clean, without any paint or liquid residue.
If you’re using a paintbrush to remove dust buildup, avoid cleaning the electronic part with it. Paintbrushes are also convenient when you don’t have time and want to clean the keyboard without going into much detail.
A Keyswitch Puller
You’ll need a keyswitch puller if your keyboard has hot-swap switch sockets. With it, you can pop your switches easily by placing tongs on the bottom and top. Pay extra attention when putting back the switch by checking if the pins are aligned to avoid damage.
If you’ve done this on other types of keyboards, bear in mind that although they may look similar, there are differences between regular and mechanical keyboards, and this guide applies only to mechanical ones.
Vacuum or Air Blowers
During keyboard cleaning, you’ll come to a point when you’ll either have to get a can of compressed air, an air blower, or a vacuum to get rid of dust. Your choice here narrows down to how much you want to spend.
The cheapest option ($5 to $15) is the can of compressed air, while an electric air blower will set you back $25. The more expensive the air blowers are, the more power they’ll offer. You can get a desk vacuum for $25, but if you’re paying the same amount, it’s better to stick to the air blower as they’re more powerful and won’t leave any debris.
How To Properly Clean Your Mechanical Keyboard
Now that we’re all set up with the tools required for cleaning, we can proceed to a step-by-step guide on how to properly clean your mechanical keyboard and make it look brand new once again.
- Unplug your keyboard and take a picture of it.
When you disconnect your keyboard and unplug all the cables, take a picture of your keyboard so you can know the exact position of each keycap. You’ll be removing the keycaps and cleaning them separately, so you’ll need to know where each keycap goes once you start putting them back in place.
- Remove the keycaps.
Unlike cleaning laptop keyboards and removing their keycaps, mechanical keyboards are much easier to handle.
To start, you’ll need a keycap puller. Once you’ve removed the keycaps, put them in a bowl. If you don’t have a puller, you can use paper clips. Those who believe that the dirt got under the keyboard’s casing can also remove hot swap sockets if their keyboard has them.
- Wash your keycaps.
Use warm water to wash the keycaps. You can add some dish soap and stir the water for some time. Let the keycaps sit in the water for up to 60 minutes. Then rinse and let them dry on a paper towel.
- Remove the dust using an electric duster, compressed air, or vacuum.
Now that the keycaps are removed, blow off the dust from your keyboard deck with one of the devices we mentioned. Air blowers will do just fine. Doing this will eliminate hair, food particles, or other dirt that fell through.
- Clean between the keyboard switches.
Do this by using cotton swabs and as little isopropyl alcohol as possible. You don’t want to damage the keyboard by applying too much alcohol. Let it dry.
- Put back the keycaps.
Now that you’re done cleaning the keyboard keycaps and they are completely dry, use the picture you took for reference and carefully put each keycap back. Apply pressure, but don’t push too hard if you see it’s not going to fit. If you don’t manage to do it on the first try, have the keycap puller by your side, so you can repeat the process until each key is properly placed and functional.
Plug in your keyboard and start typing to check that each keycap works well. To be on the safe side, use an online keyboard tester, and you’ll know if all the keys work properly.
What To Do in Case of Spillage
Many people like to have a beverage ready while working, gaming, or simply surfing the internet. If your beverage is not in a leakproof bottle, disaster can strike with any wrong move, and liquid can spill over your keyboard. So what should you do in that case?
Don’t panic. Quickly dab the keyboard with a cloth that will absorb as much liquid as possible. The best way to clean your mechanical keyboard is by using a microfiber cloth.
Remove the keycaps, place the keyboard upside down for a day or two, and wait until it’s dry. Once dry, go over the keyboard with a slightly wet cloth and wipe slowly. If your keyboard is sticky, apply a bit of a non-aggressive household cleaner on a paper towel and cloth and wipe off the dried, sticky residue.
Light Cleaning of Your Mechanical Keyboard
The first thing you’ll need is a small vacuum. The best choice is to pick one with a little nozzle that can get into the gaps between the keys and suck out all the accumulated dirt. Food particles, hair, and dust easily pile up, so this should be done weekly.
If you have no time for shopping and don’t have a vacuum cleaner, it’s easy to clean the keyboard with the help of a brush. Go over the entire keyboard with a thick brush and thoroughly clean between the keys.
This should be followed by a final touch that will help disinfect your typing area and make it look shiny and neat.
A slightly damp microfiber cloth should be used for wiping the entire keyboard. Then, with another dry cloth, wipe the keyboard until it’s dry. Finally, use an antibacterial wet wipe and do one more wiping, and you’re good to go.
This weekly routine will keep your mechanical keyboard clean enough so you don’t have to spend hours when you decide to do a full clean that involves removing the keycaps, washing, and reassembling everything. Besides, if you keep your keyboard dirty long enough, you’ll have no choice but to buy a new one, as it can break down. Not to mention the health hazards.
How Often Should Mechanical Keyboards Be Cleaned?
Your mechanical keyboard should be cleaned regularly, especially if you use it daily. If more people use the keyboard, the more care it should get. We’re not only talking about the proper deep clean that involves washing the keycaps - remember, light cleaning should be done weekly.
But when it comes to in-depth cleaning of your mechanical keyboard, you should consider several factors. How often and how long do you use the keyboard? How dirty does it get?
Generally speaking, you’ll be fine if you set a specific date in a year when you’ll use the guidelines we provided in this article and thoroughly clean your keyboard.
After a few months, you can repeat the procedure when you find some extra time. Therefore, detailed cleaning of your mechanical keyboard should be done once or twice a year, depending on how much time you have at your disposal.
Although it may seem scary at first, proper cleaning of your keyboard is not that complicated as long as you stick to the instructions. Before you start the process of cleaning, the good idea is to write down a list of things you need to have, and you can begin with the cleaning. You don’t have to hurry, especially removing the keycaps and putting them back in place. By the time your first or second cleaning of the mechanical keyboard is done, you’ll be a pro.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, if you use a lot of alcohol or other harsh chemicals to clean the keyboard, some parts of it can be damaged in the process. The same goes for the choice of cloth. You should always avoid abrasive materials. Ideally, use a damp cloth made of microfiber.
Now that we have shown you how to clean your mechanical keyboard, you know it’s completely fine to wash the keycaps. You should remove all the keycaps, soak them in water, and wash them. Let them dry before placing them back.
It’s absolutely fine to use disposable wipes to go over your keyboard quickly or remove stains but bear in mind that you should never spray a product directly on the keyboard as this might damage it.
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While Damjan started his career in humanities, his interests quickly moved on to the tech and IT world. VPNs, antiviruses, firewalls, password managers - cybersecurity is what he knows best. When Damjan’s not losing hair over the dwindling of our collective sense of tech safety, you’ll find him looking for solace in 100-hour-long RPGs and rage-inducing MOBAs.