How to clean a mechanical keyboard

By Marshall Honorof 08 October 2014

While there are decent membrane keyboards on the market, if you’re an average typist or a core gamer, you’re better off going mechanical.

Do you have a mechanical keyboard? If you’re already pushing down the resistant Y-E-S keys on your clackety gadget with more than 100 switches, you’re excused. Go type the great American novel or play a round of Titanfall. If, however, you’re silently tapping N-O, feeling the electric circuits mush under your fingers, you need to read on.

You might not know it, but if you’re an average typist, you’re capable of logging 8,000 keystrokes every hour. Suppose, for argument’s sake, that you type eight hours per day, five days per week. That’s a staggering 16,640,000 keystrokes per year, and if you use a standard membrane keyboard like ones that come with most desktop PCs, those strokes are not nearly as comfortable or reliable as they could be.

Membrane keyboards have won over the general public with low prices and passable functionality, but hardcore gamers and typists know that they’re the electronic equivalent of blowing your nose with a pizzeria napkin rather than an embroidered silk handkerchief.

While there are some decent membrane keyboards on the market, there is no compelling reason to buy them, aside from price. Your hands spend more time on your keyboard than on the steering wheel of your car; aren’t those 16 million keystrokes worth a little extra money?

How keyboards work

On any keyboard, the user taps a letter that actuates (registers) and tells the device to send a signal to the computer. When the switch is on for a fraction of a second, it sends a single letter to the computer; when it’s on for longer, it sends the letter over and over (try holding down the “A” button and see what happens if you don’t believe me).

Membrane Keys

On membrane keyboards, the key passes through a plastic layer with electrical contacts and then through a hole to a second layer that interrupts a circuit to register the stroke. Pressing through these layers makes typing on a membrane feel like tapping your fingers on old, stale Jell-O.

For purposes of this article, consider “Chiclet” keyboards, such as those used by Apple desktop computers, to work identically to regular membrane models. It’s not strictly true, but the technology is similar enough that the same considerations apply when comparing them to mechanical devices.

Mechanical Switches

When you type on a mechanical keyboard, you press down on a keycap, which activates a spring-loaded switch underneath it. Depending on the type of switch, this spring can require more or less force and it can either make a pleasant “clack” noise or remain silent. In every case, mechanical switches provide tactile feedback, which helps typists know that they have pressed the key hard enough to register and haven’t missed a letter. Unlike membrane keys, mechanical switches don’t have to be pressed down the entire way to actuate so users can avoid the unpleasant feeling of “bottoming out” (pressing against the base) at full force.

This may sound like mechanical keyboards require much more force to actuate than their membrane counterparts, but that’s not the case. ZF Electronics, which produces the Cherry MX line of switches, has a variety of them available. Some switches, such as the Blues and Greens, do indeed recall the clackety typewriters of yore, but others, such as the Reds, are almost silent and require no heavier a touch than the membrane keyboards in your office or school computer lab.

If you’re a touch typist, getting a mechanical keyboard will increase your speed and accuracy. As users type more quickly, the chance of an understroke increases. By providing strong physical and, in the case of clicky switches, auditory feedback on every actuation, mechanical keyboards allow you to adjust your strokes and generate the highest possible number of words per minute. You won’t get the same experience pushing against two pieces of plastic.

Manufacturers can gussy up membrane keyboards with higher actuations and faster spring-back times, but such measures are still artificial solutions to a design problem. Imagine a city, surrounded by a dense old-growth forest, carving out acres upon acres of AstroTurf and plastic trees in its business district, and you’ve got the basic idea.

Mechanicals Rate Higher

At Tom’s Guide, we evaluate every aspect of consumer products, and one of those aspects is price. Suppose you’re a big massively multiplayer online (MMO) gamer. When one of the best membrane MMO keyboards (theRazer Anansi) costs $100, and one of the best mechanical MMO keyboards (theCorsair Vengeance K95) costs $150, we understand that this is not a trivial difference.

