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Can You Clean A Keyboard In A Dishwasher? (Updated)

For years, I've been reading testimonials that you can clean a filthy-beyond-redemption keyboard in a dishwasher. The instructions all pretty much follow this pattern: Set the machine on its delicate setting, put in a little or no soap, don't use the heated-dry cycle, give it a few days to air-dry completely -- and you should be fine.

But while I've noted this option in an earlier Help File item on keyboard cleaning, I was always too chicken to try it out with any of my own keyboards.

keyboard_dishwasher.jpg

A couple of weeks ago, however, a co-worker's Dell USB keyboard -- coated with years' worth of lint, crumbs and who knows what else -- was on its way to the trash when I rescued it for this experiment. I put it on the top rack of the dishwasher with the keys facing up, set the thing on the "Delicate/Econo" setting, poured in only a couple of squirts of soap, closed the door and pushed the button.

Before the heated drying cycle could kick in, I stopped the dishwasher to take out the keyboard. None of the keys had popped loose, nor could I see any other signs of physical damage. So I left the keyboard on a towel in the sunniest room in the house for a few days.

Three days later, with no evidence of any remaining dampness on the keyboard, I plugged it into an Apple laptop. The Mac OS X keyboard-setup assistant automatically popped up... but then nothing happened. I pressed the "z" key as it instructed, but the computer never registered that input. Much the same thing happened on a Lenovo netbook running Windows XP: The computer realized that there was a keyboard on the other end of that USB cable but didn't detect any keystrokes.

I won't tell you never to try cleaning a keyboard in a dishwasher just because this one test doesn't seem to have worked -- I don't know if I made a mistake at some point or if this keyboard had taken too much abuse already to survive its immersion. (Just in case, I'll try again after another few days, in case there's some residual moisture somewhere below the keys.)

Have you used this cleaning technique this yourself? Let me know how it worked out -- and if you think I missed a step in my own experiment -- in the comments here.

Update: It seems I typed, or tried to type, too soon. Last night, after a day of baking in the same sunny room, the keyboard came to life when I plugged it into each of those two laptops. All of the keys appear to work properly, and the Caps Lock and Num Lock LEDs even illuminate. (Yes, the keyboard did function before; it was just too disgusting for my colleague to want to keep using, and somebody in IT decided it would be simpler to swap it out for a new unit.) So that seems to be the trick--letting the keyboard dry for what seems like enough time, then give it another day or two to air out.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  April 27, 2009; 11:29 AM ET
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Comments

In the past, I've resurrected a couple of Motorola pagers that experienced full immersion by placing them on the dashboard of my car and parking the car in the most sunny place possible. I would leave them there for a few hours and that seemed to bake out any residual moisture pretty well and allowed the pager to return to normal function about half of the time.

It might work for the keyboard as well!

Posted by: Annorax | April 27, 2009 12:10 PM | Report abuse

I would think you'd want it to be washed keys down, so it would drain better.

If you plugged it in wet, and it shorted out, then no amount of drying will fix it.

Posted by: wiredog | April 27, 2009 12:28 PM | Report abuse

Did it look clean, though?

Posted by: leonolip | April 27, 2009 1:53 PM | Report abuse

Can you turn this into a regular feature called "Rob Breaks Stuff"? That would be awesome.

Posted by: Ronnie76 | April 27, 2009 2:01 PM | Report abuse

I agree with wiredog. Was the keys facing upward part of the original advice? My first instinct would be to place them downwards. What's the first thing you do when you spill something on a keyboard/laptop? Turn it upside down.

Posted by: ilikeike | April 27, 2009 2:50 PM | Report abuse

Before you stuck it in the DW, did you make sure that the keyboard was working first?

Posted by: theedonald | April 27, 2009 3:07 PM | Report abuse

I think it's great you tried it, Rob. I, for one, have been tempted to try it over the past 2 years....and now, I don't feel the need any more. Thanks for the experiment!

