Clean a computer keyboard

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Computer users sometimes are startled by the discovery of non-native species harbored by their keyboard. Dust bunnies, crumb colonies and Coke deposits can be safely relocated without the blast of an aerosol can, computer chip designer Karl Brummel assures us. Here are his tips.

Remove-and-replace method: "I have considerable expertise in this area," Brummel says. His technique:

Step 1: Buy a new keyboard.

Step 2: Discard /recycle old keyboard.

Brummel hastens to mention that replacement keyboards cost as little as $9 unless they are on a laptop or otherwise built-in. Even then, he wouldn't rule out the remove-and-replace modality. "However, then you have to add a backup/restore phase in between steps 1 and 2."

If pressed to elaborate — or to salvage the keyboard and attached components — he endorses the following methodology.

Routine keyboard cleaning: Regular light cleaning prevents overheating and extends the life of your machine. Keep food and beverages on a separate surface.

Spread newspaper or towel below computer. Turn keyboard upside down and shake gently to dislodge debris.

When more is required: If it has been a while or never … and you don't want to buy a new keyboard:

1. Take keyboard outside. Spray "canned air" (sold at office supply and computer stores) at an angle between keys, in such a way as to drive debris up and out rather than deeper. Turn the keyboard over and gently shake any stubborn particles loose.

2. Wipe a damp paper towel over keys and other surfaces. If a board is really grimy, use spray cleaner, such as Windex or Formula 409, on a paper towel. Dry with paper towel or lint-free cloth.

Cautionary note: "I wouldn't spray an aerosol on a keyboard," Brummel says. "On laptops the motherboard is basically right below the keyboard. But even regular detached keyboards have some circuitry under the keys, and it's not good to get it wet."

Optional and at your own risk: The obsessive may wish to run the dusting brush of the vacuum over the keyboard, but some technicians warn this can damage the electronics.

Spills

If that cup of coffee just spilled itself, try the following triage.

1. Turn off and unplug computer. If the spill is significant and a wet/dry vac is available, Brummel would use it immediately. Or tilt keyboard to side or turn upside-down to drain.

2. Wipe surfaces with damp cloth.

2.5. Optional and at your own risk: Take photo of keyboard. Pry keyboard caps off with a flathead screwdriver. (Do not dislodge the large caps over the space, enter and shift keys.) "Prying off keys sometimes works, but about half the time you have to break them to get them off," Brummel says. In addition, doing so may violate your warranty, in which case you could have saved yourself a headache with the regimen in Part I. Gently clean innards of keys with a cotton swab dampened with water, or 90 percent isopropyl alcohol for stubborn gunk. Use "canned air" again, if desired.

3. Air-dry completely. Replace caps.

wdonahue@tribune.com

Level of difficulty: Easy, if you do routine cleaning, and keep food and drink away from the keyboard — or you have expendable income to keep replacing it.

Tools required: Paper towels or newspaper, "canned air," spray cleaner. Optional: wet/dry vac. wdonahue@tribune.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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