How do you clean keyboards with buckling springs?

I have mentioned in an earlier question that I've recently bought an IBM keyboard but how do you clean a keyboard with buckling springs? I only know how to clean keyboards with membrane and Cherry Mx.

2 Answers 2


As always: depends.

What do you want to clean? Cleaning the outside (keys, case,...) is done like with any other keyboard (soap foam, clean rags,...). Be aware the structured paint that IBM used for their original keyboards will dissolve even in light solvents like alcohol, so use only soap and maybe a toothbrush to get the dirt off (which might be a bit more effort than on other keyboards exactly because of that structured paint - the structure literally swallows dirt and grime).

The keycaps can be cleaned in place with soapy foam applied with a paintbrush, then use a cotton rag around the damp brush to clean the in-betweens and remove the foam leftovers. IBM keyboards are relatively well-sealed to fluids, but don't "bathe" the keyboard.

Once you want to clean the insides, however (even if you only want to remove the keycaps to clean them), there are some things to consider:

  1. Once you remove the keycaps, you will expose the buckling spring mechanisms - don't lose the springs, they are tiny (and, obviously, springy). Be careful when using fluids if and once you have the keycaps removed - Any leftover remnants entering the BS mechanism through the hollow key shaft can hamper their function.
  2. Model F's can be completely disassembled and the capacitive contacts can be cleaned (IPA - Alcohol - and cotton buds help a lot). You shouldn't be afraid of bulks of tiny parts, however.
  3. Model M's and Unicomp membranes (the actual switches) are not easily user-servicable. The membrane is riveted to the keyboard base plate with lots of tiny plastic rivets that you can't disassemble without destroying them. If you are adventureous, you can drill out all the rivets, and replace them with tiny screws and nuts after having cleaned the membrane. (but see (2): you will face lot's of itsy-bitsy, tiny parts that need to be properly realigned, so be prepared for a major reassembly effort, so nothing for the faint-hearted)

Mostly, if the keys aren't sticky, or malfunctioning, you only need superficial cleaning. A bit of isopropanol (or alcohol-based sanitizer) moistening a rag will dissolve most finger residues handily, just dampen a cloth and wipe (it might take many strokes, or a few changes of cloth, if the keyboard has lots o'gunk).

For debris under the key caps, it's sometimes useful to use a keycap puller (can be fabricated with a little bit of music wire and some soldering/brazing skills, or purchased) and a vacuum in conjunction with a brush- 1/2" artists type is good- to loosen the bits. Wide keys have multiple switch-like plungers, and/or wire braces, which complicates removal and replacement. If in doubt, take a picture of the keyboard before removal, so your keycaps go back in the right places.

Any shaft visible after removing the keycaps can be wiped with a cotton swab damp with alcohol, if there's any sticking of that sliding part.

After a spill, sometimes (and ONLY for buckling spring types, the membrane keyboards do NOT like liquids) a distilled-water soak is useful. You want to remove casing and cables before dipping. Alcohol and tiny amounts of wetting agent (dishwasher rinse aid, Photo-Flo, Woolite, etc.) can be mixed in.


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