Posted by: rjrjj | April 27, 2009 4:52 PM | Report abuse

Back in the "olden days" when one could actually REPAIR devices instead of replacing them, it was common practice to dunk entire chassis into a tub of water laced with commercial detergent, slosh it around and then hose it off with a high pressure water hose. A day or two of drying time in a sunny place was usually sufficient. Many a TV was fixed in this manner. Dust collected through static electricity was thus cleaned off and things ran cooler. The nooks and crannies of a keyboard might not dry out as well, but the inner workings and hidden mechanisms of a desktop computer might profitably be cleaned up this way. I disclaim any responsibility for your crashed device, however!!!

Posted by: Geezer4 | April 27, 2009 4:53 PM | Report abuse

NPR did a story on this (June 14, 2007) and they claimed that the keyboard worked just fine. You can listen to it online at NPR at this link: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=11384397

Posted by: SC54HI | April 27, 2009 6:14 PM | Report abuse

Hey Rob, I'd suggest maybe next time taking 5 minutes to devise a test plan before actually testing something. ;-) "Was the keyboard working first?" is a legitimate question, given that putting a keyboard in a dishwasher is supposed to CLEAN the keyboard, not FIX the keyboard.

Posted by: catester | April 27, 2009 8:26 PM | Report abuse

Cleaning a keyboard simple -- re lettering worn keys with white out, not so permanent.

1. Turn the keyboard over and unscrew all peripheral screws [along the 4 edges of the keyboard.]

2. Separate the cover from the keyboard base -- if you have to force it, you may have 1 or 2 screws still to remove -- they will be the larger ones [head size.] They may be almost anywhere on the rear, but try to avoid unscrewing every screw REGARDLESS of size.

3. Now observe the layout of the board and the remaining smaller screws. Under the board you will likely see what appears to be a clear plastic sheet -- BE WARNED it is THREE SHEETS and they must go back as they come out. Mark a corner of ALL 3 SHEETS 1, 2, 3. You will obviously have to lift the sheets at the corner apart from each other. If when the board is upside down [say top part of the board -- the F controls] furthest from you THEN IT MUST GO BACK THAT WAY TOO.

Preferably spray the contents after disassemble with the sprayer hose on your sink. If there is no such hose, gently wash all parts and then use a blow dryer before reassembly.

3. It goes back in reverse order from disassemble. Remember the 1,2,3 on the top right corner [or wherever you chose to place them] on the plastic sheets? Those sheets cannot get FLIPPED, or there will not be a complete circuit, because one circuit will be on the top side, while the other is on the bottom. THAT IS WHY YOU MARKED THEM 1,2,3 SO THIS DOESN'T HAPPEN.

4. After reassembly, plug the keyboard into the computer and then type all letters & numbers. RELAX -- IT WILL PROBABLY WORK JUST FINE. If it doesn't, that means remaining water between the plastic sheets [you can wipe them with a paper towel before blow drying them.] You can even use compressed air AFTER w3iping them & blow drying them. REMOVE ALL FINGER & TOE CHEESE AND ANYTHING ELSE LIKE FOOD WHEN YOU WASH THEM.

PRESTO. A MODERN BOY SCOUT CRYSTAL RADIO PROJECT HAS JUST BEEN COMPLETED.

Of course Micro Center has new keyboards for under $5, so one does this for the challenge --- it gets easier every time.

Posted by: brucerealtor@gmail.com | April 27, 2009 11:45 PM | Report abuse

I agree that it is not a legitimate experiment because we don't know whether the keyboard was functional before you washed it.

I dropped a video iPod in the bathtub a few years ago, and let it air dry for three days. It worked fine.

Rob, could you do something about brucetherealtor's fraudulent posts? He just throws up anything as cover for promoting his business. Since the signatures are at the bottom of comments, people are snookered into reading his nonsense.

