It's all spinning wheels and self-doubt until the first pot of coffee.

I (heart) my filthy Happy Hacking Keyboard

Holy crap, is my favorite keyboard filthy. I don't know if it's that I've finally gotten it into some good direct lighting or what, but this thing is a blatant mess. It's almost embarassing.

I've been using the same Happy Hacking Keyboard Lite 2, PS/2 style, for about 8 years now. I've taken it with me to every desk at every job since 1998 or so, along with some variety or another of trackballs. (I'm using a Logitech Marble Mouse these days, pining for my classic Centipede-style 4-button Kensington Expert Mouse - and not this monstrosity with its botched scroll ring.)

The keyboard has sprouted a USB adapter along the way, which barely seems to work on OS X machines after a few attempts at plugging and replugging. I've gotten to like this keyboard so much that I just can't work for long on anything else.

In fact, when I spend too long with a fat keyboard and standard mouse, my wrists start complaining within the hour. I suspect it has something to do with the fact that, with the HHKB, my hands remain mostly out in front of me with occasional flicks over to the trackball - as opposed to hovering always slightly over to the left, with wandering twists way over to the right.

So anyway... Just how the hell do you clean a keyboard? Do I really have to meticulously pry off every keycap, spend an evening stripping it and cleaning it on the dining room table like a pistol? Can I run it through the dishwasher? Should I just give up and order a new USB version? Or, is the filth good for me - is it actually fortifying my immune system with 8-year-old bugs?

Update (8/1): For the benefit of someone who may someday land on this entry after searching, like me, for "happy hacking keyboard dishwasher" - know that my keyboard did indeed survive a trip through a wash and rinse cycle.

However! I didn't put the whole thing into the machine. I first had the presence of mind to try taking it apart. Turns out that the top half of the keyboard - to which all the grunge was confined - was entirely plastic. All the electronics - pristine and new-smelling after all these years - resided in the bottom half of the shell. They stayed dry.

I did end up popping out all the keys after all, though. This was because not all the grunge got removed in the dishwasher, and because the keys were incredibly quick and easy to pop out from the underside with a fingernail press - as opposed to prying out from above with a screwdriver as I'd previously tried.

I scrubbed clean the keyless top half, soaked the keys themselves for a little while, then dried everything overnight - and this morning, everything's good as new after reassembly!

Now, having seen this thing disassembled, I should note that this favorite keyboard of mine seems to be really well built. The top half of the keyboard shell is a solid piece, and each key is slotted into a well that has an up-turned lip. No crumbs, hair, grunge, or spillage of any kind had ever made its way down into the interior of the keyboard in all these years of being a desk-lunch eating slob of a human. I'm not sure how many keyboards are built this way, but this one's great!

If only I could clean my PowerBook keyboard so easily. Now, that's a nasty piece of work, right there.

Archived Comments

  • Best way I've found is to unplug the keyboard (unless you love the sound of the error ding) get some non-abrasive solvent cleaner (mr. clean works) in a small bucket with warm water.

    Get a cloth (not a sponge) and wring it well, you don't want the water collecting between the keys.

    Rub each key individually. If it's really cruddy, get a box of q-tips and go to work on the sides with the same soapy water.

    If it's super cruddy and the cloth fails... go get a Magic Eraser! Those are amazing and will clean any part of the computer to like-new condition.


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  • And before you ask, the Happy Hacking Keyboard is not a standard piece of hardware at Yahoo. I've been trying to convince IT to get me one, but so far no love.

  • You should be able to run it through the dishwasher or soak it in the tub .. as long as you let it dry COMPLETELY before you plug it back in ..

    When I dumped gatorade into my keyboard, I ran it under the faucet in the tub for a few minutes and then sat it in the dish drainer - key side down for 24 hours .. it was good to go after that :)


  • Dish detergent, warm water and lots of sloshing around in the sink cleaned mine.

    Do let it air out completely, even in front of a fan. I left it in my car on the dash in full sunlight and that combined with the fan dryed it out completely. I did this over 24 hours, I wouldn't be in too big a hurry to plug it back in.

  • I'll second the dishwasher solution. I remember Jerry Pournelle having a loaner Northgate keyboard (remember those beauties?) that his son spilled Orange Crush into during game play. A reader suggested sticking the keyboard into the dishwasher, and it worked wonderfully.

    Since then, I have always used the dishwasher to keep my keyboards clean. Right now I have my "good" keyboard out drying in the sun after putting it through both the wash and sanitize cycles. Works like a charm.

  • I wanted a really, really clean keyboard, but I couldn’t be bothered to wait days for it to dry. So I took it apart and put only the top half in the dishwasher. I wrote about it: Geek’s grooming: a keyboard hygiene experiment. I’d do it the same way again.

  • i will destroy you all with my superior cleaning techniques. and uh, superior technical writing. and i do think it is way past my bedtime.

  • Beware the dishwasher!

    After reading all the glowing reports on the web about how easy it is to clean a keyboard in the dishwasher, I put my trusty old IBM buckling-spring keyboard in the dishwasher, 'light' cycle, then air dried it for 4 days. Plugged it in on the 5th day. The keyboard continually emits weird random keystrokes (maybe a short somewhere?) I guess it's dead.

    Anyway just a word of caution before you put your keyboard in the dishwasher. I'd disassemble and put only the plastic parts in, if I had to do it over again.

  • Hah! You did the exact same thing as I, with the exact same results. (My keyboard’s a bog-standard Cherry brand affair, and is built pretty much like you describe yours.) Sounds good to me.

  • Aristotle: Oh, I meant to mention that! That occurred to me as I was popping out keys into the sink... "Hmm, this seems familiar. Oh yeah! Aristotle did this!" Heh.

  • I know this thread is ancient, but thought I would add to it anyway. I have a HHKB lite that I used for a few years. I ran it through the dishwasher and let it dry for a week. Works not problem.

    I moved on though and went with a HHKB Pro2 which smokes the lite version. The biggest downside of the Pro version is the cost, but if you type alot...its worth it.

    The kensington expert with scroll wheel is not a bad trackball but the latest slimblade is a little bit nicer. I have the older syle expert 4 button trackball in white that has mechanical wheels. Let me know if you are still interested in it.

    Using a filco tenkeyless with fukka switches and kensington slimblade mouse now.

    cheers and happy holidays.