How-To Geek

From the Tips Box: Keyboard Cleaning, Cheap Gadget Charging, Uncurling Cords


Every week we dip into our reader mailbag and pick out interesting tips to share. This week we’re looking at keyboard cleaning, saving money while charging gadgets, and straightening curly cords.

Cleaning Your Keyboard without Rebooting


Joe writes in with a simple tip for cleaning your keyboards:

After reading about how filthy keyboards can be I started making a conscious effort to keep my clean. I ran into a problem though, it’s a pain to clean your keyboard when your computer is on and I didn’t want to reboot my machine every time I wanted to run an alcohol wipe over the keys. Fortunately there’s an app that works perfectly to solve the problem. It’s called ToddlerTrap and was originally created to keep kids from messing up computers but it works just as well to lock the keyboard down while you’re mashing all the keys with a cleaning wipe.

Keyboards can get really gross but it is a hassle to have to boot down the machine to clean them. ToddlerTrap is a great app for Windows; Mac users might want to check out the similar but mac-centric app Keyboard Cleaner.

Cheap Gadget Charging

2011-05-26_143025Monica writes in with her solution for charging her devices without wasting money with phantom loads:

Most of my devices (smart phone, tablet, etc.) charge really quickly. If I plug them in at night before I go to bed then most of the night they are just sitting there tethered to the charging station. I hate wasting even a small amount of energy leaving them plugged in (the wall warts are always warm, even when I’m not charging!)

My solution was to get a $4 lamp timer from the local hardware store and hook it up to the power strip I’m using for my gadgets. I have it set to turn on two hours before I get up every morning. At night I plug my gadgets in, then around 4AM the timer turns the power strip on and they all get a fresh charge. I wake up at 6AM and pack them up for work and then the strip turns off.

Very clever, Monica. Lamp timers are light duty but a handful of portable gadgets will pull less power than a 100W bulb so your setup is safe, effective, and ensures you get a fresh charge without leaving everything plugged in longer than necessary.

Hacking Curly Cords with a Heat Gun


John apparently hates curly and kinked cords and has stumbled upon a clever way to banish them:

A few months ago I was at a hacker space [Ed. Note: hacker spaces are public or semi-public areas where tinkers, hardware/software hackers and others can gather to share resources and work on projects together] and I saw a guy making curled cords using a piece of pipe and a heat gun. I hate curly cords and I hate when my straight cords start to take on a kink or two so his solution was particularly interesting to me.

I took his idea and used it in the opposite way. What he would do was wrap a cord around a pipe and then use the heat gun to “set” the cord in the new shape. I promptly went home and got all my curled cords and stretched them out, using the heat gun to instead set them to the straighten state. It’s pretty much a fool-proof technique, just make sure you keep the heat gun moving and start far away. If you start up close and hold the heat gun in one spot you can melt the insulation on the cord.

This was really a two-for-one tip, John. Some readers just learned how to curl their cords and others learned how to uncurl them. Thanks for sharing!

Have a tip to share? Shoot us an email at and you might just see your tip on the front page.

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 05/26/11

Comments (24)

  1. Jon

    To #1 (Joe)

    Dude, just put your computer into a sleep/hibernation mode or disable they keyboard from Device manager. No apps needed to clog your PC.

  2. Kiran Ghag

    I lock the windows PC by pressing Win+L and then wipe the keyboard happily

  3. John Chorley

    If you use a USB keyboard just unplug it, wipe it down and plug it back in.

    If only someone knew how to clean the screen on a touch screen phone or tablet. That would be really handy.

  4. John Chorley

    Also, Monica the only problem with your method is that it stops charging before you wake up. Meaning you have lost two hours of battery life with your gadgets.

  5. RickM

    John, read it again. The power strip comes on at 4 and she gets up at 6 while they are still charging. So she doesn’t lose any charge time. I assume she has checked and her devices will charge in two hours that’s a great idea. The on time can be adjusted accordingly. I also assume she has the turn off time set for much later in the day.

  6. Lee A.

    Oh, Wow! And all the time I had just been unplugging the keyboard, cleaning it, and plugging it back in with no consequences. Cool! now I can buy something!

