(Music plays….) I’m gonna wash that dirt right outta that shirt keyboard!!

OK, the commercial reference above might be too old for some of you younguns out there, but I still remember that TV commercial for laundry detergent so you can guess my age!! But I thought it appropriate for the following stories and tips on cleaning and potentially salvaging gear…

My partner Jed Manwaring just sent me this after loaning me a keyboard. The following Q&A is by Christopher Breen, Macworld.com.

“Q: I have an old keyboard that I love, but its keys are sticking due to built up dust and gunk. Is there a way to clean it?

A: This is a common question and with it come solutions both tried-and-true and controversial. Starting with the tried-and-true:

The first step in cleaning a keyboard is to unplug it, grab a can of compressed air (found at any electronic supply store), and blast air around the base of the keys in the hope of dislodging whatever’s gumming up the works. Do this holding the can of compressed air upright. Flip the can upside down and there’s some danger that you’ll squirt propellant into the keyboard.

Turn the keyboard over and give it a good shake in the hope of removing the gunk you’ve loosened. While in this position, blast it a few more times with the compressed air. If a key remains unresponsive after this treatment, gently pry it up with a small flathead screwdriver and clean its post with a slightly damp cloth.

Now, the controversial:

If the keyboard is so filthy that it appears to be a lost cause—as it might after a major coffee, soda, or Mai Tai spill—put it in the dishwasher. Place it in the top rack, dial the dishwasher to a rinse only setting, don’t put soap in the thing, and run it through. Remove the keyboard and let it drain, with keys down, until it’s completely dry—this could take a couple of days.

This is controversial because some keyboard manufacturers suggest that you not do this as they won’t guarantee that the keyboard will survive the ordeal—particularly if you hit the keyboard with really hot water, detergent, and flying cutlery.

Speaking from personal experience, I’ve done this with a beloved Matias TactilePro keyboard that I’d given up for dead (this is the perfect condition under which to conduct this experiment). I’m happy to report that not only did it survive, it works perfectly (and is a whole lot nicer to look at than it once was)”

OK, this may still seem crazy to you, but I can recount that a friend of mind took a dunking in the Merced River in Yosemite one spring, along with his Canon 10D, and he took it back to the cabin, took off the lens, set the camera and lens by the wall heater and cranked that puppy up to high. Several hours later, the camera worked fine and continued to do so, even as he retired it for a newer larger MP camera.

The reason this all works is because fresh water doesn’t corrode like salt water, at least not as quickly, and not by the time your keyboard or camera dries out. But continued washing in the dishwasher could build up calcification, making your keyboard sticky all over again for a different reason than the Milk Shake spilled on it…

On our Inside Passage photography tour in Alaska a few years back, a gal suddenly had her expensive Nikon F5 go on the fritz – and she was not able to use the camera. We had been outside in a steady drizzle photographing whales. Even though we all had rain protection for our cameras as well as ourselves, the cumulative moisture build-up was just too much for the poor thing – and it went berzerk! So we popped it in a large zip lock bag (on the list of what to bring for that trip) and two aluminum containers of desiccant, and let it sit for a few hours. We then tried it and it worked beautifully – and continued working the rest of the trip. Thankfully, she had a backup camera body but she was a happy camper to get her new toy back in her hands!

Rechargeable desiccant containers are the best for traveling in humid climates, rainy weather, and they are rechargeable in the oven – bake at 300◦ for 3 hours! Yes, you need an oven to recharge them, not a microwave, but we created a solar oven while in Costa Rica kayaking and were able to recharge them that way, albeit it a slower method. We also travel with them in double or triple zip lock bags once recharged to keep them dry until we need them.

So what happens if your camera takes a dunking in salt water? Before you bury it in the place where it died,with a memorial marker and service, here’s a thought: Remove the batteries, and immerse the whole camera in a zip lock bag of fresh water – and swoosh it all around, to flush out the salt water; do this twice, and then drain the bag, zip it shut while still all wet in there, wrap it all up and ship it asap to the nearest repair service. That fresh-water flush just might keep the camera contacts and lubricated parts from getting gunked up with dried salt, making the camera salvageable. Like the guy from Macworld.com said, if it’s already ‘dead’, it surely can’t hurt to try this idea and it may just salvage the camera.

(We used to do this with film accidentally dropped into salt water – we put fresh water inside the little plastic can until we could get it to the lab. It worked! – although we didn’t make a habit of dropping our film just because of this…)

Disclaimer: This is not an official how-to on dealing with cameras that have been exposed to salt water and it may make no difference. So try this at your own risk should the need arise – and don’t email me a complaint if it doesn’t work.