How to Clean a Laptop Keyboard and Screen

    Channah/stock.xchngThe portability of the laptop computer is also its downfall in some ways. Because we can use them everywhere, we do -- with little regard for the consequences. Coffee, fingerprints, dirt, sneezes and all manner of other residue end up on and between those little keys, and on the brilliant but frustratingly fragile LCD screen.

    Plenty of companies claim their pricey products are the only way to properly clean a computer. While many of these surely do a fine job, you can clean a laptop screen and keyboard perfectly well on the cheap with basic household products – carefully and with one exception. Also, vinegar is better for the environment than the complex chemical compounds in the other cleaners.

    Before you start any of this, turn off the computer. Why? 1) It will be easier to see smudges on a blank, black screen, and 2) you shouldn’t be using liquids around active electronic devices.

    Clean the screen

    We’ll start at the top and offer a simple guide to cleaning laptop screens. Though (often heated) opinions vary widely on cleaning LCD screens, most experts agree that glass cleaners and most other liquids are not good for screens. Neither is heavy pressure.

    With a light touch, rub the screen clean in a circular motion with a lint-free cloth (microfiber or a piece of an old, clean T-shirt works well), slightly dampened with either distilled water or a 50-50 mix of distilled water and vinegar. Isopropyl alcohol mixed with water works, too. Also don’t spray anything directly onto the screen.

    Don’t worry about wiping away every streak left from cleaning. Small streaks will evaporate, and you are likely to damage the screen by wiping too hard. However, make sure the screen is dry before closing the laptop.

    Clean the keyboard surface

    Although a dirty keyboard may be less annoying and distracting than a smudged screen, research shows that office computer keyboards may harbor nearly 3,300 germs per square inch. The lint-free cloth and homebrew cleaning solutions can wipe away most of these germs, which in any case are only a concern if you're sharing a computer.

    Lightly dampen the cloth with the vinegar or isopropyl alcohol solution. You can also use diluted dishwashing detergent. Though the keys are less fragile than an LCD screen, the same rule applies: never spray liquids into the keyboard. The liquid could seep under the keys and cause major damage to components.

    Clean between the keys

    Unfortunately, this won’t take care of dirt and crumbs between the keys. There are few good ways to clean up this junk. You can’t turn the keyboard upside down and shake it out, as you might with a standalone desktop keyboard that can probably withstand all that vigorous shaking. Regardless, that doesn’t usually even get out all the debris.

    Here is our one expensive product plug: use compressed air. Compressed-gas products such as Dust-Off cost at least $4 for a 10-oz bottle, which really doesn’t last that long. Moreover, it’s just air (in other words, gases), but it costs more per ounce than a Starbucks latte. On the other hand, it’s pretty fun to use.

    Keep the can upright and tilt the computer so the air is blasting across the keyboard. Finally, you might be able to carefully suck up any really stubborn crumbs with a vacuum cleaner, using the small brush attachment.

    A vinegar solution and a lint-free cloth are almost all you need to properly clean a laptop keyboard and screen. Just take care and don’t be afraid to splurge on some costly canned air.

    Steve Graham writes for

    Updated August 13, 2018.

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