MORE:Best Gaming Mice 2014

However, a good keyboard can last for years — five, 10, or even longer. An extra $50, or even $100, is a lot of money up front, but not much when you consider it’s only an extra $5 per year of use. Consider, too, that mechanical keyboards can last for up to 50 million clicks (or more) per key, whereas membrane models tend to top out around 10 million. That’s still years of use, but a mechanical keyboard could last decades — and even then, you could always replace the keys when they wear out. Once a membrane keyboard fries, it’s usually gone for good. One $150 keyboard is cheaper than two $100 peripherals.

Buying a mechanical keyboard instead of a membrane model is like buying a Volvo instead of a Yugo. Sure, you’re paying for the brand name, but you’re also paying for a car that can last 25 years instead of five.

The most common objections to mechanical keyboards are high actuation and high price, but neither of these holds water under careful scrutiny. Whether you’re a gamer, a writer or just someone who types a lot, you owe it to yourself — and your fingers — to see what a mechanical model can do for you. When you’re purchasing a product that lasts five times as long as the average smartphone, there’s no reason to settle for a low-cost device that’s penny-wise, but pound-key foolish.

Marshall Honorof is an editor for Tom’s Guide, covering gaming hardware, security and streaming video. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.

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How to clean a mechanical keyboard

Why does a clean keyboard boost gaming performance?

What is a mechanical keyboard?

Key matrix

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Light cleaning a mechanical keyboard

Deep cleaning a mechanical keyboard

To deep clean your mechanical keyboard:

How to clean a membrane keyboard

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Your Element gaming keyboard can stand up to the most intense gaming sessions, but it still needs some love in the form of a thorough cleaning from time to time.

How to clean a mechanical keyboard

Here are a few easy steps to keep your PC gaming setup clean and give your mechanical keyboard the solid lifespan every good peripheral deserves:

  1. Unplug your keyboard and turn it upside down to shake out any crumbs or dirt.
  2. Using a handheld vacuum or the hose attachment of your upright vacuum with a brush head, remove dust from your keyboard plate. Slide across and cover the spaces between keys. Be gentle and avoid damage from pushing the tube hard into your keyboard.
  3. If trying to disinfect or remove stains, dampen a microfiber cloth (you can dilute a little isopropyl alcohol with water) and gently wipe down the entire keyboard. Using a disposable wipe is okay, too, but don’t use harsh cleansers and never spray a cleaning solution directly on the keyboard. Wipe the cloth across the top of the keyboard, in between keys and along each side of the frame.
  4. Using another clean and dry cloth, wipe away any remaining moisture.
  5. This damp cloth method works well to clean your keyboard wrist rest and your gaming mouse pad , too.

For a deeper clean (recommended every 1-2 months for optimal performance) or to tackle sticky keys:

  1. Unplug the keyboard. Using the keycap removal tool included in your Element box, remove all small keycaps. For the larger keycaps, you can use the keycap removal tool, but take extra care to remove the keycap from the stabilizer – use both hands to stabilize the key and pull the key off the stabilizer mechanism as perpendicular to the keyboard surface as possible.
  2. Place all keycaps into a container of warm water and dish soap, letting them soak for several hours.
  3. Once keycaps are removed, clean the keyboard frame using a vacuum with the brush attachment or compressed air to remove any dust, dirt, debris, hair, etc. Use a damp cloth or cotton swab to carefully clean around the mechanical keyboard switches.
  4. Wipe with a clean, dry cloth and let the keyboard frame dry completely. Remove keycaps from water and dry thoroughly with a clean cloth.
  5. Replace the keycaps using the diagram below for reference. Align the correct keys and push down onto the keycap to seat it firmly into the mechanical switch. Same goes for the larger keycaps with stabilizers – use multiple fingers to push the keycap down into the stabilizer firmly.

How to clean a mechanical keyboard

If you’re cleaning up after a spill:

  1. Unplug immediately.
  2. Turn upside down in a cool, dry place and let it dry out completely. This could take up to two days. Don’t rush it. If the hardware is still wet once plugged back in, its chances of recovery are low. The same goes for any other PC gaming accessories in your setup.
  3. If needed, proceed to the deep clean steps above to fully remove any sticky residue from the spill. Once dried out, plug back in and cross your fingers.

