How Dirty Is Your QWERTY?

Virtually every desk in every office has one; the computer keyboard. But how often are yours cleaned? Alarmingly, recent tests carried out by Which magazine have shown that many office keyboards harbour five times more germs than a toilet seat!

This is a frightening statistic considering just how many keyboards live in the average small business office environment. In addition to the expected biscuit crumbs and desk-lunch leftovers, MRSA and MSSA have been found – yuck! The tests carried out by a microbiologist were searching for the type of bugs linked to food poisoning in addition to enteric bacteria and coliforms, both of which are routinely associated with faecal matter and are indicative of poor hand hygiene.

What causes a dirty QWERTY?

The most common cause of an accumulation of bacteria on a keyboard is poor hand hygiene, generally associated with the failure to wash hands following a bathroom visit. In second place comes eating at desks. Crumbs lodged beneath keys make a great breeding ground for bacteria. Dust gathers too, trapping moisture, dead skin and sweat.

Health risks to staff

The most unpleasant and dangerous bacterium to which staff may be exposed through use of a dirty keyboard is staphylococcus; commonly known as MRSA. The bacteria enters the body through broken skin and once in the bloodstream can cause pneumonia, blood poisoning and other serious complications including heart infections. The MRSA superbug is extremely resistant to antibiotics and that is what makes it so dangerous.

Another potentially fatal bug which has been found on keyboards is E.Coli which causes serious stomach problems. Coliforms, associated with faeces, are a common cause of urinary tract infections together with enteric bacteria.

When you consider than many modern offices, particularly those employing large numbers of part-time staff or shift workers, operate a hot-desking policy where staff share keyboards it’s not surprising that infections and sickness quickly spread throughout the workforce.

Take action

Outbreaks of QWERTY tummy are easily prevented by introducing a few simple measures:

1. Set aside a keyboard-free area for staff to eat in. It’s best practice ergonomically for workers to take breaks away from their computer screens anyway and will also prevent contamination of keyboards with food debris and transfer from greasy fingers.

2. Insist that staff wash their hands before and after handling food in staff kitchen areas and after using the bathroom. A few strategically placed signs should do the trick.

3. UV rays kill bacteria so leave your keyboard in direct sunlight whenever you can.

4. Cleaning keyboards should be a matter of weekly routine. Turn the keyboard upside down and give it a tap to remove crumbs and dusk and use a compressed air pen to blast out any stubborn debris. Finish off by wiping down the keyboard using an alcohol wipe, available from your stationery supplier.

5. If you work in a particularly dusty or dirty office environment; a garage or factory office for example, it’s worth looking into replacing your existing keyboards with washable or waterproof ones. These are a bit more expensive than the standard variety but are much easier to clean

So, next time you’re pondering your staff absence statistics, give a thought to the humble and inconspicuous keyboard. It could be this innocent-looking piece of equipment that’s causing or contributing to your staff sickness issues.

Alison Page

About Alison Page

Alison is a small business owner, freelance writer, author and dressage judge. She has degrees in Equine Science and Business Studies. Read her full story at

Alison Page

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