Some people might clean their keyboards just by wiping the surface and ignoring the dirt that clings to other parts of the keyboard that are out of reach. We want to share our favorite tips on cleaning your mechanical custom keyboard. These are methods that you can easily take advantage of.
In order to clean your keyboard, you need to get a keycap puller, brush, compressed air and some cleaning solution. This process is a lot easier for mechanical keyboards, but it works for laptop keyboards just as well. Always remember to shut down a laptop or unplug a USB keyboard before cleaning it.
Preparing to Clean Your Keyboard
If you’re using a mechanical switch keyboard, the first step is to remove all the keycaps. This might also be possible on some laptops, but this is not the case for most devices. This step sounds a lot harder than it is. Removing keycaps is very straightforward but you might want to find a keycap puller. I personally use a Heculas 2-in-1 3 keycap and switch puller from AliExpress which only costs 5 dollars. A flat-head screwdriver or a flat knife also work well. Then all you need to do is pull out the keycaps. This is sometimes doable by just pinching the key and pulling, but often fingers are too thick. Each keyboard can have different keys and keycaps, but they should all come out with a slight pull. This step is necessary in order to clean your keyboard.
There is no need to worry much about the keys well being. They are made of very durable plastic. Almost all non-laptop keyboards are very durable in order to allow the pulling of keycaps. It shouldn’t require too much force to pull out a keycap. If it feels like there’s no way the cap is coming off, you might just have a weirdly constructed keyboard where it is not possible.
Larger keys like the Shift and Enter keys attach with extra hooks called stabilizers. They take a little more precision to unhinge and put back, but don’t be afraid to snap them out too. The spacebar key is often bit more complicated to remove and place back so we recommend that you keep it in place. Even if you leave the spacebar in-tact, the entirety of the keyboard is ready for cleaning. You might also want to take a picture of the keyboard before removing any keys, as it will make the process of placing them back a lot easier. You can check out the in-depth construction of a custom mechanical keyboard to get a deeper understanding of the parts behind a mechanical keyboard.
The Cleaning Process
Now that you’ve shut down the keyboard and pulled out all the keycaps, you are ready to start cleaning your keyboard. Make sure to not drop your device as there are no protective keycaps in place protecting from possible impacts.
Flip and Shake
The first thing you should do is turn the keyboard upside down and give it a few firm shakes. You might want to do this outside or place an old newspaper underneath. This way you can dispose of any dirt and debris a lot easier. This step is meant to remove any loose dirt and hairs, so don’t worry if the keyboard still looks nasty afterwards.
Brush it Off
Now you should find your cleaning brush to clean your keyboard. Any type of brush like a makeup brush or a paintbrush work very well for this step. Even a dust bunny or a cleaning cloth can get the job done. Another useful tool to get rid of the dirt that is not coming out is blue tack or tape. The stickiness of them will easily pull out any hard-to-reach dirt.
If using a brush or a cloth, start brushing through all the gaps between the switches. You should keep your keyboard flipped over as this will allow for more dirt and dust to fall out. Remember to dust off the top and bottom parts of the keyboard frame and all the USB cables as well for a cleaner final product.
Wipe the Entire Keyboard
Once most of the debris and dust is cleaned out, find a rag and some cleaning solution. Do not use water, as this has a high risk of causing shorts in the circuits if not dried properly. Moisten the rag or cloth and wipe the outsides of the keyboard or laptop. These are the sections where your palms and hands touch the most. This makes them greasy and they often generate a layer of dirt on them that most people don’t even notice.
Once the keyboard or laptop casing is clean, you can start cleaning the switches. Wipe carefully between the gaps of the mechanical switches. Make sure to cloth is not too wet as it can drip any excess liquids in between the key housings and into the PCB. Also make sure to lightly wipe any possible LED lights on top of the stem, so all your lights will be as bright as possible. Don’t put too much force into wiping the bulbs, as they can have very sensitive welding on some mechanical keyboard setups.
In some cases you should skip this step on a laptop keyboard as it is riskier to drop fluids between the keys. This is due to a lot more PC components being right underneath the keyboard membrane layer. It is still doable but pay extra attention that your cleaning cloth is not too wet to start dripping. This is one of the easiest steps to mess up when trying to clean your keyboard.
Wash the Keycaps
If you managed to remove the keycaps, it is now time to wash them as well. They’re often the dirtiest part of the keyboard and will make your keyboard look brand new once cleaned properly. The best part about cleaning the keycaps is that you can clean them all at once.
Get a bucket of water or just a sink and fill it with warm water. Add some soap or cleaning solution to clean up any grease more efficiently. Let the caps soak for some time. Next, get a dry cloth and wipe the caps thoroughly on each side. Pay the most attention to the top and sides of the cap. Don’t be afraid to use force in order to remove any hardened dirt.
Let it All Dry
This is a very important step and should never be skipped or taken lightly. For the keyboard housing, let it sit for at least a few hours before plugging it back in. If your keyboard has RGB lighting and you cleaned them with a liquid, let them dry longer to prevent any mishaps. For a laptop, letting it dry overnight would be optimal. Laptop keyboards pose a higher risk of water damage if any cleaning solution accidentally seeped under the keys into the membrane.
If you cleaned the keycaps, it is very important to dry them fully before the last step. You can speed this up with a hair dryer or a paper towel. Plastic keycaps are not degraded by hot air or rough paper towels so you don’t need to be gentle. Pay special attention to the bottom side of the keycap as they attach to the switch stem and can often hold extra moisture. To be certain, we recommend to dry the keycaps overnight as well.
Now that you managed to clean your keyboard should be looking brand spanking new and shiny. The final step is to attach the keycaps back onto the switches and plugging it back in. If you took a photo of your keyboard, you can use that to see where to place each key cap. If you didn’t take a photo, look up a picture of a corresponding keyboard layout online. Pay careful attention to the stabilizers if you took them out. Make sure they snap into place properly so your bigger keys wont wobble around.
The last step is to plug in your keyboard and turn your PC or laptop back on. Go to a text editor like notepad and test out every single key to make sure they’re all functioning properly. If everything went well, you’re done and your keyboard is pristine and will be clean for years to come. This is a simple process you can repeat with any keyboard and you wont need a guide to do it anymore.