For an endless supply of keyboard cleaning and maintenance tips, check out this Reddit mechanical keyboard guide .

How to clean a mechanical keyboard

Believe it or not, our Glorious mechanical keyboard can get dirty, too! If you’re using yours daily, chances are you’ll have to clean it at some point. And while most of the guides online do a good job at explaining that cleaning mechanical keyboards is quite easy and fast, we deemed it necessary to publish our own take as well. So, here it is.

The Glorious MKB Care Guide

Cleaning mechanical keyboards – regular maintenance

First off, we’d like to emphasize that you should clean your mechanical keyboard regularly (especially if you like having snacks next to it). That way, you’re ensuring it will last for years to come. Luckily, this so-called regular maintenance is very simple and consists of only a few steps. Before you start, though, make sure the keyboard is unplugged.

  • Remove dust from the keyboard plate using a (handheld) vacuum. Make sure you go through all the keycaps and don’t press the vacuum’s tube hard. If possible, use an anti-static vacuum cleaner.
  • Use a microfiber cloth to wipe the whole keyboard. The cloth should be mildly damp. You can also go with a disposable cleaning wipe.
  • Dry the keyboard using another cloth. Although a very common occurrence, avoid using paper towels since they tend to leave particles on the keyboard.

Cleaning mechanical keyboard sticky keys

Another simple process that will leave you with a very rewarding outcome. After all, you want your keycaps to be as shiny and glossy as possible.

  • Use our keycap puller to remove all the keycaps.
  • Prepare a bowl of warm water (avoid HOT water) and denture cleaning tablets (dish soap works, too).
  • Place the keycaps in the container and let them soak for at least 5-6 hours.
  • Rinse the keycaps and wipe them off.
  • Reattach them to the keyboard.
  • Use a microfiber cloth to wipe the whole board. The cloth should be mildly damp.
  • Dry the keyboard using another cloth.

How to clean a mechanical keyboard

Of course, while you’re waiting for the keycaps to soak, you can do some additional plate cleaning. All you need is a dry Q-tip to clean the area between the keys. Then, you may turn the plate upside down and shake lightly until the remaining particles fall off. That’s it!

How to clean a keyboard after a spill

The first thing you’ll want to do here is unplug the keyboard right away! Otherwise, you risk further damaging the board, or the PC’s USB port.

Then, if it’s water or tea, you can try turning the board upside down and shaking out the liquid. After you’re done, leave it to dry for about 1.5 – 2 days. That might solve the issue and let you get back to regular keyboard use.

However, if you’re dealing with a more serious (flavored) spill, it’s recommended that you try the whole “cleaning mechanical keyboards’ sticky keys” procedure as explained above. Or even better, you can check this amazingly detailed Reddit Keyboard Spill Guide. It covers several different scenarios and explains how you can bring your mechanical keyboard back to life without walking the most painful route and buying a new one.

Comments

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I’d literally use a cleaning bath. Using large amounts of disinfectant spray and trying to wipe it off is very ineffective due to small, mechanical construction, a water rinse eventually becomes inevitable, including a day or many hours of drying time. I’ll go with a full bath next time right away.
And if the keyboard can’t take it: well, it’s garbage anyway if it’s uncleanable and retains dirt like nothing else in the house (even nor,al keyboards). Faulty construction, not advanced enough yet.

How to clean a mechanical keyboard

Keeping your PC and peripherals clean will lead to a better experience for you as a user, and it will also make sure that your components last you longer.

Last time we talked about how to clean your gaming mousepad, but what happens if your gaming keyboard also needs a little bit of love?

Today, we will discuss how to clean a mechanical keyboard properly and give you a couple of options and steps you can take, depending on how motivated you feel on that day.

Basic Cleaning for Your Mechanical Keyboard

If you are feeling a bit lazy then the best way to clean a mechanical keyboard for you is as follows. Grab a microfiber cloth and a random brush that you can find around your house.

