How to Clean and Disinfect Your Laptop’s Keyboard

updated May 20, 2023
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No matter how often you use your laptop, you might be surprised by the dirt, crumbs, and other debris lingering on the keyboard. But achieving a spotless (or, in this case, crumbless) computer isn’t as easy as sucking it all out with a vacuum as you would beneath your dining room table. Because it’s electronic (and probably expensive), cleaning your laptop keyboard requires a bit more care. 

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to clean your laptop keyboard, plus advice on how to disinfect and protect against germs.

Credit: Iuliia Pilipeichenko/Shutterstock

How to Clean a Laptop Keyboard

Noticing your keys are feeling grimy or that debris is impairing the keyboard’s function? It might be time for a good deep clean. Here are the basic steps for cleaning a laptop keyboard. 

1. Unplug and turn off your laptop.

As a rule of thumb, always turn off electronics before you clean them. Since you’re dealing with keys in this case, the process will be a lot easier if the computer is off. (You don’t want to accidentally control + alt + delete your way to a tech nightmare.)

2. Turn your laptop upside down while it’s open, and tap or shake it to dislodge debris.

The point is to remove the larger pieces of dirt to make the next steps easier. (Also: Why is it so satisfying to watch crumbs fall from a computer?)

Credit: Iuliia Pilipeichenko/Shutterstock

3. Use a soft-bristled brush to wipe and clean loose debris from between the keys of your laptop.

Do this while the laptop is upside-down, if you’re able, to avoid pushing debris under the keys. Try this OXO brush and/or this all-in-one OXO brush/cloth combo. You can also use compressed air (or an alternative—see below) if you need more force.

Credit: Iuliia Pilipeichenko/Shutterstock

4. Wipe across the keys with a lightly-damp microfiber cloth.

Get the corner of a lint-free cloth wet and wipe the keys clean. This OXO kit contains a brush and a microfiber cloth, which could also come in handy for removing smudges from your laptop screen.

5. If any stubborn grimey spots remain, use a cotton swab dipped in a bit of isopropyl alcohol.

Alcohol will help dissolve the grime on your keyboard. It evaporates quicker than water, but make sure to dry it off after cleaning to prevent moisture from accumulating on your computer. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

How to Disinfect a Laptop Keyboard

The steps above are great if your main reason for cleaning is to reduce dirt and grime. But if you’re trying to protect against spreading germs, you should follow up your cleaning routine with some disinfecting (always clean before you disinfect).

Disinfecting a laptop keyboard is as simple as applying your favorite disinfecting product to the keys—with just a few caveats. Don’t spray or apply liquid cleaners directly to any part of your laptop. Instead, apply liquid disinfectants to a cloth first, making sure that your cloth is saturated enough to provide the surface contact time specified on the product’s label.

Can You Clean a Laptop Keyboard with Clorox Wipes?

Yes, you can clean a laptop with Clorox wipes. In fact, Apple recommends both Lysol wipes and Clorox wipes for disinfecting Apple computers keyboards, mouses, and trackpads, as long as you squeeze the wipe to remove any excess dampness to avoid damaging your device.

Apple warns against using disinfecting wipes that contain bleach. (Even though Clorox’s brand name is synonymous with the stuff, Clorox disinfecting wipes don’t contain any amount of bleach.)

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How Do You Clean Under the Keys of a Laptop?

While some cleaning tools can reach around the keys, the best (and most thorough) way to clean them is by removing them. Search your laptop’s model to figure out if and how you can remove the keyboard keys.

If you do remove them, take a photo of your keyboard beforehand, so you remember where they go. You’ll also want to avoid using any tools that might bend or scrape your keys. A professional “pry tool” repair kit can be useful and costs less than $10.

Can I Vacuum My Laptop Keyboard?

Do you have a super crummy keyboard? The short answer is yes—you can use a vacuum to suck out all the crumbs and debris, but be careful. Many keyboards have pop-off keys that a standard home vacuum might easily suck up.

A better idea is to use a USB-powered vacuum designed for keyboard cleaning. You can also use a product like cleaning slime, which molds into the cracks and crevices of your keyboard and sticks to debris. A can of compressed air will also do the trick. 

What Are Good Alternatives to Compressed Air?

If you buy a can of compressed air, keep in mind that the EPA recommends compressed air products with HFC instead of CFC.

Don’t want to purchase air? There are a few alternatives. Instead, try a blow dryer on a cool setting or a portable air compressor like you’d use to inflate tires. You could also just blow gently on the keyboard. Some USB vacuum cleaners—like this one—also have air-blowing functions.