How to Clean a Mechanical Keyboard
Posted by Aziz Saigal on
Gamers undeniably take pride in the hardware that makes the long hours of an intense gaming session possible, and rightly so. However, regardless of the hardware, you're repping, your delicate machinery will require attention and a bit of love in the form of a thorough cleaning.
A neglected keyboard can and will hinder the essence of its function! Over time, and after frequent use, dust and grime will accumulate under the keys and make them stick when pressing down on them, and this, of course, can slow down performance. Instead, a regularly well maintained mechanical keyboard will enable top performance!
Fortunately, mechanical keyboards come with the advantage of easily-removable keycaps and the wider spacing between said keys. With the right set of tools and time, you can extend its lifespan. Before getting started, you should familiarize yourself with a mechanical keyboard's key components and how they function.
The Mechanical Keyboard Structure
You won’t ever need to worry about cleaning the matrix. Typically you won’t be dismantling the keyboard enough to see it, but the fundamental matrix is a large piece of circuits at the very heart of the keyboard.
All those buttons! The number, letters, and symbols, all of it makes up the keycaps. Mechanical keyboards are popular amongst gamers because the keycaps are more extensive than your average default keyboard. However, because your fingers are continuously pressing down against each key, the keycaps will be among the main components needed for the most maintenance.
Each keycap has a switch underneath. Whenever you press down on a keycap, the keycap pushes its respective switch against the key matrix. This action results in a contact that completes the key matrix circuitry and allows for an electric current to flow by adding up all to the switches being a smaller piece of circuitry between the key matrix and the keycaps.
Each switch has a respective spring that bounces back into position after the key is pressed. Another reason why mechanical keyboards are incredibly popular with gamers is the hyper-responsiveness of this spring mechanism. It would be best if you didn’t have to dismantle the switches, but you may need to clean over them.
The plate is the outer shell, the plastic that encompasses all the other components previously mentioned, keeping them in their respective places.
Cleaning your Mechanical Keyboard
If you want to have your keyboard looking brand spanking new, you’ll need to do a deep clean with all the keys removed. Removing the keycaps is comfortable with most keyboards these days. Using a butter knife or some other thin, blunt object, try lifting the keycaps off. After getting one-off, you may be able to do the rest by hand. Although this should be an easy thing to do, if you feel like the keys caps aren’t coming off quickly, don’t try to force them off, or you may end up breaking something.
Note: Before you start working on your keyboard we advise that you take a picture of it so that you remember where all the keycaps go. This is especially necessary for those using a non-standard keyboard with lots of macro keys.
The most common form of dirt you’ll find can be anything from dust to dog hairs to crumbs. Regardless of what it is, it can all be cleaned easily. If you have a wired keyboard, unplug it. If not, grab your keyboard and take it to a surface you don’t mind dirtying.
Turn your keyboard upside down and shake it hard enough to loosen the dirt. If you’re really trying to get in between the keys, a can of compressed air should do the trick. If you’re using a can of compressed air, make sure to spray the air in a consistent direction to make sure that you’re not just blowing the dirt around.
To do a basic clean, you’ll want to remove all its keycaps. Then clean both the keycaps and the keyboard plate. Lastly, after you’ve dried everything off, reattach the keycaps.
The standard keycaps are relatively easy to remove, while the larger keys like the Shift, Space, and Enter keys can be more challenging. This is because the larger keys have a stabilizer under them made out of a metal wire and a tiny plastic nub. If you’re not careful or use too much force when removing them, they can break. Proceed with caution.
Dealing with Sticky keys, Grease, and Water Marks
If your keyboard has gotten more on the sticky side due to spills, this clean may have to be a bit more in-depth. Make sure your keyboard is unplugged and find a lint-free cloth. Dip the cloth in isopropyl alcohol or nail polish remover. Align the cloth with the gaps between your keyboard’s keys and rub through them until the residue causes the stickiness to be removed. If the room between the keys allows, repeat this process with a cotton swab.
Tips for Cleaning the Keycaps
You could spend your time scrubbing each keycap individually, or what might save you some time and effort is letting them soak in a bowl or container of lukewarm water mixed with a little dishwashing soap. This will help loosen any sugary gunk from spilled drinks.
After you’re done cleaning the keycaps, wipe them down with a microfiber cloth and lay them on a towel to dry. Have the bottoms of the keycaps facing up to expose them more to the air. If you would like to speed up the process, feel free to use a fan.
Note: We mention using isopropyl alcohol or nail polish remover to clean your keycaps, but we don’t recommend doing this unless you’re 100% sure either choice won’t damage your keyboard. Depending on the material used for your keycaps, using isopropyl alcohol might make them nice and shiny, but it might also strip them of color, leaving them transparent. If you’re unsure or would prefer to stay on the safe side, we recommend using soap. We would hate for you to ruin such an essential piece of hardware.
- Unplug your keyboard if necessary. If it is wireless simply turn it off.
- Take a photo of your keyboard.
- Remove all the keycaps on your keyboard.
- Using a lint-free cloth, wipe them down with isopropyl alcohol and leave them out to dry.
- Once the keycaps have been removed, use compressed air, a vacuum, or cloth to make sure all the residue detritus on the keyboard is gone.
- Use a cotton swab dipped in soap or isopropyl alcohol to get in between the switches. Spend some extra time on any stubborn stains or marks.
- Let the board and switches dry completely.
- Reassemble the keyboard using your reference image.
Once you’re done cleaning your keyboard, plug it back into your PC and test that each key works as it should. If you’re having issues, pop off the keycap and make sure no dirt or cotton has clogged itself within the switch while you were cleaning.
Wrapping it Up
As with anything of value, basic maintenance is important. This is especially true for complex, mechanical devices and pieces of hardware such as your gaming mouse or keyboard.
The last thing you want is for your expensive piece of equipment to break down mid-match due to a lack of upkeep. At Patriot Memory, we have many articles to keep yourself updated on how to take care of your valuable gaming items. We also have a wide variety of gaming mice, keyboards, and other products to meet your gaming needs. Check them out here!