Cleaning Your Notebook Guide Part 2: Cleaning the Keyboard and Case

by Reads (5,921)

by Caleb Schmerge

Part two of our four-part notebook cleaning guide continues. This time, we focus on the keyboard, touchpad, and exterior case. As you’ll recall from part one of the cleaning guide, cleaning the vents and cooling system is most important because if your laptop’s vents get clogged up it won’t be able to cool properly and in turn won’t function properly. But what’s the point of clean insides if the outside looks like trash? Take a look at how you can freshen up that soiled notebook of yours.


To clean the keyboard and case I use a magical cleaner.  Luckily, when I say “magical” I use it in the marketing sense and you too can use this method.  I buy products like the Mr. Clean “Magic Eraser”, ScotchBrite “Easy Erasing Pad”, or other similar product.  The real key here is the melamine foam.  I have not tested all of the different brands, but I would wager that they all work similarly.  These will make a world of difference on your keyboard and case, and in my use have been safe but are mildly abrasive (use at your own risk).  You can alternatively use electronics wipes found at your favorite computer store, but I have found that these are really only good for basic wiping of larger messes, say chocolate on your keyboard.  To really clean the greasy keys, your best bet is the magic eraser.

To fully clean your keyboard, you need to get under the keys as well.  You can use your can of air here, as well as ShaggyMac’s “Grubby Sticks”  The grubby sticks work very well for cleaning the sides of keys from dust and removing debris from under the keys.  This is important to getting a proper response and preventing keys that stick.  I have not seen similar products, but I do not recommend Q-Tips for this.  More on why later.

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Now onto the keyboard.  The keyboard is usually a task to undertake.  To completely clean it, you would ideally remove each key and clean them all, plus the tray, and so on.  I don’t recommend this for several reasons.  First, this would be ridiculously time consuming.  I would expect a “full” cleaning to take almost an hour, and I know most people won’t do that.  Second, it’s risky.  Taking all the keys off of your computer and putting them back, again and again, is a broken key waiting to happen, plus when cleaning the tray, you risk breaking the clips and other parts.  If you need to, remove the keys at your own risk, and I won’t go into how to do that here, Google can help you there.  Your keyboard cleaning supplies are your magic or melamine foam sponge, soft cloth, forceps, your can of air, and Grubby Sticks.  You might choose to use a cleaner or isopropyl alcohol with the grubby sticks, it depends on what all you have spilled under the keys.  If there is something truly sticky, the alcohol is a good idea, but if you just have dust and loose debris it is an unnecessary risk.

Start by blowing the loose dust and debris out of the keyboard tray.  Get all around, go each and every way.  Get as much out as you can.  Then, get your cleaner (if needed) and use the Grubby Sticks to go between the keys and clean out what is left.  This can make a large difference in the response of the keyboard.  Keep in mind that you shouldn’t need elbow grease to make this work.  I know the Grubby sticks will fit tight, but take it easy, the goal here is to have a clean AND working keyboard when your done.  After you are sufficiently happy with the cleanliness of the tray, time for the keys.  Wet and wring out your sponge, and start rubbing them.  Note that I didn’t say scrubbing, because you really don’t need much force here.  In my experience the sponge never damaged the keys, however I was gentle with them, so if you really work at it, you could remove the lettering.  This is your own risk, but I have done this safely on 3 different keyboards multiple times with no harm.  Once you have rubbed down a section of keys, wipe them down with the clean cloth.  Watch for any small pieces of the sponge that might rip off, and use your forceps or air to get them out of the keyboard.

While I promise that the sponge will make a difference, I will say that it isn’t perfect.  When you type repeatedly on a keyboard, you not only deposit grease and gunk, but you also polish the surface of the keys.  Your keys should look better and be less shiny, but there is a bit of damage that is permanent.  Don’t make it worse by over scrubbing.  If (when) the keys get bad enough, I recommend that you replace the keyboard anyway, which gives you a fresh start and can help give you a better key response anyway.

This is where I will also compare the use of alcohol (the most popular keyboard cleaning method) to using the magic sponge.  Pictures are worth a thousand words, so here they are.  I have never seen a positive difference from the alcohol.  I don’t notice the keyboard being any cleaner or better, while the “magic” sponges make the keys noticeably cleaner and you can feel the difference in the surface of the keys.  The amount of grease has been decreased.

You should keep in mind that there is no way to completely “clean” the keys.  Remember that you are polishing the keys, so the alcohol doesn’t make a difference (in my use), the magic sponge won’t remove the shine from keys completely, though it will make it better (especially over the long run).  See my recommendations later for advice on remedying this problem.

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Notice the grease spots on several keys, including T, R, and N


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This picture shows that the grease spots can be cleaned, though not completely removed


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Keyboard before cleaning


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Keyboard after cleaning

Cleaning the Case

The same supplies will apply for cleaning the case of the laptop.  This is basically every part that isn’t the screen or keyboard that needs cleaned.  I do recommend you test the sponge in a hidden area to make sure it won’t damage the paint; however, in my tests it was safe.  Just wipe down an area (with the magic sponge) and wipe it over with the clean cloth.  On a highly polished surface you could consider using your screen cleaning solution to help maintain that sparkle, as there is a risk that the sponge could damage it (once again, in my experience this hasn’t been the case).  Just wipe down the case as needed to get it sufficiently clean.  Because the case usually doesn’t take much damage, it usually isn’t hard to clean.  Most of the damage to the case is scratches (more on this under the preventative section) or rubbing the paint away (more on this under the preventative section), neither of which can be take care of by cleaning the notebook.

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Notice the grease on the touchpad and palm rest.  This is from normal use.

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A broader view.

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The grease spots are gone!  Note though that there is some wear visible on the touch pad.

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Second view.

Stay tuned for Part 3: "Cleaning your notebook screen" tomorrow!



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