How to clean up laptop spills, stains, and more

how to clean a laptop keyboard
Fabricio Trujillo/Pexels
No one likes working on a grimy laptop! If your keys are getting clogged with dust or start showing too many stains, then it’s time to give your laptop keys a good cleaning. However, cleaning laptop keyboards isn’t as easy as popping off the keys on a traditional desktop keyboard. Here’s what to do, and what solutions work best for particular kinds of cleaning — without endangering your laptop.

Prep work

Digital Storm Triton laptop power

Take a minute and go through the common sense precautions:

  • If you have vital data on your laptop, back it up. It’s always a good idea.
  • Turn your laptop completely off. You may even want to remove the battery, if possible.
  • Make sure your laptop is unplugged and that there are no accessories attached (including USB dongles).
  • Make sure you have the space and time. This isn’t something you should do on the go — remember, a desktop keyboard is easy to replace but if your laptop keyboard gets damaged, that’s a bigger problem.

For long-term dust

Everyone knows what this looks like. It may not be as bad as sticky stains, but over time, dust naturally builds up between and on the sides of your keys. If you want to get rid of it, grab a vacuum cleaner.

Wait! We mean grab the right kind of vacuum cleaner. The common solution is a hand vacuum that comes with small brush attachments that you can slowly maneuver around your keyboard while sucking up the dust. A larger vacuum can work if it also has a dust attachment and isn’t too powerful. After all, you don’t want your vacuum eating any keys.

sony vaio t14 touch laptop keys

In a perfect world, the ideal solution is a micro vacuum attachment, which typically isn’t found outside of labs and specialized workstations. That said, you can always buy your own if you’re very serious about keyboard care.

Compressed air is another possibility, but we don’t recommend it. This double-edged sword will blast much of the dust and crumbs away, but it might also blow much of it further into your laptop, potential causing more problems. A vacuum cleaner is usually a more efficient solution, so start there.

For grime that won’t go away

We’re talking about the crud that builds up as a result of oils, skin cells, grease, food dust, and everything else that might contribute to the gross stains and plaque on your keyboard. You can approach this cleaning mission many different ways, but we prefer using a melamine cleaning sponge, which excels at cleaning up grime such as this.

Once you have the melamine sponge, soak it in water, ring it out, and let it dry enough so that you aren’t leaving streaks of water across your keyboard. Gently rub a corner of the sponge on the grimy parts of the keys until the grime is removed. Melamine can be a very abrasive material if used carelessly, so go slow and try to avoid rubbing off any key characters. The material is also very easy to cut out into the right shape, so feel free to snip off a portion for more customized work.

You can use another type of sponge in the same way, but it may not be as effective, especially when it comes to the more stubborn stains.

For germs

It’s normal to worry about germs on your keyboard, especially if you’ve been working in an office or a classroom full of sick people. If your keys are a little too dirty and you’re wondering if they may have become a biohazard, then it’s time to get out the disinfectant.

dirty-keyboard_dt

Specifically, get some isopropyl alcohol and a bundle of cotton swabs. Isopropyl (the rubbing alcohol kind) is important, because stronger versions thereof may accidentally burn off some of your keyboard letters. Cotton swabs or Q-Tips, on the other hand, are important because you don’t want any liquids near your keyboard, even when cleaning. Dip and dab a swab so that it’s damp but in no danger of dripping, and then start wiping your keys one by one. This somewhat tedious method is very effective but easier to do if, well, you’re a little bored and have some time to waste.

For spills

Did you spill something potentially sticky across the top of your laptop keyboard? Make your first priority the protection of your laptop and its internal components. Shut everything down, take out your battery, and unplug your laptop if necessary. You shouldn’t turn it back on again until you are sure that any liquid inside has evaporated — this can take a day or two for particularly bad spills. If it looks like your operating system or data has been damaged, then take your laptop in for repairs ASAP.

toshiba 840t laptop left ports keyboard macro

In the meantime, it’s time to clean your keys. A simple cloth or sponge is fine for the surface of the laptop keyboard, but you probably need to go deeper to clean up more worrying residue that may be trapped underneath, which means removing your keyboard. The problem is that there are many different types of laptop keyboards based on the age of your machine and its design goals. Some can be carefully pried off as a whole unit, while others can be eased open key by key. Others still, aren’t designed to be removed at all.

If you can remove your keys and carefully clean around them, however, you should do so. Just remember to be very gentle and avoid using tools that can bend or scrape your keys. If this looks like it’s going to be too much trouble, don’t hesitate to take your laptop to a professional who can take it apart without risking any damage.

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