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After a few years, keyboards develop a fine patina of what I refer to as "hand jam". I've heard that they can be safely cleaned in the dishwasher as long as you let them thoroughly dry out (like for a week or two). Maybe not the fancy ones with the LCD displays and what not, but the basic keyboard, yes.

Has anyone tried this?

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migrated from serverfault.com Jul 30 '09 at 13:40

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I once spilled strawberry jam on a 5.25" floppy disk, right onto the magnetic medium. I carefully slit open the case, took out the disc inside and washed it gently with warm water and soap. I dried it and slit open a blank floppy and put the washed disc inside it. I got all my data off with no errors. –  ErikE May 5 '11 at 17:33
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7 Answers

up vote 12 down vote accepted

I tried it, failed

I tried it on a Mac keyboard. It got sparkling clean but didn't work after that. I didn't use a hair dryer as others have suggested, I just let it sit upside down under my desk.

On a second keyboard I popped off the keys and put them in one of those little bags for washing small things. That worked very nicely for me.

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Mac keyboards are notorious for not washing up this way. They also contain sealed electronics on some models, and the older see-through plastic casings are water traps. +1 for pointing out the pitfalls of this process. –  Avery Payne Jul 11 '09 at 18:59
    
How much have you let it dry? –  Cristian Ciupitu Jul 12 '09 at 1:52
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@Cristian, I let it sit for 2-3 months and tried it again before I recycled it. Avery is right saying they are water traps, I would pick it up and shake it every one or two days. –  Mark Harrison Jul 12 '09 at 5:22
    
Mark's right, for a Mac keyboard, generally speaking, you are better off dismantling the unit and then washing only the pieces that need it. If it's really gummed up, you're probably not going to fare very well. I'd give another +1 for the "keys in a wash baggy" idea if I could. –  Avery Payne Jul 13 '09 at 14:23
    
I also tried it, failed. I think if you're hellbent on keeping that keyboard, and you want it clean again, dismantle it and wash only the "non-volatile" parts. –  raven Jun 3 '12 at 14:40
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I have used this technique to clean a dozen keyboards over the years, including several from my work that were "dingy" and needed a "facelift". The first time I heard of it was from an EE who said the method was fairly similar to the rinse baths used to clean circuit boards (remember, this was two decades ago). The detergent you use does a fairly nice job of scouring the plastics, and minimizes any corrosion (which is how your flatware doesn't turn into rust). Try to use straight granular detergent, and not a gel-pack or pillow-pack, as newer "tabs" can introduce other chemical agents that are less desirable. If you are concerned about electrical contacts, first try without any detergent at all.

Candidates

The trick to doing this is to look at the "style" and "type" of keyboard in use. As keyboards have become more sophisticated, there's more elements that can potentially have trouble. Old keyboards tend to be fairly mechanical beasts, with lots of contact switches and metal or plastic springs. These are the best candidates for a wash. Some keyboards, however, are not suitable for this - they either have parts that will not survive a wash intact (leatherette palm rests on a Microsoft Ergonomic 4000) or have embedded electronics that can trap water (LCD displays recessed behind a panel on gaming keyboards). In each case, look at the construction of the keyboard before proceeding, and keep in mind that it may not survive intact. If you're still willing, read on.

The Wash

The easiest way to do this is to place the keyboard in the top tray, key-side-down, so that the water/detergent mix will "spray up" into the keys themselves. This also helps a bit with drainage when you finally remove the keyboard. Also important is that you disable any "heated-dry cycle" that the dishwasher may have, as some have heating elements in the top and may cause damage or melted plastic. If this is not possible, consider placing it in the middle of the bottom rack, in such a way that the keyboard is away from any heating elements, and preferably suspended slightly higher than the base of the bottom rack (maybe perched on something else).

The Dry

Once the wash cycle has completed, remove the keyboard and place it on a towel in such a way that it is on-edge and tilted key-side-down, so that any residual water can work its way down through gravity. Let the keyboard remain in this position for a minimum of two days. After two days, pick the keyboard up and examine it - if you see any residual water all, let it sit for another two days, and so on. The point of this is to ensure that the keyboard will air-dry completely. If you have any doubts or concerns at all, leave the keyboard like this for a week to ensure that it has throughly air-dried.

