September 30, 2002
7:29 PM   Subscribe

What lies beneath. Confirming what you probably already knew, "as we juggle eating, drinking and working at our work stations, the tight shadowy crevices between our keyboard become the computer equivalent of a black hole, sucking in pizza toppings, contact lenses, paper clips, the odd insect...". Germ freakery or a genuine hygiene concern?
posted by netsirk (43 comments total)
My poor laptop is awful beaten up anyway (I use it as my primary machine), but a casual glance between the keys (the ones that are still there, anyway) evidences some VERY nasty detritus.

That said, the last laptop I had, I had to replace the keyboard three times due to beer spills. I'm mostly delighted that this keyboard has survived spill-free thus far.

That, and that Apple figured out that it's a REALLY good idea to shield drives and motherboard from sloppy users, so all I had to replace was the keyboard, not months of work.

...should calm down. first three posts in one day. Somebody spank me, I'm getting all out-of-control being giddy what with finally managing to register.
posted by babylon at 7:36 PM on September 30, 2002

Commonsense dictates that if you've got a piece of rotting meat

Gawd...why do I have visions of Hannibal Lechter sitting at the keyboard.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:38 PM on September 30, 2002

I'm never using an ATM again.
posted by atom128 at 7:40 PM on September 30, 2002

Spag bol? Is that really a hip abbreviation?
posted by Zosia Blue at 7:48 PM on September 30, 2002

atom128 - yeah, the ATM thing was gross. but if we actually knew what was on, say, stair handrails or elevator buttons, we probably wouldn't want to touch them either. better to just wash your hands with soap before you eat, and hope your immune system can handle the rest.
posted by netsirk at 7:49 PM on September 30, 2002

After the swab tests he's conducted on the hygiene of ATMs, Scarffe refuses to touch one.

"If I have to, I pull my jumper over my finger to use it - we've had urine and faeces on the ATM's keypad. There are banks out there not cleaning their machines properly and there's the potential risk of catching things like Staphylococcus, which can lead to boils and food poisoning," he laments.

ahhh jeez gross, very very gross :-\ i don't think i'm a paranoid germ freak, but i tend to make every effort not to touch my face with my hands when i'm out shopping and using the atm or taking the subway (using the hand rails etc) and will stop to use a restroom to wash my hands periodically. i've had far less colds etc since i started being more germ vigilant so that's all the proof i need to continue on that way. as for my toast crumb catcher, erm, i mean my keyboard, i take it apart and clean it thoroughly every 2 or so months. toast crumbs and cat hair builds up really fast.

*spanks babylon*
posted by t r a c y at 7:49 PM on September 30, 2002

Spag bol?

It's a London thing.

(at least that's where I picked it up)
posted by inpHilltr8r at 7:54 PM on September 30, 2002

It's a London thing.

Hmm, probably an australian import tho'
posted by inpHilltr8r at 7:55 PM on September 30, 2002

I'm afraid to even read the article. It does remind me, though, that Kinesis, maker of wonderful ergonomic keyboards, has had a service where they'll clean your Kinesis keyboard for $50. I've used it two or three times and it's been great. They have great products, well worth caring for.
posted by Nelson at 8:00 PM on September 30, 2002

toast crumbs and cat hair builds up really fast.

*spanks babylon*

Your cat eats toast over your keyboard?
posted by dg at 8:32 PM on September 30, 2002

toast crumbs and cat hair builds up really fast.

You're eating toasted cat sandwiches? At least use a plate.
posted by Monk at 8:38 PM on September 30, 2002

I used to have to use my boss's keyboard at day when he was out, I plucked out all the keys, scrubbed them individually, dumped out two years of his crumbs and mustache hairs, and doused the whole thing with Lysol.

He didn't even notice when he got back.

I don't understand how people can go so long without cleaning their keyboards. I at least shake the dust and crumbs out of it every couple of months. It was much worse when I lived with a cat. How the cat hairs get inside, I'll never know.
posted by katieinshoes at 8:41 PM on September 30, 2002

well, yeah, it's gross, (some of it REALLY gross), but so what? is it that much worse than what kids get into? (i'm the oldest of five, and we grew up on a farm, do i need to elaborate?)
i just chalk it up keeping my immune system in good shape and don't think about it too much.
on the other hand ...
It was, however, a descendant of one of these eccentric poets who invented the spurious tales of impending doom which enabled the people of Golgafrincham to rid themselves of an entire useless third of their population. The other two-thirds stayed at home and lived full, rich and happy lives until they were all suddenly wiped out by a virulent disease contracted from a dirty telephone.

ah, whatever, time for another jynnan tonnyx
posted by dolface at 8:46 PM on September 30, 2002

"We've also found a rat in a computer's hard drive" he says incredulously

I'd be incredulous too, that must have been one very, very tiny rat.

In related news, I once had a mouse living in my printer. Trying to conduct my own paperless office, I rarely used it... tried to print one day, failed, opened the printer to see a cozy nest by the ink cartridge and surprised little mouse.
posted by malphigian at 8:58 PM on September 30, 2002

Let me tell you about the roaches that lived inside my surge protector in Dallas.

