How to sanitize your Mac or iPad keyboard


Sanitize your Mac or iPad keyboard with these easy steps.
Sanitize your Mac or iPad keyboard with these easy steps.
Photo: Dmitry ChernyshovUnsplash

The filthiest part of you computer is probably its keyboard. It’s the part you touch the most, it’s the part you likely use to catch the debris from your lunch, and it’s the part that you probably never clean, because you don’t look at it enough to get grossed out. And these days, as doctors warn us to wash our hands constantly (and correctly) to avoid the coronavirus, you probably want to make sure that your keyboard is not just clean, but sanitized.

This is a fairly straightforward process, so let’s get started.

Keep your keyboard clean

The best way to keep the keyboard clean is to not get it dirty. If you’re reading this, it’s too late for that now. However, in the future, you should wash your hands before using your computer to keep it as free from dirt and germs as possible. Also, consider banning everyone else from using your keyboard. If that’s not possible, then consider a silicone skin that you can easily wipe down, even while the computer is running.

Clean your keyboard before sanitizing it

The next step is to clean the keyboard. You can’t disinfect it if it’s covered with ground-in grime. For standalone keyboards, unplug them first. For MacBooks, switch them off first. Modern Mac laptops will boot as soon as you open them or touch a key, so you may want to disable autoboot first. (We have a how-to on that.)

Then, get a cloth and some soapy water. Wet the cloth, wring it out so it isn’t dripping wet, and use it to carefully rub each keycap, and the aluminum between the caps. It’s super-important not to get any water inside the keyboard, because that could kill your Mac. So, take things slowly. This is tedious work, but you can consider it your punishment for letting things get so dirty.

If you have an iPad with a Smart Folio Keyboard, it’s impervious to water thanks to the fabric cover. That makes it a lot easier to wipe down, but you should probably still avoid sloshing water all over it.

Sanitize your Mac keyboard

Next up, you want to sanitize the keyboard. It’s likely that the soapy water from the previous step has taken care of any COVID-19 viruses lingering on your keys, but let’s make sure with some sanitizing wipes. This is also the quick sanitization method recommended by Apple1 for its keyboards, trackpads and mice. “In order to properly disinfect these areas, you should use Lysol Wipes or Clorox Kitchen Disinfecting wipes,” according to Apple’s support site.

If you don’t have any disinfecting wipes handy, you also can use isopropyl or rubbing alcohol to do the job. I splash a cotton makeup-removal pad with alcohol to moisten it, then scrub at the keycaps and the in-between aluminum sections. If you’ve already cleaned the keyboard, this is a very fast way to clean things. And for a trackpad, it’s almost instant.

Apple previously recommended against using pure alcohol to clean some of its products, notably iPhone and iPad touchscreens. I have been using the alcohol-on-a-pad method to clean trackpads and keyboards for years, and never had a problem. Just make sure not to oversaturate the pads, or alcohol may drop inside the keyboard and cause damage.

Clean and sanitize your mouse and trackpad, too

These instructions apply equally to trackpads and mice, but those tend to be easier to sanitize because they don’t have tens of buttons (and their associated holes) to be careful of.

And one final note — don’t forget your desk. Maybe you’ve never cleaned it, especially if you habitually work from home. If so, now’s the time to do it. Clear off all the junk and give it a good wipe with hot, soapy water.

  1. That support page is now archived, but still available.