Oh no - your computer has a virus! Should you call tech support? No, it's not that kind of virus. Your computer keyboard could actually harbour more germs than a toilet seat. Wait, you mean the keys your fingers tap-tap-tap across all workday-long is dirtier than a toilet seat? Considering that those same fingers that tap-tap-tap out a day's work also touch doorknobs, microwave handles, ATM buttons, cell phone and PDA screens - and loads of other germy surfaces - it makes sense that your keyboard would be a germ fest.
You may not be able to spot the tiny germs lurking in and on your keyboard. But point one of those cans of compressed air at most keyboards, and you'll see all sorts of other unpleasant things like dust, dead skin cells, hair, and crumbs from the last month's worth of lunches taken at your desk.
Dr. Charles Gerba, affectionately called "Dr. Germ," warns that a compressed air blowout won't clear all of the mess. Invisible to the eye, bacteria and dust can hide and nestle in between keys. What with the H1N1 flu virus now added into the cold and flu season stew, it wouldn't hurt to be extra hygienic, would it?
So here are some tips to help clear out your keyboard's collected contagion dangers, dust, and other icky bits:
- Remember to power down your computer before cleaning, and detach the keyboard for easier access. Grab some paper from the recycling bin to catch crumbs and dust that may come loose while cleaning.
- Start with a spray-over of compressed air to clear out the biggest, most obvious dust balls and muck.
- After spraying, turn your keyboard upside down to gently shake out any morsels that didn't dislodge. You could also use your vacuum's bristle brush to suck up whatever's still trapped beneath the keys.
- Scrub the top and side surfaces of your keys. Choose your cleaning tools - a lint-proof rag and a few drops of diluted liquid detergent (nothing harsh), or a toothbrush or cotton swab dipped in isopropyl alcohol (you can find this at your local pharmacy).
- Some people go to painstaking measures for an intense keyboard cleaning, removing one key at a time and swabbing the under-surfaces of each key. Only consider this measure if your keyboard is really filthy and only if you have consulted your user's manual or spoken to someone who knows how to do this. It can be tricky to reattach the keys and can sometimes do more harm than good.
Similar rules apply for cleaning up another germy spot in your workspace - your mouse. An optical mouse with an LED light will only need an occasional wipe down to stay clean. A roller-ball mouse will collect more dust, which can aggravate allergies and cause the mouse to not function properly. To clean a roller-ball mouse, power down your computer and unplug the mouse. Flipped to the bottom, you may note dust bunnies gathered around the moving parts. You should be able to open the locking cover and remove the ball. Wipe the ball with a cloth dabbed with mild soap, and use an alcohol-dipped cotton swab to clean out dust. Put your mouse back together and repeat again in a month or so!
Once you've cleaned and disinfected your keyboard and mouse, try to maintain a clean workspace. Wipe down your workspace surfaces with a disinfectant cloth to clear dust and germs. Keep a small bottle of hand sanitizer handy at your desk for those moments when you can't make it to the sink for a proper soap-and-water washing.