Copyright ©2007 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Today in your health, icky computer keyboards. Scientists have found that there is more bacteria on keyboards than on toilet seats.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Wait, Renee. Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait.

MONTAGNE: Toilet seats...

INSKEEP: No, no, no. No need to finish that sentence. Enough, enough. It's early in the morning. Please.

MONTAGNE: Okay, okay. Think that...

INSKEEP: We got the picture. They're awful.

MONTAGNE: Okay. But we all know this. It's hard to clean all those keys.

NPR's Nell Boyce decided to check out one bizarre solution. Throw your keyboard in the dishwasher.

NELL BOYCE: When I first heard the whole thing about putting your computer keyboard in the dishwasher, it seemed totally insane. But this is all over the Internet. Even my mother told me about this. And don't we wish it was true? I mean, my computer keyboard is disgusting. It's covered with this kind of black grime. So I figured, why not just put it in the KitchenAid?

Okay. I guess I'll put this in here, keys side down, maybe on the top rack. I think I'm just going to do normal wash. I don't want do pots and pans.

(Soundbite of dishwasher)

Mr. SCOTT MOSCHELLA (Blogger, Plastic Bugs): Clearly, you know, all it takes is one geek to do something stupid, and you've got a whole bunch of lemmings who are willing to jump off a cliff with you.

BOYCE: Scott Moschella made me feel really good about this experiment. He's a computer guy and he has a blog called Plastic Bugs, where he wrote about his dishwasher experience.

Mr. MOSCHELLA: I think now when you type keyboard and dishwasher into Google, my site comes up as one of the first results.

BOYCE: Now his keyboard came with his first Macintosh computer and he loved it. But it was getting all gross and sticky.

Mr. MOSCHELLA: I didn't want to throw away my keyboard. It was perfect until the beer got spilled in it.

BOYCE: That's when one of his friends said, Hey, why don't you just try the dishwasher?

Mr. MOSCHELLA: He said it as if I should have known and it's something he had done before. He had never, never done it, but he has that authoritative voice, as some geeks get, where you want to believe.

BOYCE: Moschella had nothing to lose. So he put his keyboard in and waited. The wait was excruciating, and I knew just how he felt.

Ms. MOSCHELLA: My dishwasher is quiet now. It's on the dry part of the cycle. People have suggested to me that that's not such a good thing because of the heat involved. So I'm just going to open it up now.

Okay, here it is. Oh it's very hot. And there's a lot of water coming off it, but it's spotless. The keys look great.

Mr. SEAN BUTTERWORTH (Microsoft): We do not recommend putting our keyboards or any keyboards, for that matter, in the dishwasher.

BOYCE: That's Microsoft's Sean Butterworth. He says I have just made a huge mistake.

Mr. BUTTERWORTH: What will cause the problems first is the short-circuiting in the wiring.

BOYCE: And he should know. At Microsoft, they test every possible thing that could harm your keyboard.

Mr. BUTTERWORTH: We test with everything from cracker crumbs, salt and pepper, hair, you know? We even create a special solution that we call artificial sweat.

BOYCE: Needless to say, they've also submerged keyboards in plain water.

Mr. BUTTERWORTH: And that gets you relatively close to what it would be like if you put it through a dishwasher. And typically that makes most keyboards lose functionality.

BOYCE: I called other keyboard makers, and they basically had the same party line. Robert Gulino, with Logitech, told me that I should wipe the surface gently with a damp cloth. Or, he said, I could get one of those little cans of compressed air and just blow the dust out.

Mr. ROBERT GULINO (Logitech): But you know, in terms of washing it, we certainly don't recommend that. If you did want to be able to do that, it would have to be a very different keyboard. You know, the electrical components inside would have to be encased in membranes. But, you know, we just don't do that.

BOYCE: Actually, a few companies do. There's this company called Seal Shield in Florida. It makes keyboards that are dishwasher safe. It says that right on the box. Brad Whitchurch says water is no problem.

Mr. BRAD WHITCHURCH (Seal Shield): We have about a nine-foot cord, and I've taken it down to the bottom of a swimming pool, and it worked fine.

BOYCE: So you had your computer on the side of the swimming pool.

Mr. WHITCHURCH: Correct. Right.

BOYCE: And you're down at the bottom - I mean what did you type?

Mr. WHITCHURCH: I just, you know, typed the Seal Shield keyboard works when wet.

BOYCE: And that actually seems to be true. I tried it in my bathtub.

The company mainly sells these things to hospitals, where they're really concerned about cleanliness. Even though studies in hospitals have shown that just sort of wiping a keyboard with disinfectant can do the trick. Still, if you want one of these things, you too can buy it, if you're willing to pay about 50 bucks.

(Soundbite of keyboard)

BOYCE: I was just hoping I wouldn't have to buy a new keyboard. After its ordeal in the dishwasher, I let it air dry for about a week.

Ms. MOSCHELLA: Let's see, we've got to plug this in here. There.

(Soundbite of keyboard)

BOYCE: It looks like the space bar is working.

(Soundbite of keyboard)

BOYCE: The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog. Touch the tab key, touch the return key.

It seems to work just fine. Still, my fellow washers, like Scott Moschella, tell me that we may really never know. He says his Mac keyboard seems fine, but...

Mr. MOSCHELLA: Honestly, there are some keys that I haven't ever hit, like the F6 key. I don't really know if that key works.

BOYCE: For him, it's good enough. But he says if you have a really fancy keyboard, with all kinds of bells and whistles that you really need, you may not want to try this at home.

Nell Boyce, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: You can see Nell's keyboard before and after it went in to the dishwasher at npr.org.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: