Bonnie Cha

The Dirt on Washable Keyboards

Most days I eat lunch at my desk and, more often than not, I’m working on the computer at the same time. I try my best not to get anything on my keyboard, but inevitably some crumbs fall in between the keys and, well, spills happen.

Using a damp towel and a can of air duster to clean up the grime does an okay job, but, as a neat freak, I feel like it’s never clean enough, especially in places I can’t reach. (I may or may not have gone so far as to ransack the IT department for a clean keyboard back in the day.) Fortunately, there’s now a better solution for germaphobes like me, as well as families with multiple kids, Internet cafes and anywhere else with shared computers.

This past week, I got a kick out of spilling soda, ketchup and other food onto keyboards — all for the sake of testing the Logitech Washable Keyboard K310 and the Kensington Washable USB/PS2 Keyboard with Antimicrobial Protection. Both keyboards cost $40, and can be washed with soap and water, allowing for a more thorough cleaning.

Both of them shined — quite literally — in testing, but the Logitech accessory features a design that makes it easier to wash in between the keys. And it’s quite stylish, so it would be my first pick for home or personal office use. The Kensington, meanwhile, has a more standard keyboard layout, but includes antimicrobial protection to prevent bacteria growth, so it’s great for use in shared work spaces like schools and hospitals.

The keyboards are optimized for use with Windows computers. The Logitech works with machines running Windows XP and higher, and the Kensington works with Windows 95 and above. Both will be compatible with the upcoming Windows 8.

I tested them with the 15.6-inch Vizio Thin + Light notebook running Windows 7 and an external display. The keyboards connect via USB (the Kensington also comes with a PS/2 connector) and a quick set-up wizard will walk you through the process within minutes. I also tried them out on my MacBook Pro, and was able to type without problem. But some functions, like the Windows Start button and hot keys, will not be applicable to Macs.

I started with the Logitech, which sports a chiclet-style design and features white buttons and a dark-gray base. Though functionality is important, I also like a product that looks good, and I would not mind showing off the Logitech in my home office.

There’s enough spacing between the keys that you can more easily remove small pieces of dirt or debris, even without water. The company includes a removable cleaning brush on the bottom of the keyboard, so you can wipe away dust and clean those extra-hard-to-reach places.

The Logitech can be submerged in up to 11 inches of water for a maximum of five minutes at temperatures less than 120 degrees Fahrenheit. The only part of the keyboard that can’t be placed under water is its USB cable. There is a cap attached to the cable that you can use to protect the USB connector from errant splashing, which was a nice touch. But don’t try to take a shortcut by sticking this in the dishwasher, or you might be watching $40 go down the drain. It’s also recommended that you use dish soap, but no alcohol disinfectants.

Now for the fun part: I spilled a variety of items onto the keyboard, including Heinz ketchup, orange juice and crumbled-up Triscuits. But my amusement soon turned into disgust, so I ran the keyboard under warm water in my kitchen sink, and the goo washed off right away with very little need to use a brush or sponge.

Resisting every urge to reach for the sponge and dish soap, I did another test where I left some of the liquids on a little longer to let them set. It required some gentle scrubbing, but in the end, the keyboard came out clean.

The characters on the keys are laser-etched and UV-protected, so Logitech says they won’t wear off after numerous washings. There are drainage holes on the back of the keyboard along the bottom and sides where the water can run off. After air-drying it overnight on a dish rack, the Logitech keyboard worked just fine.

As for the keyboard itself, I thought the layout was roomy and the buttons provided snappy feedback. There are 103 keys in total, including a dedicated number pad, and for Windows machines, the function keys offer quick access to your email, search, media and other applications. The Logitech can also be angled at eight degrees using tilting legs on the back.

The Kensington has a more traditional keyboard layout with 104 buttons (it has one extra Windows Start button compared to the Logitech), and comes in white or black. It, too, is roomy, but its keys don’t spring back as quickly as the Logitech’s does. The Kensington’s design is also clunkier and duller than the Logitech.

And, because this keyboard’s buttons are closer to each other, it’s more difficult to clean up congealed liquids from between the keys, and crumbs settle into the well beneath the buttons. I performed the same food-spill tests as the Logitech, and for removing sticky substances, I found that using a brush is best, but one is not included in the box. Running warm water through the keyboard took care of most of the small particles.

With the exception of the USB cable, the keyboard’s electronics are sealed against water, so you can immerse the Kensington in four inches of water at 130 degrees Fahrenheit for up to 40 minutes, max. Because the USB cable should not contact water, the keyboard is also not dishwasher-safe.

Drain holes are strategically placed throughout the keyboard, including the arrow keys and function buttons, and it’s ready to use as soon as it’s dry. I left it to air-dry overnight, and there were no problems when I plugged it back into the Vizio.

One nice feature of the Kensington is that it’s coated with antimicrobial resin to prevent growth of mold, mildew and fungus. Unlike the Logitech, this keyboard will stand up to harsher cleaning solutions, including bleach and disinfectant.

The extra layer of protection makes the Kensington a good candidate for use in shared places, where more than one person will be touching the keyboard. But, for personal use, I’d choose the Logitech Washable Keyboard. It’s easy to clean and pleasant to use, and its sleek design is an added bonus.

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