Dirty little secrets of the keyboard revealed

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 bacteria that accumulates inside the average office keyboard.

TOPICS: CXO, Hardware
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, chips, 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 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 harbored 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 chips because you can smell it," she added.

Burke's other least favorites 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.

This article was originally posted on silicon.com.

Topics: CXO, Hardware

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  • Service Tech's tricks for avoiding germs

    The first thing I do when I accept a laptop into my shop for repair is clean the entire keyboard and case with an antibacterial cleanser previously tested for safe use on the case plastic. Severely contaminated keyboards can be sprayed liberally and directly with Lysol which kills everything but you must allow the spray to air dry completely before returning the component to service (unplug laptops and remove the battery before doing this). Really horridly soiled USB or PS2 keyboards can also be rinsed with distilled water (not tap water, which contains ferrous metals). Lean the keyboard in the sink on an angle, pour the water in the top end and let it all run out the other end, carrying all the trapped debris with it. Hold the keyboard face down and shake all the water out of it, then allow the keyboard to air dry in the sun. (Don't do this with wireless keyboards containing a battery).
  • Use the dishwasher

    Keyboards in the dishwasher? Sure, just don't use the "heated dry" setting - and wait 3 days for them to dry . . .
    Roger Ramjet
  • RE: Dirty little secrets of the keyboard revealed

    Change the keyboard, with the one of your colleague.
    (Well, it works for my closer neighbourg of my desk, he exhange his keyboard, with mine, when mine is clean... -yes I know, there are word to call this kind...-)
  • RE: Dirty little secrets of the keyboard revealed

    This is not new news, these reports crop up every few months. Despite this fact, keyboard design still has not changed, and they are not easy to clean out.
    I turn over the ones in the office, bang them, blow them, but what else can you . If you unscrew them, they fall apart.
    Maybe we should go back to a time when equipment is repairable rather than disposable. It would certainly be better for the planet.
    • Dirty Little Secrets of the Keyboard Revealed

      Awh, come on guys. Jam, jelly and Maple syrup are the greatest things for keeping the keyboards from sliding off the desk. Crud under the mouse? There's no place for it on mine. The pads, or feet are worn completely flat and that gunk is what's left of the label on the under side. Cleaning wireless keyboards...You can wash them like any other, I mean it's not big deal to take the batteries out. OTOH disassembling one isn't any great task either if you can keep track of a few screws, where they go, the keys, springs, and membrane position. Hold the keyboard "upside down" and all those parts won't fall out. They really aren't that difficult to take apart and put back together. Then again, maybe it just takes practice. I've been doing it for years and *Usually* without spare parts left over, or not enough to finish.

      Speaking of that membrane, if you wash one of these it's a good idea to take that out that membrane afterward and pat it dry with a lint free towel. That thing does such a good job of sealing that I think it'd take weeks for water to dry in one of those. Warm, distilled water would be the best way to go. However I've seen hardened build ups of what had to be syrup, jam, or things I'm afraid to ask about that took *lots* of HOT water, and/or a pick to remove.

      However with the feet worn off the mice, the letters worn off the keys, and a collection of who knows what under the keyboard, good old 120 PSI shop air is great for blowing the dirt out, just before you pitch the keyboard into the waste basket because after that it's unlikely to ever work again.

      BTW when I worked for the one company we used "keyboard condoms" out in production. They were a membrane much like the ones inside the wireless keyboards except they were made to cover the entire keyboard. Yes, they were Latex! <:-)) As I say, practice safe computing and use a keyboard condom.
      • with the feet worn off the mice

        If you look around, you can find Magic Sliders in the 10mm or 3/8" size. They make good replacements for the feet on most optical mice.
      • rdhalsteatzd, that is some funny stuff!!!

        [b]Keyboard condom!!! Priceless!!![/b] If the problem is as serious as the article suggests, that is certainly a brilliant solution.

        Good work, rdhalsteatzd, and you are right: guessing at what a particular, foreign substance is on the keyboard is likely a far better proposition than knowing the real story behind it. Sometimes ignorance really is bliss!
  • Pop the keys

    I've popped the keys off of several Dell keyboards I picked up in my employer's auctions of older equipment, and simply washed them. At that point it's very simple to wipe down the rest of the board.

