How to clean your dirty computer keyboard

To make sure your keyboard is not a health hazard, you need to be proactive about wiping down its surface and cleaning off hard-to-reach crevices.

You will want to get your hands off of your grimy keyboard after reading this. In 2008, microbiologist James Francis swabbed 33 keyboards, a toilet seat and a toilet door handle in an office for Which?, a U.K. consumer advocacy group, and he found that keyboards can be a bigger cesspool for disease than a toilet. Four of the keyboards posed a health hazard. Two of the keyboards had Staphylococcus aureus, a pathogen that can infect us with food poisoning. One of the keyboards he tested was five times dirtier than the toilet seat.

The Which? report found that food crumbs left over from an desk lunch were often the culprit. The sticky sauce residue that got stuck in your QWERTY keys can be a breeding ground for bacteria. To make sure your keyboard is not a health hazard, you need to be proactive about wiping down its surface and cleaning off hard-to-reach crevices. Here’s how:

How to keep your keyboard germ-free

Before you get a liquid cleaning product near your machine, you will want to disconnect your keyboard from your computer and take out the battery if it uses one. To blow off surface dirt, you can use canned air directed at your keyboard in a short burst. For laptops, Apple recommends keeping the straw a half-inch away as you spray and holding the computer at a 75-degree angle so it is almost vertical.

For dirt that still clings to the keyboard, you can simply use a cotton swab dipped into some isopropyl alcohol, also known as rubbing alcohol, and use the cotton swab to wipe off grime and sterilize the keys. For the corners between keys, you may want to use a q-tip.

If keys are still gross, you may want to take your keyboard apart if you are comfortable with knowing how to put it back together again. There are toolkits to facilitate this removal. Beyond cleaning the keyboard, you want to make sure your hands are clean so that you minimize bacteria exposure. Remember to wash your hands often, so you do not become a carrier of disease yourself.

Like flossing your teeth, cleaning your keyboard needs to be a regular habit for it to be of any use. Make wiping down your keyboard a weekly practice, so that dust bunnies do not transform into infectious dust monsters.

Monica Torres|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at mtorres@theladders.com.