Posted by: query0 | April 28, 2009 4:46 AM | Report abuse

Of course make sure the k/b is working first. Submerge the k/b in the washing tub, add some windshield wiper fluid, oh hold it down with a brick, leave for 24 hrs, hang on the washing line till dried out, don't know a better way, comes up like a newy.

Posted by: bill100727 | April 28, 2009 9:51 AM | Report abuse

I have used a variant of this technique with great success. Probably close to 90 percent effective. Take the Filth Of The Ages Keyboard to the sink and use the sprayer or your sink to do a low level hot water pressure wash of it. Let it dry for a day or 2 (keys facing down) and it should be fine. I think full immersion in a dishwasher is too much. But there are caveats to this method:

Most of the newer keyboards are spill resistant so those are the ones I have done this with.

I have tried only Dell Branded keyboards as that is what my company uses.

Using the faucet on high or using a sprayer gets them about 85 percent clean. Sometimes funk just needs hand washed off.

Much of the hair, food, and dead skin folicles with coagulate at the bottom and you will need to probably remove them manually.

If the keyboard has USB ports on it to allow other devices to plug into the keyboard, don't let them get wet.

Posted by: volgroth | April 28, 2009 10:11 AM | Report abuse

I first tried this trick a few years ago with some old keyboards lying around the house. Putting them in the dishwasher as described works like a charm. Go easy on the soap, don't let the dishwasher bake the keyboard, and let them dry upside down on a towel for a day or three and you're good to go.

Posted by: maxmingus | April 28, 2009 11:55 AM | Report abuse

Wow, interesting, at least you got it to work. And apparently, so many readers have tired this, that ...

Now, I am scanning the WaPo classifieds for a job announcement: Computer keyboard dishwasher, no experience necessary. Hey, it could lead to bigger things...

Posted by: ummhuh1 | April 28, 2009 2:36 PM | Report abuse

Oh, ok, I'll say it .. water boarding is now illegal! Remember that. So is not allowing your computer to sleep or striking any key whether ready or not.

Apparently Hannity will put his keyboard in a dishwasher on live TV tonight in protest. The war on computererror continues.

Posted by: tslats | April 28, 2009 3:43 PM | Report abuse

Just unscrew the keyboard top from the bottom and clean the top.


Just did it. The keys stayed in, and, since you're cleaning the plastic and not the electronics, there is no potential for disaster.

Dell five year old keyboard.

Posted by: oldiesfan1 | April 28, 2009 5:25 PM | Report abuse

Back when dinos roamed the earth we were told to first dunk the gizmo in alcohol to absorb the water - then dry. Alcohol loves water that is why you have such a dry mouth after a binge.
Does this work with an Apple keyboard?

Posted by: dilbertdogbert | April 28, 2009 7:29 PM | Report abuse

ROB

PLEASE ADVISE QUERRY ZERO that I hold an Extra Class Ham license [the highest issued anywhere in the world.] Shortly, I will have held a Ham license for almost 50 years now AND ANY ELECTRONICS TIP I PUT UP DOES WORK, as he would know if he had followed it.

Posted by: brucerealtor@gmail.com | April 29, 2009 3:25 AM | Report abuse

ROB

PLEASE ADVISE QUERRY ZERO that IF he wishes to stop his ANONYMOUS post[s] and stand behind them, so much the better for everyone.

Your post was about CLEANING UP a DIRTY keyboard, not GIVING BIRTH to a broken one.

Posted by: brucerealtor@gmail.com | April 29, 2009 3:32 AM | Report abuse

I will try the dishwasher for a couple of Apple keyboards that died.

Recently, I left my SAMSUNG T-Mobile slide-phone in a pocket of my jeans when loading the Miele clothes washer before work. I found the cellphone in front by the door of the front loader, after 9-10 hours when returning from work; it had gone through the whole "warm water" wash cycle, including a aggressive spin dry.
I opened the slide, the "ports", removed the battery, etc. and left it to dry/air out on a towel.
I happy to say, the phone is again working!!!

Thanks.