How to clean a mechanical keyboard

This can be a smaller painting brush or a makeup brush – it really does not matter. First of all take the microfiber cloth and dampen it and wipe the keycaps and the keyboard all around.

This is in case you decided to have a snack at your PC but forgot to wash your hands and the Cheetos grease is still on the surface.

To get the Cheetos crumbs though, you need to grab the brush we were talking about and start swiping between the key rows and all other crevices you see on the keyboard. This will help you dust off whatever got stuck in there and give your keyboard a fresh new look.

For good measure, you can also grab a blow dryer and blow some air between the keyboard crevices to get the leftover gunk out. Be careful to not blow hot air close to the keyboard because you might melt your keycaps, or worse melt the circuit inside and brick your mechanical keyboard.

We would advise you to not eat or drink in front of your PC because the next thing you will be searching for is how to clean a sticky mechanical keyboard that got fried because you spilled Coke on it.

Best Way to Clean a Mechanical Keyboard

If just glossing over with a brush is not enough and you are interested in how to properly clean a mechanical keyboard then we need a couple more tools! Besides your cloth and brush, you will also need to grab a keycap puller and your phone.

How to clean a mechanical keyboard

First of all, take a photo of your keyboard with your phone to clearly see where the keycaps are supposed to go after you take them off. Then proceed to take off the keycaps with your keycap puller until none are left.

Store your keycaps somewhere safe and don’t lose them, especially if you have custom keycaps on your board!

Now grab your brush and cloth once again and clean all of the hairs and gunk out of your keyboard properly. This method is better than just brushing between the keycaps because you can visibly see the foreign objects on your board.

This will allow your keyboard to look and feel a lot cleaner but you will have to fiddle with taking off the keycaps and putting them back on which can be time-consuming.

Overall we would still recommend this option over just brushing or blowing on your keyboard because the results are far better.

Deep Cleaning Your Keyboard

The last option requires all of the tools mentioned above but this time you will also need a screwdriver kit because we will be doing some deep cleaning. If you want to know how to properly clean a mechanical keyboard you need to understand all of the components on your board.

The main difference in this deep cleaning is that we will be taking out the PCB or the actual mainboard out of the case, to clean the inside of your keyboard case for that extra peace of mind.

How to clean a mechanical keyboard

If you have a hot-swap keyboard I would even advise taking out the mechanical switches with a switch puller so you have an empty PCB you can clean easier.

If you have a budget keyboard with a regular PCB with soldered switches onto it then just clean the keyboard case, and between the switches to get that 100% new fresh look.

If you own a wireless keyboard, when taking out the PCB you might notice there are other connectors like batteries and transmitters so you need to be careful to not break any of those.

Usually, you can unplug these connectors from the mainboard but if they are soldered on just be careful to not pull too hard or they might break.

Be sure to store the screws that hold the PCB somewhere safe so you can screw everything back in properly. Put on the keycaps once again and with this, there should be no doubt in your mind that your keyboard is as clean as it can get!

Conclusions

The best way to clean your mechanical keyboard depends on how much time and willpower you have, but if you want the best objectively possible results, then going with a deep clean where you disassemble the entire board will be the best choice!

Introduction: How to Properly Clean a Mechanical Keyboard

This guide will show the user the proper and detailed way to clean a keyboard with mechanical colored switches. While this guide is made specifically for these types of keyboards, the general concept of the process remains the same for simpler membrane keyboards.

Step 1: Get Your Keyboard Ready

The first step of cleaning a mechanical keyboard is to unplug the keyboard and move to a spacious, clean area for the cleaning process.

Step 2: Obtain Supplies

The user will want to obtain these supplies before the cleaning process:

Step 3: Take a Picture

Before you start removing all of the keys from your keyboard, you will want to take a full picture of it as to make sure where each specific key will go once you’re done.

Step 4: Remove the Keys

After you are sure that you have where the keys need to be put back into, start to remove the keys from the keyboard. To remove the keys from the keyboard, pinch both sides of the key and pull straight up until the key pops off the keyboard.

