Our PC is a vital device that helps us get work done with ease, a high level of accuracy, and speed. One of the most vital components of the PC is the keyboard. Inputting and processing information becomes hard when your PC’s keyboard isn’t in the right state. This makes it important to care for your keyboard as much as you care for your PC as a whole.
Different types of keyboards come with different brands of PC, but they all fall into two categories – Membrane and Mechanical keyboards. Your membrane keyboards are those attached to your PC internally, while the mechanical keyboards (which we will be discussing in this article) are attached to the PC externally, via cords. Mechanical keyboards are not part of PC in-built components, but they perform the same functions as the membrane keyboard.
Why you need to clean a mechanical keyboard
Having established the difference between a mechanical and membrane keyboard, it is vital to bring you up to speed about why you need to clean your mechanical keyboard. The importance of your keyboard can’t be downplayed; this makes it essential for you to care for it properly.
Like every other device, a lack of proper maintenance greatly reduces the efficiency and the active period of your keyboard. This makes it vital for you to ensure that you carry out the necessary routine maintenance to prevent reduced efficiency. When dust and dirt accumulates and settles for long on your keyboard, it appears dirty and requires extra energy for the keys to press. This has a great effect on the efficiency as the keys, switches, and plate gradually becomes affected, thereby leading to its general damage.
When the efficiency of the device is reduced, it will surely affect the level of productivity. The time you expend on getting a task done becomes extended and the energy required is also increased. One wouldn’t think lack of proper maintenance would cause all these, but the longer dust, dirt, and grime accumulates on your mechanical keyboard the more damage it causes. This damage causes the perceived active period of the device to reduce, and it might stop functioning at any point in time. These reasons are why cleaning your mechanical keyboards are important.
How to clean your mechanical keyboard
Now that you know why cleaning your mechanical keyboard is important, it is also vital for you to know about how to get it cleaned properly. There are different types of cleaning methods that can be done on a keyboard, depending on what you’re looking to achieve. In this paragraph, we would be looking into the different cleaning types/methods, how to go about it, and the materials involved in carrying out the operation.
Before going into details about the various types of cleaning that can be carried out on your keyboard, let’s look into the materials necessary for carrying out this operation. These materials make cleaning your keyboard easier and help you get the job done efficiently. They include:
- Vacuum cleaner – A handheld vacuum cleaner or a vacuum cleaner’s hose is used to slowly vacuum over the keys and spaces between them. It helps remove top layer dust and loose grime on the keyboard.
- Damp napkin/microfiber cloth – This is used to further wipe the surface of the keyboard clean after you must have vacuumed it.
- Cotton swab/small brush/q-tip – This is needed to further clean in between the keys.
- Keycap puller – The keycap puller is used to remove the keycaps to allow proper cleaning of the keycaps.
- Small bowl – Removed keycaps are cleaned in this bowl with warm water and sterilizers.
- Sterilizers – Sterilizers are used to remove finger oils from the keycaps. The sterilizer might be a denture tablet or dish soap.
Different types of mechanical keyboard cleaning method
As earlier mentioned, the type of cleaning required by a mechanical keyboard depends on what you plan to achieve. It is also heavily dependent on the degree and effect of dirt it has accumulated. Cleaning a keyboard can be light – as in preventive cleaning or deep as in the case of Advanced and deferred. Below, we discuss these different types of cleaning methods and how to go about them.
- Preventive cleaning
Preventive cleaning is light routine maintenance cleaning that should be done at least once a week. It is more vital for you if you eat near the keyboard as food particles in addition to dust and grime can keep accumulating on your keyboard, thereby reducing its efficiency. Just like you wipe surfaces around your home clean every day, your keyboard surface should be wiped cleaned too, if not every day, at least once in a week.
Preventive cleaning doesn’t require much stress, and most time the use of a Vacuum cleaner isn’t needed. The most important cleaning item for your preventive cleaning is a clean microfiber cloth. Wipe down the surface of your keyboard gently with a slightly damp microfiber cloth, and clean afterward with a dry cloth. This helps you remove the surface dirt and prevents further accumulation of grimes and dirt.
As simple as this practice may be, it goes a long way in helping you make certain that your keyboard lasts longer and doesn’t malfunction. Dust, grime, and spills are the greatest bane to a keyboard; this makes it overly important to be on the lookout for these damage-causing particles and prevent it at all costs from accumulating on your keyboard.
Not only does preventive cleaning helps you prevent dust accumulation, reduced efficiency, and damage, it also helps you prevent germs. Dust and other particles on your keyboard can harbor germs that can be transmitted to your body easily – especially if you’re the type that eats and while working on your PC. It also keeps the outward appearance of your keyboard neat, which speaks a lot about your personality.
It will not be far off if you identify to carry out preventive routine cleaning on your mechanical keyboard as part of keeping proper personal hygiene. Yes, it should be taken that seriously.