Posted by: beiler1 | April 29, 2009 10:43 AM | Report abuse

To clean a keyboard, I just take off the plastic top with the keys and use a soft paint brush with some warm soapy water to do the cleaning. I rinse it, shake out most of the water and set it out in the sun for a few hours. That's all!

Posted by: alanmce | April 29, 2009 12:16 PM | Report abuse

I've run keyboards, mice and various other non-rustable peripherals thru the dishwasher many times. I dry them with a fan blowing over them for about a 2-3 days and I've never had a problem.

I wouldn't put them in direct sunlight or in a very warm room -- constant airflow at a cool temp is more effective.

Posted by: newsie1234 | April 29, 2009 12:37 PM | Report abuse

I take all the screws and all the parts out of the keyboard case. Then I remove the printed circuit board.
Then I pull all of the keys with a 12 inch piece of stranded copper wire. I just hook the wire under each key and pull up, fairly hard. All the keys will pop out.
Then I wash all the parts except the printed circuit board. Then dry everything with a nice towel, reassemble and you're up and running. The whole process takes 20-25 minutes and there's no worry about anything else.

Posted by: danmcgarigle | April 29, 2009 5:11 PM | Report abuse

I don't have a dishwasher, but I do have a washing machine. Years ago I left an oldtime pager in a pocket and it got washed. I called my service and they told me to take out the batteries and let it dry for a day or so, or to use a hair dryer at the lowest setting if I was in a hurry. They told me if the blower temperature didn't burn, it was fine. Didn't sound too scientific but if it works for baby's formula... I did it and I got five more years of faithful pager service. Since then I've washed keyboards, mice (hardware, not the animal kind) and a cellphone (accidentally), through a full cycle, and they all came out shining and functional. Do not use spuds, but liquid neutral soap (blokes, ask your gfs, the kind they use for their delicate stuff). Spuds might not dissolve well and you'll have to open the hardware to clean it off. Cold water, no softener. My washing machine does not hot-air dry stuff but I wouldn't advise it: hard to check the temperature. For keyboards, when it starts to centrifuge, stop, place it flat at the bottom, cover with a couple of fluffed up big towels or similar (quantity depending on drum size) and let it spin. I think I didn't forget anything. Oh yes, stuff mice into thick socks, they tend to bang around on centrifuge. You can wash clothes with them (not with kb, they'll rip fabrics apart. Yes I tried, lost a shirt). That's it. Maybe I should get a site like those guys who blend stuff...

Posted by: jorge_mt | April 30, 2009 9:11 PM | Report abuse

Ah, yes forgot about cords. Do not wash several devices at the same time; they could get all knotted and even ripped off. In any case, wound them up tightly around the keyboard and hook the plug into the coils. If you are doing mice (hardware again, otherwise ew!) get it into the sock cord first and knot the sock. And, for gossake, if the washing machine develops some kind of trouble, never EVER tell the tech service what you've been doing with it!! Specially if it's still under warranty. Have to run now; gotta bathe my dog. Hmmm now that I come to think about it...

Posted by: jorge_mt | April 30, 2009 9:21 PM | Report abuse

Darn I'll never leave, it seems. After cycling, LET IT DRY anyway. Centrifuge will take most of the water out, but it will be still wet. Particularly between the keyboard's contact sheets. DO NOT plug in wet USBs, it will probably fry the port (can't say, won't try it). Clean water and soft soap won't damage the hardware unless it's powered up. Coffe, Coke, sugar, cologne, (yes, cologne), spirits, seem to be real contact killers. I've never been able to bring keyboards back to life after those (I didn't spill those; they were client's). Head & Shoulders (don't ask) was fine but might have been a fluke. Keys came out soft, shiny and dandruff free...

Posted by: jorge_mt | April 30, 2009 9:36 PM | Report abuse

Oh, my!! VERTICAL DRUMS ONLY!!

Posted by: jorge_mt | April 30, 2009 9:46 PM | Report abuse

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