On second thought, let me keep that to myself.

posted by mr_crash_davis at 9:11 PM on September 30, 2002

dg: Your cat eats toast over your keyboard?
Monk: You're eating toasted cat sandwiches? At least use a plate.

bwah! excellent abuse of my poorly worded comment. but yes, with a lot of butter it helps fatten them up for those juicy toasted cat-melt turnovers.
posted by t r a c y at 9:20 PM on September 30, 2002

Let me tell you about the roaches that lived inside my surge protector in Dallas.

On second thought, let me keep that to myself.


I hear you. We once had a swarm of Amerian Cockroaches camp in our Microwave for three months. Took forever to kill the bastards. Tiny things that infest everything. Eventually the pest control man did mass spray'n'kill. The morning after...

flashing... memories... madinbles...
posted by Neale at 9:24 PM on September 30, 2002

Part of the problem is that keyboards are such a bitch to clean. If some company produced a decent ergo keyboard that had all the keys connected in some kind of easily removable layer I would be delighted.
posted by Xkot at 10:17 PM on September 30, 2002

Ack...this post made me do a hygiene inspection test of my own keyboard. Pretty bad.

Although I've never found any rodents or roaches inside computer, I once found roughly two pounds of sand from Saudi Arabia inside the case of one of those huge green army Tamms computers. It was in 1998, too.
posted by ttrendel at 10:41 PM on September 30, 2002

When travelling around the urban jubgle of ATM's and subway handrails, try to keep a small bottle of rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer with you at all times, and make it a nervous habit to clean your hands every so often. That should help protect you.

Toasted cat sandwiches. Mmm.
posted by brownpau at 10:55 PM on September 30, 2002

Oh, and I Dustbuster my keyboard once a week. Cat hair everywhere.
posted by brownpau at 10:56 PM on September 30, 2002

I can't remember the name of the company off-hand, but they used to produce a sort of very soft and flexible transparent keyboard "skin" that were custom-fitted to all the different brands and configurations. You bought a "kit" which was actually a certificate in an envelope and filled out the specifications or brand name/model number and they sent you back your exact keyboard skin in less than two weeks. I used it for several years on my original Bondi Blue iMac and as far as I know it is still being used by the second-generation owner to this day.

If I remember correctly, it cost me about $20 Cdn -- it was a great investment, especially with three cats in the house... My cats prefer toasted bagels though...especially with cream cheese (and one has a very strange addiction to fresh lychees.... <----- that part I'm not making up!)

I'm sure that they or a similar company should still be in business or available online. Actually, after a quick Google, I found a few companies that produce protective keyboard skins, including one called Rota that produces an *antibacterial* keyboard skin, for use specifically in schools, cafeterias, hospitals, etc.

Perhaps some of you should be looking into this?.... either for yourself or a loved one or toast-eating feline acquaintance of yours for the upcoming gift-giving season? ;-) ::snicker::
posted by Jade Dragon at 11:19 PM on September 30, 2002

a swarm of American Cockroaches camp in our Microwave for three months. Took forever to kill the bastards. Tiny things that infest everything

Maybe it would be easier to keep them as pets?

I used to be amazed at the number of people who would complain that their computer was not working properly, only to find that one or more keys were jammed by food, paper clips, staples etc or, in a couple of cases, a whole cup of coffee (after the user had cleaned the outside of the keyboard and the desk and then let it all dry - later denying that they had spilt anything on it) It turns out that if you don't take sugar or milk in your coffee, you can spill it on the keyboard and it will usually be OK once dry, otherwise it has to be thrown away.

Those keyboard skins are useless for touch typists, unfortunately. Cats also have trouble typing on them.

Mmmm cat melt turnovers. My favourite is tabby.
posted by dg at 11:35 PM on September 30, 2002

> Those keyboard skins are useless for touch typists, unfortunately.

Actually, I suppose it depends on the brand you purchase, I am a touch-typist and had absolutely no problem using the keyboard skin I had! The brand I had was very thin and flexible and after the initial adjustment period of only a few days, it was smooth (and clean) typing from then on -- since I could just wipe it with a damp cloth if it ever got dusty, etc...
posted by Jade Dragon at 1:26 AM on October 1, 2002

I've had my standard oem mesh keyboard for about 5 1/2 years now, since I got my first x86 computer. I'm comfortable using it, so I just take it from computer to computer. Unfortunately, I'm also a bit lazy, as a result of which, the keys are still white on top, but grey all around.. Oops. I also turn it upside down and thump it a few times every half year, amazin the amount of crap that pops out. Is it just me or do other peoples computer cases get amazing dusty? I had a couple of spiders in one of my computers a little while back, I assume the psu fan preprocessed their food for them.
posted by Mossy at 1:49 AM on October 1, 2002

I have a Mac G4 with a translucent mouse. I can see all the crud that has collected inside that thing but I can't figure out how to open it and clean it out. It's driving me crazy!!
posted by plasticbaby at 2:57 AM on October 1, 2002

How the cat hairs get inside, I'll never know.

I thought all cats were in the habit of cozying up on keyboards. Yours must wait until you're not around...
posted by boomchicka at 3:27 AM on October 1, 2002

One of my cousins is a game console fanatic; when I last visited him, I noticed his system was surrounded by folded pieces of felt cloth.

