Geek’s grooming: a keyboard hygiene experiment

Sunday, 11 Dec 2005 [Friday, 4 Aug 2006]

I recently came across a tip that you can wash a keyboard in the dishwasher, and having a keyboard in bad need of some cleaning (despite having been cleaned only a short while ago), I decided to try it. However, doing it the way described there and putting the entire thing in would have required drying the keyboard for days, and I just don’t have that much patience in supply. My answer to this dilemma was simply to take the keyboard apart and put only the top half of the shell in the dishwasher, the half with all the keycaps on it.

The idea was sound, but I discovered that I wasn’t going to get away as cheaply as I had imagined: dirt had gotten below the plastics layers beneath the keycaps too. I washed those carefully with a sponge and dried them diligently while the top shell was in the dishwasher.

Taking the top shell out of the dishwasher was a disappintment: it wasn’t as clean as I had hoped it would be. (To be honest, I was vaguely doubtful all along, but since so many others seem to have had good experiences, I thought I was going to be surprised. I wasn’t.) In particular, a lot of hair was still under the keys, so I still had to pop all the keycaps out – the very thing I had hoped to avoid. Oh well. At least with the keyboard dismantled, it’s much easier to get the keycaps off: you can just push them out from the underside, instead of having to pull at the keycap base from the top.

I do have to say the experiment was quite successful in that no crumbs were left under the keys and nearly all of the spillage crust was gone.

Of the spillage crust, icky residuals remained along the corners all the secondary, rectangular guide holes in the shell – those used for large keys such as the space bar and shift keys. I couldn’t think of any way to clean those effectively and efficiently, so I decided to cut my losses at that point. Interestingly, the round holes were all squeaky clean. Keyboard manufacturers, take note.

All in all I have to say this wasn’t nearly as easy as I had hoped it would be. It still takes a lot of effort to clean a keyboard, even if you enlist the aid of a dishwasher. I was hoping it would make cleaning the keyboard so effortless that I could do this once a month or maybe every other month. It doesn’t. However, even though it doesn’t relieve much of the pain of cleaning the darned thing manually, it’s a lot more effective, particularly as far as spillage crust is concerned. My keyboard is now much cleaner than it has been in a long time.

And thus I’m quite content anyway.

Update: another data point: Les Orchard had the exact same experience.