Your keyboard might be anything from a large tray with bulky keys that click loudly when you type to a thin metal board with quiet, low-profile keys. No matter which type you have, though, you probably have gutters or crevices between and under the keys. Those spaces gather dust, dirt, hair and crumbs.
You can start the routine of eliminating this debris by turning your keyboard upside down once a month and shaking it. Yes, really! If it's a laptop, shut it down first so the hard drive isn't moving, and shake it very gently. You may be surprised at how much falls out, especially if you have pets or if you eat while you're using the computer. It's best to do this in a space you can wipe down or sweep thoroughly when you're done.
What about those stubborn crumbs that won't fall out or get stuck under the keys? This debris is still loose enough that a gas duster, popularly called "canned air," can help. Before you use the gas duster, prop the keyboard up sideways on a steady surface so the debris will fall out. Then, using the duster as directed, aim the straw sideways along the gutters and crevices of the keyboard. After a series of short bursts, tap out any debris that doesn't readily fall out after you loosen it. Repeat this process until you're satisfied your keyboard is free of loose debris.
Though it's called "compressed air," don't substitute canned air with an air compressor. Air compressors, such as the one you might use to fill your car's tires, can damage the keyboard with too much pressure or with the chemicals often present in the air. A gas duster is lower pressure and uses chemicals that won't damage your computer if you use the duster correctly. If you pull the trigger on the duster when the can is upside down, the chemicals will spray out as a liquid -- and it's never a good idea to get liquid in your computer.
If you are still looking for something other than a gas duster to get rid of loose debris, do an Internet search for keyboard-cleaning supplies. There are several inventions on the market that can help, from simple cleaning brushes to small, specially designed computer vacuums with various attachments. Even if you're trying to save money, though, avoid using devices that aren't designed for use on computers. For example, a typical household vacuum for carpets and furniture can create static electricity -- damaging to the keyboard circuitry -- whether it's sucking or blowing the air.
If the dirt or crumbs are sticky or just too stubborn to be blown out by the gas duster, don't start popping the keys off just yet. Go on to the next page to read how to tackle a deeper clean for sticky keyboards.