You should still see the colored switch under most of the keys. They switches come in a variety of colors including blue, black, white, red (which is in our example), etc.

Step 5: Dusting and General Crumb Removal

This step will take most of the larger dust particles, crumbs, etc from your keyboard with each.

After you have removed all the keys take the keyboard and hold it over a trash can. Using compressed air blow out all the dust and crumbs that you can into the garbage can.

Included above is a video of the process.

Step 6: Cotton Swap Clean-Up Part 1

Using the cotton swabs you have obtained earlier you will dust all of the hard to get particles off your keyboard. This include small bits of food, actual dust, and even hair. Make sure to be diligent and meticulous with this process otherwise the final result will not be as satisfactory.

Step 7: Cotton Swap Clean-Up Part 2

After you are properly satisfied with the heavy dusting, take new cotton swabs and dip them into the rubbing alcohol. It may help if you pour some of the alcohol either into the cap or a small container. This will help speed along the process.

After you have dipped the cotton swab, vigorously wipe between all of the keys and parts of the keyboard until all dirt and grime is removed.

You should not have to worry about the drying process much because the alcohol will quickly evaporate after the cleaning.

Above is a video of the process.

Step 8: Key Cleaning

As you did will the main part of the keyboard, dip the cotton swabs again into the rubbing alcohol. This time however, you are going to clean each side of every key that you removed.

This is the process that will take the most time if you are doing this project by yourself. It will be highly rewarding in the end however.

Step 9: Rebuild and Finish

Taking your general knowledge of your keyboard layout and/or the picture you took at the beginning, simply replace all of the now cleaned keys on the keyboard.

You’ve now cleaned AND sanitized your keyboard. Go plug it in and get back to gaming.

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31 Comments

How to clean a mechanical keyboard

Question 2 years ago

The cap on my ‘J’ key came off accidentally on my Dell, and I can’t get it back on. Could you please explain in detail how to replace it?

How to clean a mechanical keyboard

My membrane keyboard shows worn out ‘letters’. I tried to ink some of them but i did not like the look. any other ideas on how to replace some of the letters on a keyboard? BTW, the keyboard works great and as a few amenities that do not come with some keyboards.

How to clean a mechanical keyboard

Reply 3 years ago

I recently used a label maker to increase the font size on my mothers keyboard, because she was having a hard time. Seems to work fairly well, but is somewhat time consuming, although no more than cleaning your keyboard.

How to clean a mechanical keyboard

Reply 3 years ago

If you learn blind method of typing you don’t need any letters! WIN/WIN!

How to clean a mechanical keyboard

Reply 3 years ago

Hah! This is true. My keyboard is on a slideout attached under my desk so I never really see my keyboard.

How to clean a mechanical keyboard

Reply 3 years ago

One option is definitely to get a new keyboard. Your keyboard may have some unique features on it, but membrane keyboards tend to be cheap enough a new one isn’t a problem. Another option is you might actually be able to buy keys for it or salvage some from other keyboards.

You’ve done your research, compared them all, and finally settled on a great new mechanical keyboard that elevates your experience to the maximum. But no matter which one you go for, it’s impossible for it to remain clean and fresh all the time. All the sweaty gaming sessions, crumbs of food, and of course the biggest culprit – dust! It’s a good habit to clean your keyboard at least once every couple of months and to help you out, we’ve some quick tips for keeping your precious mechanical keyboard spotless.

I’m a bit of a clean freak, so usually, there’s a dust blower and a set of cleaning brushes at hand’s reach. I end up doing a quick clean-up of my keyboard at least once a week with the occasional wiping with a microfiber cloth. While that might sound a bit too much, performing a simple clean-up at least once a month is recommended as it ensures that your keyboard runs properly for longer. The gap between your cleanups can be increased or decreased depending on various conditions like dust accumulation, how much hair/skin you shed, whether you have pets, how much food you eat while sitting at your PC, and so on.

