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How to Clean a Membrane Switch

The easiest switches to clean

One of the characteristics of membrane switches that makes them so attractive is the ease with which they can be kept clean. An ordinary keyboard or keypad, on the other hand, has spaces between each of the keys into which dust particles, dirt and other debris can easily fall. So can germs such as mildew and bacteria. Cleaning out such a keyboard can be a nightmare: You may need to stick a paintbrush or some other instrument into the horizontal spaces between each row of keys and slide it along, then clean out the vertical spaces between each of the individual keys. You may have to repeat the process several times before you have really removed all of the debris that has accumulated there. Even so there may be little or nothing that you can do about what remains.

A membrane switch, by contrast, is a breeze to keep clean. Here you do not have the problem of debris collecting between the keys because there is no space between them, only a continuous space that can be wiped clean with one or at most two broad strokes of a piece of paper towel moistened with isopropyl alcohol. Below is a set of instructions for cleaning a membrane switch, keyboard or keypad.

Methods of cleaning

There are at least four different ways of cleaning a membrane switch:

-wiping it with sanitizer
-rinsing it under water
-wiping it off with disinfecting wipes
-using a brush
-shaking it off

Each of the four will be described in the following subsections.


Sanitizing agents can be very effective at removing germs that might carry disease. When selecting one, make sure that you choose a sanitizer that is compatible with the material out of which your membrane switch is made (such will be indicated on the label). Moisten a piece of paper towel with the sanitizer but do not soak it. Place the towel on the keypad or switch with your hand spread out flat and move it in a single direction from one end to the other. Then allow it to dry out naturally.


Water, too, can be used on a membrane keypad though not on a regular one (you do not want water to seep between the keys and cause a short circuit!). The procedure to be followed is basically the same as that described above for sanitizer: You moisten a piece of paper towel in water and move it from one end of the keypad to the other in a single stroke. Once you are done, be sure to get off any moisture that remains.

Disinfecting wipes

Disinfecting wipes are again good for the purpose but again, you have to make sure that the ones you use will not harm the material from which your keypad is made. Isopropyl alcohol wipes are the best choice because this liquid can dissolve a wide range of non-polar compounds (those comprised of two elements that share their electrons equally; fats and oils are examples of such compounds) and also because it evaporates quickly and has a low toxicity. (For the same reason isopropyl alcohol is used in cleaning other electronic devices such as CDs). To use these clothes, wipe the surface as described in the previous two subsections and allow it to dry.

Using a brush

An old toothbrush or paintbrush is good for the purpose. Make sure that the bristles are soft enough not to cause abrasion to the surface. If using a toothbrush, move it it a series of horizontal strokes, each below the one before it, until you have covered the entire switch. If using a paintbrush, divide the switch into square-shaped sections and clean each one in turn.

Shaking it off

Finally, you can clean the device by shaking the debris from it. Disconnect the keypad from the device to which it is attached and shake it in all directions (back and forth, left to right and up and down) until it is clear of most of the debris. You should clean off any remaining dust through one or any combination of the other methods given above.

How to minimize the amount of cleaning to be done

The best way of keeping your membrane switch clean is to prevent too much debris from piling up on it in the first place. Two important ways in which you can do so are the following:

- Avoid eating or drinking around the switch. The foods you eat may contain sugary substances that can stick to the surface and may be difficult to remove.
-Wear plastic gloves while operating the switch. This way you can avoid contaminating it with the oils from your skin.
-Wash your hands before and after operating the switch. Use soap and work up a good lather, then rinse it off thoroughly.

Because they are so easy to keep clean, membrane keypads and switches are commonly used in places where the need to be free of germs is especially great. Such places include:

-food processing plants
-hospitals, clinics and dental offices
-in general, any place where large numbers of human beings gather, such as buildings with auditoriums