HELP FILE

How to Clean Your Keyboard

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Sunday, October 1, 2006

How do I clean my computer's keyboard? I could reassemble an entire sandwich from all the crumbs stuck in there .

Computer manufacturers tend to advise nothing more than shaking out crumbs and vacuuming it. Some users go to the other extreme and stick the entire keyboard in the dishwasher -- no soap, only water, followed by several days of drying out before they plug it back in. (Note: That's an especially bad idea if the keyboard is on a laptop.)

I wasn't prepared to do something that drastic with my home computer's filthy keyboard, but a once-over with a vacuum wasn't going to cut it either. Here's what I did instead:

1) Unplug the keyboard. So you can remember the key layout, either take a photo of it or find a picture of it in your computer's manual. Shake it out, upside down, over a trash can.

2) Stick the dull edge of a pocket knife's blade under each key and gently lever it upward until it clicks free of the post below it; it's not glued down and should pop loose with minimal effort. The space bar, Shift, Return and Enter keys, however, will be attached to a secondary metal or plastic support that lends extra spring to them but also makes them trickier to remove and replace. It may be easier to leave those keys attached.

3) Wash each key in dishwashing soap and water -- make sure the drain is closed below them -- then rinse them and let them air dry.

4) Vacuum out the shell of the keyboard, then dip a paper towel in rubbing alcohol (which will dry much faster than water) and swab out the area below the keys, as well as any keys you couldn't remove.

5) Give everything a full day to dry out. Remember, moisture and electronics mix poorly.

Once everything is dry, push each key back on its post until it clicks into place and responds properly to your typing. Then try not to snack at your desk so often.

--Rob Pegoraro

Rob Pegoraro attempts to untangle computing conundrums and errant electronics each week. Send questions to The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 orrobp@washpost.com.


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