Simple Cleaning

Disconnect your keyboard, turn it around, and give it a shake, so that all the loose debris can fall out. If required, use an air blower or a few light sprays of canned air to remove any remaining crumbs or debris. Do remember that you’re basically blowing dust and debris around, so unless you want a dirty desk, it’s advised to clean your keyboard out in the open. It’s also advised to be extra careful when using compressed air from a can, as there are cases when it can lead to the formation of condensation that can damage some metallic parts on the keyboard.

GearFend Dust Cleaner

    How to clean a mechanical keyboard

    A simple dust blower can be used to remove dust and debris settling under the keys.
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You can also use a cleaning brush to remove any gunk stuck between or under the keys and quickly remove them using a vacuum cleaner. To remove sweat stains, especially ones on your keys or wrist rest, use a clean damp cloth to wipe off those marks. I would highly recommend following this simple cleanup procedure regularly to avoid the accumulation of dust, food particles, hair, and dead skin underneath the keys over time.

WMYCONGCONG 8 in 1 Anti Static Brush Kit

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    This brush kit is great for cleaning all sorts of PC parts and peripherals.
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Deep Cleaning

For those who haven’t cleaned their keyboard in a very long period, it’s time for some deep cleaning. Start by following the same process as I mentioned above to shake off any loose gunk. Next, remove all the keycaps from the keyboard. These should easily come off or be removed using a keycap puller tool usually bundled with most mechanical keyboards. If you don’t have one, you can buy one from here. Ensure that you don’t use excessive force or any heavy tools that can damage the keycaps. Be careful while removing larger keys like Spacebar, Enter, and Backspace, as they may have a stabilizer for support.

APUXON Rounded Key Puller

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    The tool helps in taking out keycaps from your keyboard easily and safely.
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If you’ve never removed keycaps in the past, head over to your keyboard OEM’s website for guidance. Also, it’s a good habit to organize the keycaps as you remove them. You can also take a picture of the keyboard layout before taking the keycaps off, as this will help you in the faster reinstallation of the keycaps.

Once you’ve removed all of them, clean the entire deck using a cleaning brush, an air blower, or a vacuum cleaner. If you spilled something on the keyboard in the past like coffee or soda, use a damp cloth to wipe off the stains. For stubborn and sticky stains, you can use a tiny bit of dishwashing solution or isopropyl alcohol as well. Make sure you don’t use any liquids directly on the keyboard; rather apply some directly onto a cleaning cloth. This is to ensure that no liquid enters the internals, which could potentially damage the keyboard permanently. Do check the keyboard feet for any grime or dust buildup and a quick look at the keyboard cable to ensure there’s no potential damage.

Falcon Dust-Off

    How to clean a mechanical keyboard

    Compressed canned air is great to clean dust and other grime that has settle in hard to reach areas.
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Clean each keycap with a damp cloth or simply throw them in water with some soap if you want all your keys to be shiny on the inside and outside. Wipe off any stains and let them dry off. If you’ve used any liquids, I recommend leaving the keyboard and the keycaps to dry overnight. After you’ve ensured that everything is clean, start by putting back the keycaps on the mainboard. Whatever you do, be certain that everything is completely dry before plugging the keyboard into your PC.

Further Maintenance

To further maintain the longevity of your keyboard, make sure you take time to clean it periodically. In fact, ensure that you clean all your PC parts at regular intervals if you want them to last longer. Most importantly, manage your cables. Not only does that make your setup look good, but it also ensures that the cables don’t wear out quickly. If the cable on your keyboard is long and just hanging about, use some velcro or zip ties to tidy it up.

VELCRO Reusable Fastening Cable Straps

    How to clean a mechanical keyboard

    Velcro straps are a great way to tidy up your cable mess.
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We have also listed down some of the best mechanical keyboards to buy this year, in case you are planning to buy one.

Affiliate Disclosure: When you purchase products through our links, we may receive a commission at no additional cost to you.

How to clean a mechanical keyboard

Are you dealing with an accidental spill? Perhaps you’ve purchased a second-hand device that needs a little restoration work. Or maybe you just want to keep your favorite mechanical keyboard feeling new forever. Whatever the case, we’re here to help.

