How to clean your keyboard

As much as we love our high-end keyboards here at PC Gamer, there's no denying that after a few months or years of use, they often aren't as nice to game and type on any more. Looking between the keys of our favorite keyboard can be a little like digging around down the side of your sofa cushions—you never know what you'll find.

But it needn't be that way. With a little occasional maintenance, you can have your mechanical or membrane board looking and functioning as good as new—even if you manage to spill something terrible on it. If you've spent good money on the best gaming keyboard you can afford... the least you can do is give it some TLC.

Dirt, dust, and debris

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The most common detritus that you're likely to find hiding between the various keys of your keyboard is general dirt. That can be anything from dust to dog hairs but all of it can be removed fairly easily.

  • If your keyboard is wired, unplug it, but otherwise grab your keyboard and take it somewhere you don't mind getting dirty, such as a room with a laminate floor, or even outside.
  • Turn the keyboard upside down and give it a good shake.

If you want to really give between those keys a thorough cleaning, a blast from a can of compressed air can do wonders. Just make sure to spray in a consistent direction so that you aren't just moving the dirt around. Alternatively, use a vacuum cleaner with the brush head attached.

Grease, sticky spills, water marks 

If your keyboard has taken more of a beating during use or even seen a bit of liquid damage over that time, you'll need to get a more in depth and invasive with your cleaning. 

  • Unplug or turn off your keyboard.
  • Take a lint free cloth and dip it into some isopropyl alcohol, nail polish remover, or similar. Line the cloth up with the gap between your keys and rub it through them a few times, always moving in the same direction. 
  • If you have enough room between key caps you can repeat the same process using a cotton swab.

Deep clean

If you want to return your keyboard to its fresh, clean, as-new state, you'll need to deep clean it with all of the keys removed. Removing the key caps is easy with most modern keyboards—just use a butter knife or similar thin, blunt object to pry off one and you may be able to do the rest by hand. Don't force them though. If they don't come off fairly easily, they probably aren't going to come off without breaking something.

Note: Before getting started it is advisable to take a picture of your keyboard so that you remember where all of your keycaps go. This goes double for anyone using a non-standard keyboard with lots of macro keys or with a foreign language layout.

  • Unplug or turn off your keyboard.
  • Remove all of the key caps on your board. Using a lint-free cloth give them a wipe using isopropyl alcohol or similar and leave them to dry.
  • With the keycaps removed, use compressed air, a vacuum, or a cloth to make sure there is no loose debris left on the board. 
  • Use a cotton swab dipped in isopropyl alcohol or similar to wipe between all of the switches. Pay special attention to any stains or stubborn marks. 
  • Leave the board and switches to dry completely.
  • Reassemble your keyboard. Use the image you took before you started for reference, if required.

Once your cleaning is complete, plug the keyboard back in and boot up your PC. Test that each of the keys works as intended. If not, pop the keycap off to make sure that no dirt or piece of cotton swab clogged the switch during the cleaning process. Oh, and if you invested in the best gaming mouse for your set-up, make sure you save some swabs for that too.