Computers seem to be a magnet for dust, lint and sticky fingers, but unlike with household appliances, you can't just douse them with all-purpose cleaner and scrub them clean. However, you can get them sparkling in just a few minutes with the right products and techniques.
The first step is to turn off the computer and disconnect the power. If you're cleaning a laptop, take out the battery. Moisten part of a soft, lint-free cloth (not a paper towel) with water and gently wipe the screen, first with the damp part, then with the dry part. After you're finished with the screen, wipe the keys and the housing down. Some manufacturers also offer or recommend special wipes or cleaning solutions, but check first at the manufacturer's Web site or the place you bought the computer before using any product that's not specifically recommended for your type of computer.
Next, clean the keyboard (Photo 1). Tip the keyboard up and shake out the crumbs, then blow out the keys with a can of compressed gases (about $5 at office supply or hardware stores). The compressed gases aren't just air, so keep the cans away from children.
Use a 50/50 solution of isopropyl alcohol and water to clean tough spots. Dip a cotton swab in the solution, then pat off the excess water on a paper towel so it doesn't drip between the keys. Wipe the surface and edges of the keys, changing swabs frequently (Photo 2).
Some types of desktop computers with wired keyboards have keys that can be pried off one at a time (gently) with a letter opener. But don't do this with laptops or wireless keyboards. Always check with the manufacturer first, because if you do this with the wrong keyboard you could destroy it. And then snap a photo before you start so you know where the keys go.