We’ll be showing you step-by-step how to clean a mechanical keyboard including optional deep cleaning steps that may be necessary if you’ve experienced a nasty spill.

If you’re dealing with a spill, disconnect your mechanical keyboard immediately. Leaving it connected might damage the keyboard or even your computer.

Pouring a bunch of liquid on the electronics board inside your keyboard has the potential to connect circuits that shouldn’t be connected, and that can wreak some real havoc. Detach everything. Fast.

With everything disconnected, use a towel to soak up any excess liquid. If some of it spilled inside your keyboard, it wouldn’t hurt to flip the board over with the keys down on a towel so it can start draining while you clean the surrounding area.

When the keyboard is relatively dry, you can start the cleaning process.

How to Clean on a Mechanical Keyboard Step-By-Step

Step 1: Take a “Before” Picture

Unless you plan to keep your keycaps organized throughout the entire cleaning process, you should grab your smartphone and take a quick picture of your keyboard’s layout before you begin tearing everything apart. As an added bonus, you’ll also have a picture to remind you of how dirty the keyboard looked before cleaning it.

Step 2: Remove All Keycaps

How to clean a mechanical keyboard

Source: Ken Suarez on Unsplash

Purchase an inexpensive keycap puller (or make one with paperclips) to safely remove each keycap from your keyboard.

Removing standard size keycaps from mechanical keyboards tends to be easier than larger keys like Shift, Space, and Enter. Larger keys can have a stabilizer underneath them made out of metal wire and a little plastic nub under the keycap. These can break when removing them if you aren’t careful.

In general, you should be able to put a keycap puller under two or more edges of smaller keycaps and then lift them off with little force. Sometimes twisting or prying a tiny bit can help get things going but you shouldn’t be muscling through anything.

If you start by removing all of the smaller keys, you’ll free up enough space to make the larger keys less of a hassle when detaching them from their stabilizers. Gently pull the larger keys with your hands under opposite ends. They should lift off the keyboard switch they’re sitting on but remain attached to stabilizers. You may have to use a small screwdriver or something similar to pry the metal stabilizer bar away from plastic hooks under the keycap.

How to clean a mechanical keyboard

Don’t go overboard with brute force and you shouldn’t break anything. The main concern is damaging the switch that’s underneath the keycap — the part that actually makes the key work. You’ll have enough trouble on your hands if you’re dealing with a spill. Don’t add a broken keyboard switch and soldering lessons to the list.

Step 3: Clean the Keycaps

You could scrub each keycap individually and nobody’s going to judge you for that, but we suggest letting them soak in a bath of lukewarm water mixed with a few drops of dishwashing soap. This is doubly recommended if they’re coated with a half-dried sugary drink.

How to clean a mechanical keyboard

Some people also suggest using isopropyl alcohol, but we don’t recommend this unless you are absolutely sure it won’t damage your keyboard. Depending on the material your keycaps are made out of, isopropyl alcohol could make them look like new or could turn them see-through. We suggest just sticking to soap.

After cleaning your keycaps and they’re all wet, wipe them each down with a microfiber cloth and then place them on a towel to air dry. We suggest pointing the bottom of the keycaps up for better air exchange. You can speed the drying process up with a fan, otherwise, they’ll take a few hours to dry.

How to clean a mechanical keyboard

If you’re dealing with a spill, your full attention should be shifting to cleaning the inside of your keyboard.

Step 4: Clean the Base Plate

How to clean a mechanical keyboard

With all the keycaps removed from your keyboard, use a damp microfiber cloth to clean up any leftover liquid that made it inside. Careful with using wiping motions because they can cause scratches. Dabbing is better.

Use a mini vacuum to get rid of any large debris like crumbs and dust sitting between the switches. Then, use a damp electronics cleaning brush or cotton swabs to scrub away the more resilient grime. Afterward, pay everything another visit with the vacuum to get any remaining debris you knocked loose.