Helpdesk Challenge – keeping your computer clean

Many of us spend our working days with our fingers glued to our keyboards – the same fingers you’re handling food with at lunchtime.

But computer keyboards and even mouses can be home to dirt and some serious nasties. A Which? investigation into keyboard hygiene found some that had more bacteria on them than the average toilet seat.

Do your keyboard keys keep sticking? Guilty of eating toast while checking your emails? We’ve got some handy tips for keeping your mouse squeaky clean and some helpful techniques for making sure your keyboard is clean and hygienic.

How to clean a keyboard

Firstly you need to decide how seriously you want to clean your keyboard, and what sort of keyboard you have (laptop or desktop).

Method 1:  The easy way

  • Shut down your PC and unplug your keyboard, if it has any batteries take them out.
  • If you can find a can of compressed air use this to blow away debris, otherwise you can use a small vacuum between the keys (careful not to vacuum up any letters)
  • Turn your keyboard over and shake out all excess dirt that may not have been removed by the compressed air or vacuum.
  • Using a damp (suitable cleaning liquid – isopropyl alcohol) cloth and trace the contours of the keys. You can use a cotton bud to go down in between the keys.

Method 2:  The hard way – removing keys

  • Once again make sure that your keyboard is off
  • If you are not familiar with a keyboard layout make note of the key positions
  • Any key can be removed, but the larger ones can be difficult to put back on so it is best to leave these on.
  • PC keyboard: Using a flat tip screwdriver or knife you can gently pry one corner of the key up – do not force it – there will be a pop and the key will easily come off.
  • Laptop keyboard: Rather than using a knife or a screwdriver you should be able to lift these small keys with a fingernail.
  • You can then remove all of the debris under your keyboard whilst washing the keys you have taken off in warm water. Let them dry completely before fixing them back on the keyboard.

How to clean a mouse

This will depend on whether you have an optical mouse or a ball mouse. An optical mouse will start to show signs of needing a clean if it begins to skip around the screen, whereas the ball on a ball-mouse may stick at times.

Optical mouse

  • Unplug your mouse from the computer
  • Using a slightly damped cotton bud gently remove any dust or residue on the LED
  • Use a dry cotton bud to make sure that no liquid is left on the mouse

Rollerball mouse

  • There is a removable cover on the bottom, turn your mouse cover anti clockwise so you can remove the cover and take out the ball.
  • Use a tissue to clean the mouse ball of any dirt
  • You will also see three rollers, which will have a build up of dirt on them. Clear this dirt out with a narrow tipped tool.
  • Put the ball back in and replace the cover by turning it clockwise.

How to clean a computer screen

Oily residue can build up on a screen, particularly with the introduction of touchscreens. It is important to use the correct type of cloth to clean your screen. Microfibre cloths used for glasses are good, but avoid toilet tissue or your t-shirt.

Cleaning a computer screen

  • Turn off the monitor, or if it’s a laptop screen, turn off the laptop
  • Use a soft, dry cloth and wipe the screen very gently. Make sure you do not press too hard on even on stubborn blemishes
  • You may need to use a damp cloth with distilled water.

How do you keep your own computer equipment clean? Were you aware of the risks of unhygienic keyboards? And do you agree with the methods suggested above?

More on this…

8 replies

    1. I just switched to their Magic Trackpad after an early magic mouse clogged up. I winced at the trackpad price but I have been converted, it is much easier to use – and it’s a lot easier to clean!

    2. +1 for the Magic Trackpad – love the trackpad on my MacBook Air. Shame I don’t have a Mac to work on in the office. I think a call to IT is overdue.

  1. Dear All,
    I realise that this is writen with good intent but I would add a small word of caution, you will have heard the saying, “if it aint broke dont fix it!” and I think this could apply here.
    Computers are sensitive to static and blowing them with compressed air could cause harmful static. We once had a program in the office where an over enthusiastic IT guy decided to hover all the PC’s for us over a weekend. When we came back two PC had stopped working. Needless to say we didn’t do that again!

  2. Remeove the keys from your laptop? Are you completely mad? I have a Compaq laptop, the Alt key has come loose and underneath it are 2 separate squares of plastic, I cant’ see any way of fitting it back together and even if I could, it is so small and fiddly that I couldn’t assemble it.
    My keyboard is mucky and full of crumbs and dust but it will have to stay that way, apart from gently wiping the face of the keys.

  3. Hmmm, with an average breakage rate of nearly 10 percent when removing or replacing most laptop keys and a fitting time for EACH key of over 1 minute, I would have thought twice about suggesting anyone pops a key off a laptop.

    I am an ex-computer engineer and college lecturer in PC Specification and Maintenance and one of my colleagues gave me a laptop to fix because he had dropped some chocolate between some keys and removed one to retrieve it.
    It broke and a replacement single key from eBay was nearly £1.50. He gave up trying to fit it after 5 mins and I had to do it for him. If he had removed half a dozen, I would have suggested he would be better buying a new keyboard instead at a cost of about £35. Also, you have to pop them off at the correct location (usually the top) else you can break the key or clamp mechanism.

    May I suggest that a photo of the layout is also a necessity if removing multiple keys.

  4. To Pat M,

    You have to find the two parts of the clamp that hook into the key, usually at the bottom and try and slide the key into the clamp whilst holding it at a slight angle where the top of the key is lifted by no more than 1 to 2mm. Once the clamp is located in the bottom of the key, press the top of the key down until the top lugs clamp into the key.

    Usually if you search on google, you can find the swrvice manual for free and it may give better instructions.

    Good luck.

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