  7. Liz

    I was thinking the same thing while reading the keyboard tip, duh just unplug it, but hey who am I to argue with someone who has taken the time to create an app. Sometimes we just make our own lives more complicated by trying to be clever. However I do think I’m getting the heat gun out, Curly cables here we come.

  8. George B-S

    It’s going to take an awfully long time to recoup the cost of that timer.

  9. Dissident Penguin

    They keyboard tip is not that bad if you take into account some people have their CPU’s in areas difficult to reach, or might be using a laptop.

    In my case, I have a KVM switch used to share the same muse-keyboard-monitor set with different CPU’s (Up to 4. To change PU’s just need to double-click number lock key and the number of PC I want to control). This is useful to me since I use one PC to browse the web, test apps (You don’t want them messing up the PC you use for working), and trying system tweaks.

    The second CPU I use for working, and the third slot is only used when I’m fixing a computer. That way I don’t need people to carry around their whole mess and can use the mouse (trackball) and keyboard (ergonomic) I’m used to.

    The fourth slot I use to turn monitor to power-saving, mouse and keyboard off if I need to leave any PC on while I’m gone or clean the keyboard or mouse. It also keeps other people from messing with my PCs while I’m gone unless they know the key combination to toggle CPUs.

    I found the timer tip for charging items real cool. Thanks


  10. cityboy2


  11. Ivydapple

    Sleep mode wouldn’t work for me, any key press or mouse click pulls mine out of sleep mode. -_- Honestly, I just pick a quiet night with the computer off to give my whole computer a wipe-down. Don’t think I’ve gotten between the keys, though, for a long time, but it doesn’t really matter, because my throws are so short.

  12. rMatey180

    Darn, beat me to just unplugging the keyboard!

  13. Schmidty

    For cleaning keyboards, I usually just open up Notepad. It’s not as quick as locking the computer as Kiran Ghag suggests but then you don’t have to log back in afterwards. Putting the computer in sleep mode, hibernation, or shutting it down takes time; and who has time anymore these days? haha. If the keyboard is really dirty, I swap it with a clean one, and put the dirty one in a dishwasher that has the option to turn the heat cycle off. As long as you let it dry completely before using it again, you are good to go.

  14. chowur

    The,Toddler Trap doesn’t work on windows 7.

  15. Confuzzler

    To clean the keyboard you could simply create or download a small stand-alone autohotkey exe that would make all your keyboard keys do nothing. Then when you were finished use your mouse to open taskmanager and exit the exe.

  16. ExTexan

    I cannot believe anyone would let their keyboard get as filthy as the photo before cleaning it? A canned air keeps mine clean.

  17. Larryi8

    Is that what a dirty keyboard looks like? Mine looks just as bright and shiny as the day I bought this laptop. Sure there’s hair and dust on it occassionally but all you have to do is blow on it to remove it.
    Now, on my old computer, which was a desktop type, the keys would get filthy. I’d then just clean with a soapy cloth when the computer was shut down. No big deal.

  18. Milo

    @Dissident Penguin, where can I get one of those KVMs? :)

  19. john3347

    I have been using Monica’s “trick” for years to keep the batteries charged on infrequently used cordless hand tools. I just have the timer set for 15 minutes a day if I am not using the tools for some period of time. If I am using the tools on a project, I flip the timer to manually on and it stays on until it gets automatically reset at the previously set automatic time setting.

  20. Rick S

    I just shut mine down no big deal.
    My friends spilled drinks on my keyboards. After chucking two of them out I gave one a bath in warm water. I let it dry for two weeks and it worked great. It works most of the time but some keyboards never recover. She is 50/50.

  21. Vitas

    OMG guys have you ever heard about locking the screen with Win+L or Ctrl+alt+del – lock? ;-) Why do we need special apps if there is this built-in functionality in every OS? Then you can do anything with the keyboard and nothing happens unless you accidentaly type your password and press enter…

  22. midnight

    To clean a touchscreen use a damp cloth (not to wet) with plain water.Works great for me.

  23. PhotoGuy

    I’m not sure how much juice you actually save using a timer. The phone uses a minimal trickle current once the battery is charged, and the timer actually uses juice to keep track of when to turn off and on…

    For a device that isn’t smart enough to go into trickle mode, and draws considerably more juice than the timer, this would be a great idea.

  24. Ugo

    how does the lamp timer actually works? Any guide?

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