Keyboard cleaning

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This article is incomplete. Please add your cleaning methods and experience here!

Preparation

  • Take photos of your keyboard's layout, or find a photo of a similar one in advance.
  • Document every single step.
  • Count the keycaps before you throw away any tissue paper, etc.

Bathing the keycaps

Bathing of two different types of vintage keycaps in a glass
Bathing keycaps with powder added

The easiest and best method is to bathe the keycaps, as long as you take the following things into account:

Check the water!
Be careful with temperatures and what you add to the water for cleaning! 30°C to 50°C should not damage plastic, as long as you can put your hand in it without pain, it shall be OK. Water that's too warm can deform the keys. Also, too much detergent can ruin the keys' printing or affect their colour.
Don't scrub too hard!
Be careful not to rub off the time stamps inside the keyboard shell or the printing from the keycaps. If you use good detergent, you generally won't need to scrub. Agitate your water-detergent-keycaps cocktail every 10 minutes by stirring with a large spoon (etc.), or by using a shaker. The keyboard's case can easily be cleaned with warm water, dishwashing liquid and a (non-metallic) brush, and dried with a towel. Use Q-Tips for small corners.
Don't add bleach!
Chlorine can fade plastics. If your keycaps are old and yellowed, bleach will not remove it—see Retr0bright instead.
Keyboards aren't waterproof!
Don't put your keyboard in the dishwasher (unless it is at least IP65 certified). If you've read or been told to do this, it's a myth! Not even a rubber-dome keyboard is guaranteed to survive this, as the warm water can rust and oxidize the internal electronics. If it doesn't kill the keyboard outright, it will almost certainly prevent it from operating properly.
Never reattach wet key stems or caps to your keyboard! Be sure they are completely dry, including the small corners inside them (see below).

The use of a washing bag of mesh fabric can help to keep all keycaps together during washing, rinsing and drying. These can be purchased from stores that sell women's lingerie.

Denture cleaning tablets fizz and foam a lot above the water-level, so they would need to be used in a high-walled container. Denture cleaning tablets may not be suitable for sensitive plastics or prints as they often contain a small amount of bleach and an abrasive.

Cleaning keycaps with dishwasher powder (e.g. Somat) and denture cleaners have been tested and proven suitable. Please be extra careful with pre-1980s keycaps.

The following types of keycaps have been successfully cleaned with dishwasher powder (Somat):

  • IBM Model F and Model M
  • Cherry double-shot and sublimation-printed keycaps from the 1980s/'90s
  • Key Tronic from the 1980s/'90s, both double-shot and printed
  • Several different double-shot and printed Alps keys from the 1990s

NOT suitable:

  • Keycaps of the programmable keyboard TheBoard (the one with the LCDs under some keys). These fade a bit.


Drying buckling spring key stems

Drying key stems of two IBM Model Ms at 30-40°C in a Bauknecht ESZH5963

Drying the key stems of an IBM buckling spring keyboard can take a while, as small amounts of liquid usually remain in the keys' interior corners after rinsing.

To speed up the drying process, a convexion (hot air) oven can be used if it is designed to have a constant air stream at relatively low temperatures of 30-40°C (or 300-340K for you engineering lads). Warning: Do NOT attempt this in a standard radiant-heat oven; you will melt the keys! Some convexion ovens also use radiation, so be sure your oven uses air-movement only.

Another way to dry keycaps faster is to put them in a cotton bag mixed with paper towels, and to put this bag in a laundry dryer at its lowest temperature. This shakes the keys as well as using the dryer's air flow. Every 2 minutes, open the dryer, open the bag, and shake it in fresh air to ensure the keys don't get too hot. Repeating these steps 3 or 4 times should be enough.

You can also use a hair drier on medium temperature and maximum air flow, on the keys placed in a large strainer. Shake the keys in the strainer as you dry them. Be sure not to set the dryer too hot or get too close to the keys, or they may melt.

Are your keys dry?: It's very important that your keys be completely dry before you reassemble and reattach them. Visual inspection is not enough! A good way to see if the inside of a keycap is dry is to tap it on your leg; if you see any water on your pants, you're not done. You can also blow into the key with your mouth, and if there is still water a corner, you will get some on your face.