Have an old keyboard that doesn’t look very inviting to stick your fingers on at the moment? Don’t just consider it dead and throw it out — there’s a way of making it look new again (or hopefully close to it). You can either try carefully wiping each key in its position, but if your keyboard is really dirty you probably won’t find that method to be quite enough. Nasty stuff (cookie crumbs, chips, earwax, etc.) tends to get behind the keys and to build up. If simply shaking the keyboard upside down won’t get rid of these unwanted items, you may have to pull the keys off your keyboard.
Don’t let the thought of prying keys off your old keyboard make you just go buy a new one. It’s really not that difficult to remove the keys from a keyboard. Note: this guide explains how to remove keys from a desktop keyboard, such as the USB or PS2 kind. Laptop keyboards are usually put together in a different way that is harder to reassemble.
The keyboard that I dismantled was a circa-2003 Apple keyboard that I had picked up on Craigslist. The keyboard itself was in good shape, but it looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in forever, which was probably true. Though I had originally planned to simply wipe the keyboard down with rubbing alcohol, I made the decision that that would not be enough.
To remove the keys from your keyboard, you may want to use a flathead screwdriver. If you do, however, do not pry on only one side of the key. Instead, steady the key and pull up on it with your hand while using the screwdriver to pop it off. If you want to clean the keyboard, I would suggest using cotton balls with 70% or so rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) and a slightly wet paper towel. Having a vacuum cleaner handy probably isn’t a bad idea either. And, of course, find a keymap or take a photo of your keyboard before dismantling it.
Most keys are attached by tabs that snap into the base of the keyboard. Certain keys have a metal bar inside them that acts a spring/balancer so that pressing on any area of the key will make it register. A notable example is the Space key, but others include both Shift keys, the Enter key (including the number pad Enter key if your keyboard has one), the Backspace key, the 0 key on the number pad, and various other keys that are bigger than the letter keys. These metal bars are greased, so if you wipe them off they will probably require re-lubrication to run smoothly.
When you go to put the keys back on the keyboard, just push down on them with enough force that they snap in. Make sure you have the tabs lined up, or it is possible to bend or break them. If you used a lot of water while cleaning the keyboard, let it dry for a while before reconnecting it to your computer. Then, enjoy typing on your brand-new looking keyboard!