    And I always make sure I have one left intact to help guide the reassembly. ;)
    • Re: Pop the keys

      It must have been a pretty old keyboard. Most keyboards have rubber membrane "domes" molded out of a single piece of rubber, and the keys aren't designed to be removed. If you do manage to get the keys off, they sometimes won't stay on. Laptop keys are very fragile, you're likely to break the pivot on them trying to get them off. We get laptops with missing keys all the time. Compressed air (NOT "canned air", which is really difloroethane) works well for getting the crud out, as does just giving it a good whack. Clorox disinfectant wipes work well for cleaning the keys.
  • RE: Dirty little secrets of the keyboard revealed

    Reminds me of that scene in Gattaca where Vincent is diligently vacuuming his keyboard. "Why so clean?" the boss asks him, with his head down to avoid eye contact Vincent responds, "It's next to Godliness sir."
  • Same news, different source... NOT NEWS!!!

    Google the following... Keyboard germs and Toilet seat and you will get articles year after year telling you about the number of different office items and how they contain bacteria at levels unsafe and likely to make you ill.

    Yet millions continue to work around these keyboards at offices year after year and only occasionally get ill, most likely from the idiot next to you who came to the office sick because he was out of vacation days or really dedicated to his job and care more about his few tasks than the health of the rest of the office.

    I really wish people would quit reporting this tripe as news. This is not only a recycled story that is posted year after year, but also an advertisement posted as news. Way to go ZDnet.

    Well, I am off to Google a new news source as ZDnet has upset me yet again.
    • So wild fires are not news either?

      Every year there are wild fires, floods and soldiers killed in Irak.

      Does that mean according to you that those shouldn't be news?

      Maybe that wasn't what you meant. What about: Because YOU read about something long time ago, it shouldn't be news for people that still don't know?

      I would agree if all the keyboards were now clean or if the design had changed to make them easy to clean, but if there are people that keep using dirty keyboards, it's worth mentioning it every now and then.
      • Exactly - educating people is an ongoing process

        rarsa is right. Educating people is an ongoing process. What is always news to me is people's attitudes and how they seem to never change year after year. Want some news? Here you go: keyboard ergonomics could be far more of a health and safety issue than germs.

        Also, the germ issue will be more of an issue as medical and dental offices computerize. We cubicle dwellers have a lot more control over our own keyboards. My dentist just computerized and there is a keyboard at every station...I am going to keep my eye on them...

        From NINDS website (http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/carpal_tunnel/detail_carpal_tunnel.htm) - "During 1998, an estimated three of every 10,000 workers lost time from work because of carpal tunnel syndrome. Half of these workers missed more than 10 days of work. The average lifetime cost of carpal tunnel syndrome, including medical bills and lost time from work, is estimated to be about $30,000 for each injured worker."

        Here is a good Ergonomic link to get you started -

        FYI there are now dishwasher safe keyboards and antibacterial ones also. It is up to you to to protect yourself... -s.
      • Dirty toilet epidemic!

        There is a difference between "Wildfire in Central LA" and "Keyboards are Dirty."

        The fact is, as noted elsewhere, that people do not get sick from dirty keyboards. Could they? Perhaps, but they don't.

        Now if you come up with "50 hospitalized in XYZ Widgets offices - dirty office equipment suspected" - that is news akin to reporting wildfires.
    • Same news, different source... NOT NEWS!!!

      So if ZDNET upsets you so much, why do you keep reading it??
    • Good point, for all the good it does any of us.

      We keep going back for the occasional gem and get sidetracked into reading rethreaded news.

      ZDNet still makes money on us clicking whether the article's good or bad, recycled or cuttting edge, so except for occassional complaints and the loss of a few readers they still come out ahead. How do I know? It's easy: they don't do a damn thing about it!
  • I use the CSI method

    Sometimes I have to do some things on a co-worker's computer when she is out. The keyboard is so full of crumbs and other crusty things (some of which I am afraid may be eczema) that I actually wear gloves when using it. How it doesn't bother her, I'll never understand.

    Exactly why I don't eat over or near my keyboard.
  • For solution to this problem, watch gattaca...

  • I have used "Scrubbing Bubbles" to clean keyboards

    In my experience as a service tech the worst keyboards I've had to clean were in automobile service departments. Those keyboards were crusted with grease, dirt and who knows what other grime and muck.

    So after unplugging the keyboards I gave them a liberal dose of "Scrubbing Bubbles" bathroom shower cleaner while the keyboard was standing up over several layers of newspaper.

    Wow the muck that rolled out! Then a dose of distilled water to rinse. Repeat the process until no more gunk comes out. Shake to release as much remaining water as possible then set out in the sunlight to dry.

    And they smelled good, too.

    Terry Thomas
    PC Tech Support
    Atlanta, Georgia USA
  • Laptop keys...

    Any tips for cleaning the keyboard on a laptop?