Dirty little secrets of the keyboard revealed

Summary:Nail clippings, hair, crumbs, gum — an IT hardware cleaning company describes some of the disagreeable and even dangerous detritus that accumulates inside the average office keyboard

Next time you are eating at your desk, try not to think of multitude of germs lurking on your keyboard — along with some other unpleasant debris.

Nail clippings, crisps, pastry crumbs, chewing gum and beard hair are some of the disagreeable detritus that accumulates inside the average office keyboard, according to Claire Burke, director of Keep IT Clean, an IT hardware cleaning company with clients including hotels and the NHS.

Burke told ZDNet UK's sister site, silicon.com, that IT chiefs call her company in so tech staff don't have to negotiate a minefield of grime when they are called on to fix a broken PC.

"If you get IT having to work on other people's computers, it's not fair if you have to scrape something off the keyboard," she said.

Last year, researchers for Which Computing tested more than 30 keyboards from a typical London office and found some harboured levels of bacteria that could put their user at high risk of becoming ill. In one case a microbiologist suggested the removal of a keyboard as it had 150 times the recommended limit of bacteria — five times filthier than a toilet seat that was swabbed in the same test.

The main cause of a bug-infested keyboard is users eating lunch at their desk, as the crumbs encourage the growth of millions of bacteria.

And with IT equipment shared with colleagues in call centres or 'hot desk' environments, the problem isn't just one for the IT helpdesk workers, either.

The credit crunch is also having an impact on attitudes towards cleaning and replacing kit, Burke said. "The attitude is they would throw the keyboard away and get a new one, but you can't do that now."

So what are the least pleasant things that Burke's team has come across? "Smelly laptops," she said. "When people spend so much on IT equipment why do they let it get so bad?"

"You can always tell if they eat salt and vinegar crisps because you can smell it," she added.

Burke's other least favourites include the scum on the bottom of the mouse, the fluff in the keyboard "that comes from nowhere" and the various crumbs that IT equipment attracts, as well as grime wiped on the side of keyboards by users.

Topics: Hardware

About

Steve Ranger is the UK editor-in-chief of ZDNet and TechRepublic, and has been writing about technology, business and culture for more than a decade. Previously he was the editor of silicon.com.

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