When I asked him if he used the felt to keep the console free of dust, he nodded. But when I wanted to know where he bought the felt, he grunted and said those were paper towels.
posted by Smart Dalek at 4:29 AM on October 1, 2002

Bah. "Geerrrms, ewwww...." I never concern myself with fears of touching dirty ATM machines and keyboards and such... in fact I welcome all the germs, it builds up my immune system. I haven't gotten seriously ill in 15 years, and there was a whole lotta subway ridin' and ATM touchin' goin on.
posted by spungfoo at 5:12 AM on October 1, 2002

Spag Bol, that's a new one. I've always called it Hand Salsa.

I used to work in an office where people rolled cigarettes over their keyboards. After a week or so, they'd turn they keyboards upside down and shake out enough tobacco for another cig.
posted by MrBaliHai at 5:59 AM on October 1, 2002

Spag bol is Aussie slang for spaghetti bolognaise. One of my fave colloquialisms actually.
posted by Onanist at 6:24 AM on October 1, 2002

ATMs are nothing compared to flushing with the toilet lid open.

"According to Gerba, close-up photos of the germy ejecta look like "Baghdad at night during a U.S. air attack."
posted by mad at 6:31 AM on October 1, 2002

According to Cecil, we should do underwear in a separate load of this really something we need to worry about? I'd like to hear some of these fecal bacterial counts from experts.
posted by agregoli at 8:38 AM on October 1, 2002

agregoli - most of us do these simple things everyday - flush the loo with the lid up, touch the ATM keypad, talk on the telephone etc - and somehow the human race thrives.

i don't think it's something we should lose sleep over, but i'm still going to wash my hands before i eat my sandwich at lunch time.
posted by netsirk at 8:45 AM on October 1, 2002

there's a complete unwritten novel that's fallen between the keys of my computer and it's a bastard to get out.
posted by gravelshoes at 8:53 AM on October 1, 2002

I'm always careful about eating and food prep and stuff, and I DO leave the toilet seat down when I flush, but I'd just never heard of the underwear thing. Anyone else?

I try to ignore as much of this as I can, so as not to incite my OCD...
posted by agregoli at 8:53 AM on October 1, 2002

toddlers tend to drool on keyboards, so we have learned to put ours up out of harm's way, lest it become soaked.

Other grosser-than-gross warnings I'd like to share with the class: wash your pillows with bleach every so often, as it only takes three years for dust mites to become half the volume of the pillow. And never, ever sit on a hotel bedspread naked. Use your imagination on that one.
posted by whatnot at 9:15 AM on October 1, 2002

For some reason this makes me think of JWZ's toothbrush story.
posted by GriffX at 2:32 PM on October 1, 2002

I hsd to clzsn my kzybosrd aftzr thst. Nothing too horriblz insidz, but my whift kzy doswn't work snymorz and i think i miwplsczd s fzw kzyw
posted by SimStupid at 3:26 PM on October 1, 2002

For whatever reason I seem to be the only person I know who actually ever cleans his mouse (wash the ball in hand soap, dry with cloth towel; scrape gooey leavings off of wheels with anything handy, small, and preferably metallic), and who has rescued keyboards by the simple expedient of disconnecting them, washing them in cold water run in various directions, and then an overight air dry with a couple of shakes and changes of position. I only recommend the latter, though, if the keyboard already seems beyond hope.

But jeez. I remember a book or two where "Telephone Sanitizers" was a joke job.
posted by dhartung at 4:44 PM on October 1, 2002

... in fact I welcome all the germs, it builds up my immune system.

Me too and I have not been sick apart from the odd cold for as long as I remember.

... I seem to be the only person I know who actually ever cleans his mouse ...

I used to clean my mouse, as it drove me nuts when the cursor would jump around when I wanted to move it a small amount. Now I have an optical mouse and I am happy (apart from being slightly paranoid about looking at the red light ;->). That keyboard cure has also worked for me in the past, but not always.
posted by dg at 5:24 PM on October 1, 2002

I just want to close my eyes, put my hands over my ears, and mumble in a sing-song voice until it all goes away. There will also be rocking involved.

Frankly, I obsess over the built-up crud around me too much anyway. Case in point: Have you been to a music store with those little listening stations where you press the buttons for different cds? No one ever cleans those buttons. No one except me, that is. Layers of greenish gray oily skin residue covers them. I thought the writing had been worn away after their years of usage, causing them to fade. No, it was just the accumulated gunk. eww. *shudder*
posted by redsparkler at 9:24 PM on October 1, 2002

Ask a few nurses how often they get sick. Even though they're in close contact with sick people every day, they have a remarkably low incidence of sickness. I noticed I catch fewer and milder colds since I started riding the bus to work eight years ago. Yup, I think contact with unsanitary surfaces is probably good for you. It takes a minimum number of bacteria or virii to develop into a disease state. Getting bombarded by sub-infective levels of organisms must build the immune system. So go ahead, pick up that meatball you dropped and munch it down.
posted by gregor-e at 9:21 AM on October 2, 2002

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