- Deferred cleaning
When preventive cleaning isn’t done regularly, you’ll most likely have to carry out deferred cleaning on your mechanical keyboard. Deferred cleaning requires more extra effort that the normal preventive clean, but it’s also easy to get done. Unlike preventive cleaning that requires you to keep up to a routine, you can perform a deferred cleaning for your mechanical keyboard once and continue the adoption of a preventive cleaning routine afterward.
What deferred cleaning simply means is ‘delayed cleaning’. It is the cleaning method you use for your mechanical keyboard when you’ve allowed dust, grime, and other forms of dirt to settle on it for long, thereby making preventive impossible to remove these foreign particles from the keyboard. It has almost the same process as the preventive method, but the need to get in between keys’ spaces, clean the plate, and probably the switches makes it more time consuming and energy demanding.
Deferred cleaning involves the use of a handheld vacuum. It is important to unplug your keyboard before carrying out any cleaning activities on it. This is advised to prevent damaging your PC or the mechanical keyboard itself. You use the vacuum to remove dust and other particles from the keyboard by applying gentle pressure on the vacuum’s attachment tube while placing it on the keycaps. The vacuum helps remove surface dust as well as dust from the keyboard’s plate.
After vacuuming the keyboard, the next step involves wiping it down with a slightly damp towel or microfiber cloth. This is done to further remove the stubborn dirt that your vacuum might have failed to take-off the keyboard. When this is done successfully, the keycaps are the next thing to remove and clean to prevent the accumulation of finger oil and also remove dirt that can make it appear dirty and unpleasant.
The keycaps are removed using a keycap puller. Large buttons like space, enter, and shift requires extra care to remove due to the additional wires added to them to aid balance. Although mechanical keyboard keycaps are removable, they are sometimes difficult to remove.
If you risk destroying your keyboard while trying to remove the keycaps, it is advisable to leave it be. However, if you successfully removed the keycaps, placed in a bowl of warm and add sterilizers. Denature tablets are the best for cleaning the keycaps, but dish soaps can also be used. Leave the keycaps to soak between 5–10 minutes and rinse thoroughly afterward. Air-dry the caps after rinsing with leaving the stem facing up.
While you wait for your keycaps to dry, use your cotton swab or small brush to dust off particles that must have adhered to your keyboard plate. This should be done gently and the switch stem should be carefully avoided. After doing this, place the keyboard upside down to prevent another dust accumulation while you wait for the caps to dry.
After the caps must have dried, the next step is to carefully replace them to their appropriate position. If you’re not acquainted with the keys on the keyboard and you know you might find it difficult to replace appropriately, you should take a picture of your keyboard before removing the keycaps. This picture would serve as a guide when replacing the caps. The next to take when the caps must have been properly fitted to their position is to wipe down the surface of the keyboard with a slightly damp cloth and then dry it with another cloth. That way, you’ve completed the deferred cleaning for your mechanical keyboard.
- Advanced cleaning
Advanced cleaning is the highest form of cleaning you can carry out on your keyboard. Most times this form of clean is employed for abandoned keyboard and not keyboards you use every day. Whether you just bought a second-hand that has been packed away for long or you suddenly found a use for your long discarded keyboard, an advanced cleaning method is a solution to get those dirt particles out of its intricate areas.
Most times, an ultrasonic cleaner is more advisable to remove grime from keycaps in advance cleaning. The reason for this is because it’s easier and faster. The alternative method to the ultrasonic cleaner is the keycap soaking method discussed in deferred cleaning. Advanced cleaning is more related to the deferred cleaning method, the former is just a bit further than the latter. Below are the detailed steps involved in advance cleaning:
As always mentioned, it is important to unplug your keyboard before attempting to clean. This makes up the basic first step for all forms of cleaning. After this must have been done, the next step is vacuuming as described in the deferred method. The difference in advanced and deferred cleaning begins to show, as you proceed further beyond keycaps cleaning. For keycaps cleaning in the advanced method, you can choose to use ultrasonic cleaner has earlier mentioned or opt for the soak and cleaning method explained in the deferred cleaning method.
Unlike other cleaning methods, advance cleaning requires you to open the keyboard case. This is one of the differences that set it apart from the other two. While your keycaps are drying in the air with their stem facing up, carefully open your keyboard case, and place the screws gently in place they won’t get lost. Also, ensure that the attached cables are carefully detached. Most times, it is advisable you take pictures of the original position of the components to help you fix it appropriately after loosening it.
After undoing your keyboard, carefully put the PCB and the plate aside and proceed to clean the case halves. Vacuuming the inside of each case halves and wiping with slightly damp cloth afterward is advisable if the filths are mild. However, in a case whereby they strongly adhere to the case halves, you can scrub with a slightly hard stubble brush and a dish soap solution. This is recommended if there’s nothing attached to the case. After scrubbing, rinse thoroughly, and dry the case halves with a cloth. Ensure you drain water from areas that can’t be accessed e.g. the screw holes.
