Cures for a Crusty Keyboard

Reader Marcie Phipps seeks to clean up her act. She writes:

I have an old keyboard that I love, but its keys are sticking due to built up dust and gunk. Is there a way to clean it?

This is a common question and with it come solutions both tried-and-true and controversial. Starting with the tried-and-true:

The first step in cleaning a keyboard is to unplug it, grab a can of compressed air (found at any electronic supply store), and blast air around the base of the keys in the hope of dislodging whatever's gumming up the works. Do this holding the can of compressed air upright. Flip the can upside down and there's some danger that you'll squirt propellant into the keyboard.

Turn the keyboard over and give it a good shake in the hope of removing the gunk you've loosened. While in this position, blast it a few more times with the compressed air. If a key remains unresponsive after this treatment, gently pry it up with a small flathead screwdriver and clean its post with a slightly damp cloth.

Now, the controversial:

If the keyboard is so filthy that it appears to be a lost cause--as it might after a major coffee, soda, or Mai Tai spill--put it in the dishwasher. Place it in the top rack, dial the dishwasher to a rinse only setting, don't put soap in the thing, and run it through. Remove the keyboard and let it drain, with keys down, until it's completely dry--this could take a couple of days.

This is controversial because some keyboard manufacturers suggest that you not do this as they won't guarantee that the keyboard will survive the ordeal--particularly if you hit the keyboard with really hot water, detergent, and flying cutlery.

Speaking from personal experience, I've done this with a beloved Matias TactilePro keyboard that I'd given up for dead (this is the perfect condition under which to conduct this experiment). I'm happy to report that not only did it survive, it works perfectly (and is a whole lot nicer to look at than it once was).

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