The Test

Of course, the final test is to see if the keyboard works. Unfortunately, this means plugging it in. If at all possible, see if you can use an older (disposable?) machine to accomplish this. Although most machines will not be harmed by this, better safe than sorry. After you plug it in, be sure to test every key switch on the keyboard by stroking each row of keys with your finger. A text editor is a quick, easy way to check this.

Example

I once purchased (a long time ago) an NCD X terminal. The terminal had a fairly standard-looking keyboard, but it had one problem - someone appeared to have split 7up on several of the keys, making them stick and slide slowly (the E wouldn't move at all if I recall). After using the wash'n'dry method, I was able to get all but the E key to move freely. The E key "crunched" (the sugar had re-crystallized) but still was sticky. A second wash later it moved freely, and it never malfunctioned afterwards.

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I've only got one question: how did you know it was 7 Up? –  Tiberiu Ana Jul 30 '09 at 14:15
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You know, I could be wrong. It could be Sprite. I had lifted the keycap of the key that was stuck off and observed clear, dried soda around it. –  Avery Payne Jul 30 '09 at 17:43
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Has anyone ever tried this with a classic IBM Type M? –  chris Aug 11 '09 at 18:12
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If anyone lives dangerously and tries an extended time reduced heat "for plastics" drying mode be advised those close to the heating element (e.g. keys in the flatware container) will melt. However top rack was fine and only closest layer of keys on bottom became discolored; F10 melted. Keyboard works fine without F10, I'd do it again with everything in the top rack. Only for the impatient and unhinged. (Extended air drying still required.) –  Christopher Galpin Oct 17 '11 at 1:47
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Keyboards tend to have mylar sheets in them, and these are very hard to get dry again. I have successfully cleaned keyboards by dismantling them, taking out the circuit boards and mylar and just scrubbing the plastic case in the sink. However this is a lot of work and these days I would just buy another keyboard.

JR

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I agree, I washed my MS Ergonomic 4000 after removing the circuitry, Mylar, and leather palm rest (dish-washed the keys separate too). However I decided to wipe down the Mylar and it was a pain to get all of the water between the sheets to evaporate, much more difficult than you would expect. I will use only canned air next time. –  Christopher Galpin Oct 17 '11 at 1:37
    
The Ergo 4000 is a wonderful keyboard, until you try to clean it. They apparently are notorious for malfunctioning once you get liquid into it. I went through this heartbreak once (I <3 my ergo) and the 3-day process of disassembly, cleaning the mylar with alcohol and qtips, and putting the top part of the keytray (sans wrist rest) into the dishwasher was a bit of an ordeal, only to find out that the coffee spill in the keyboard managed to alter or short two of the mylar contact paths. Christopher is right, the best way to clean these are with compressed gas cans (and a bit of disassembly). –  Avery Payne Mar 3 '12 at 1:28
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Yep, its doable and it works well if you do it properly, just make sure everything is dry before you put it back togther and try and use it. See this article on Jeffs blog about this.

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Yes, you can put keyboards in the dishwasher. I've cleaned 2 keyboards this way. Make sure you let them air dry, face down, for at least a few days, preferably a week to be sure.

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In my experience every keyboard and electrical devices like cellphones and similar can be put in the dishwasher (actually, in anything that's gonna get it wet; so it also goes for, for example, dropping your cellphone in the pool and such) ... but the important thing is to get it dry really well, before you switch it on again. If it's dry, everything is gonna be ok.

That may however be tricky to accomplish, since some areas have poor air ventilation and are hard to get really dry. So far I've had pretty good experience with hairdryers when needing to get the most of water out of them, and then I just leave them on the radiator for the next day or two.

Haven't lost a keyboard or a cellphone yet.

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Look at your keyboard too - I have a solid Compaq that unscrews into 2 halves, electronics in the base and keys that happily go into the dishwasher on the quick wash cycle. Check yours and make sure you have a spare just in case.

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