After cleaning the case, remove dirt from the plate using a soft stubble brush. When brushing off dirt particles off the plate, be careful not to get the brush near the switch stems, to avoid introducing dust into the switch. After the plate and the PCB are clean, face them down to avoid dust accumulation while you wait for other components to dry.
When all the components are dry, start coupling the keyboard by first placing stabilized keys (space, enter, and shift) in their appropriate position, Afterwards, place the other necessary components where they’re meant to be and replace the caps. After this has been successfully done wipe down the surface with a slightly damp cloth and dry with a cloth. Your keyboard should be looking as good as new once this is successfully done.
Cleaning spills on the keyboard
Spills are by far mechanical keyboards worst enemy. If there’s something that causes a greater negative effect on your keyboard than the accumulation of dirt and grime, it is spilling. Spillage of liquid on the mechanical keyboard is a common occurrence particularly amidst people that place drinks near themselves while working on their PC.
This makes it important for you to be extra careful if you have a liquid substance close by while working on your PC. Dealing with spills requires swiftness and some basic knowledge of forehand precautions. In the absence of these factors, you might worsen the case and completely damage your mechanical keyboard. Most times than not, people have had to replace their keyboard due to the aftermath effect of coffee spills and sugary drinks on it.
Water spillage isn’t really risky if you are swift enough to unplug your keyboard and allow it dry for some time. The big issue is when flavored drinks (especially sugary ones), coffee, or sticky liquid spills on it. It causes a great mess.
With the knowledge of things not to do and how to properly manage this situation, an advance or deferred cleaning can clear the mess (provided you adhere to all precautions). The precautions/steps to take when liquid substance spills on your mechanical keyboard are:
- Unplug Immediately – Do not leave your keyboard connected to the PC when a spillage occurs. Whether the PC is on/off ensure you unplug the keyboard as fast as possible.
- When sugary drinks or coffee spills on your keyboard, resist the urge to tilt or turn your keyboard upside down. It will only worsen it and makes the liquid flow more into sensitive areas e.g. the switch stem.
- When the liquid substance dries off from your keyboard, be careful with plugging it back into your PC. It is advisable not to test it at first with a PC that’s important to you. The reason for this is that it might damage the PC’s USB port.
In the case whereby the spill, unfortunately, seeps into the switch stem and affect the switches, you can remove the entire keyboard’s switches and clean them alongside other keyboard components. You can also replace the switch damaged by the spill, but this requires deep knowledge of soldering and it is time-consuming and energy demanding. This reason makes replacing your keyboard with a new one the best option if the spill seeps into sensitive areas. The best way to deal with spills particularly sugary or flavored drinks is to avoid it being near your keyboard as much as possible.
Proper regular maintenance would leave your keyboard in the best shape for a long period. It will help it maintain its efficiency and level of productivity. Preventive cleaning is one of the recommended regular maintenance for your keyboard. Wiping the surface with a microfiber cloth before use and preventing dust or grime accumulation is a good practice maintenance practice.
Also, always ensure that you unplug your mechanical keyboard when you’re done using it or before cleaning to avoid imminent damage to your PC or keyboard. It is also important for you to always keep your keyboard away properly after use. Recklessly putting your keyboard away after use exposes it to the danger of spill or breaking. Since your keyboard is an important part of daily work, it is only proper for you to always keep it in its best shape regularly. Clean it regularly, unplug it from your PC after use, and keep it away safely were dust or spills can’t easily get to it. This way you can protect and prolong the active period of your mechanical keyboard.
Things not to do
The mechanical keyboard, like every other device, has its dos and don’ts when it comes to maintenance practices. If you’ve been reading through this article with rapt attention, you would have picked up one or two bad keyboard maintenance practices. In addition to what has been previously pointed in the above paragraphs, here are some of the things you shouldn’t do and why:
- Avoid wiping down your keyboard surface with toilet papers/ paper towels. The reason for this is because materials like this leave residue particles and create a slight scratch on your keyboard surface.
- Do not use canned air to vacuum your keyboard. Canned air has two possible effects when used. When it is warm, it blows dust directly into the keyboard switches giving the keyboard an unpleasant gritty feeling. Cold canned air causes corrosion, fused grime, and sometimes worn metal surfaced.
- Never wipe the surface of your keyboard with wet cloths. A slightly damp cloth is the best. In the absence of this, you can pull out the keycaps to wash or just use a dry cloth to clean the dust.
Cleaning your mechanical keyboard isn’t rocket science. Once you can make available all the necessary materials for cleaning (listed above), and also follow the steps correctly. You can seek professional help or watch videos if you’re still finding it difficult after reading through this guide. Thanks for reading through.