Air duster / vacuum cleaner


Cleaning the gunk out of keyboards – and elsewhere – but is there a hidden gotcha?

I still miss Maplins. I don’t know of any shops now where you can reliably go to find all those techy bits and pieces. Currys are next to useless for this (amongst other things). Yes, I know there’s Amazon, but I don’t like buying from them on principle and you can’t just walk in, give them your dosh, and walk out with what you want this minute.

Compressed air duster
Compressed air duster
So, when my can of compressed air (for cleaning keyboards, etc) ran out the other day I was suddenly faced with a logistical problem completely disproportionate to the problem I was trying to solve. In the end, I did look on Amazon and spotted, on the same page as the compressed air cans, some powered “air dusters”.

After a bit of digging, I found that some of them also double up as vacuum cleaners (you just stick a nozzle on the other end of the device). I thought they were powered directly by a USB connection, but more of that later. The prices range from about £25-£45. Since cans of compressed air cost from about £4-£10 and are probably environmentally very unsound, I decided to get one (from Amazon, yes).

It arrived the next day (which doesn’t provide the instant gratification of a trip to Maplins, but is pretty impressive nevertheless) and I’ve got to say that it does the main jobs (sucking at one end and blowing at the other) very well indeed. The keyboard on my main computer is now as clean as new. I really can not see a single speck of gunk, toast, or anything else at the edge of any of the keys. It has even made a good job of cleaning out the tiny holes that form the grills over the speakers.

Flushed with that success, I then stuck a nozzle on the other end and vacuumed all the dust from around the nests of cables, the external hard drives, NAS device, kitchen drawers, shelves full of bits and pieces, etc. Who would have thought that a cheap bit of Chinese low tech could have made an old man so happy!

Powered air duster
Powered air duster
Up to now, everything’s great. For £36 I think I have solved several small, but irksome, problems. A quick bit of mental arithmetic also confirms that it should soon pay for itself in terms of the money saved on cans of compressed air (as well as saving the planet, of course). But there’s a potential catch. It’s one I’ve fallen for before and I’m a bit miffed with myself for falling for it again and it goes as follows:

The device is powered by its own internal battery. That battery is charged by connecting a USB cable from the device to anywhere that you would charge a phone (USB port of a computer, charging plug, etc). So far, so good. But what happens when the battery gets old and dies? They don’t last forever.

A battery on a laptop typically lasts from 2-5 years. The battery on a mobile phone usually lasts a bit less than that. But with both of these examples, you can buy a replacement battery (albeit after you’ve arranged a re-mortgage) and, in both of these cases, the device will run directly from a USB cable if the battery is dead.

But with some random bit of stuff from a completely unknown manufacturer in China, is there any chance of securing a replacement battery? Will my shiny new £36 piece of low tech be useless in 18 months? Who knows. Several years ago I spent about £120 on a Fitbit. It lasted two years before the battery died and I found that it could not be replaced.

Likewise, I have two USB-connected “desk fans” that have their own internal batteries that are charged via the USB cable. Very cheap to buy and run but will that be outweighed by having to chuck them out when the batteries die? There’s no way of telling, until it happens, whether these devices will run directly from a USB cable if the battery is dead.

I think there’s a case for making it mandatory to point out to prospective purchasers if a device contains a battery that can not be replaced, and whether the device will still work with a dead battery.

But, for now at least, I’ve definitely got the cleanest keyboards in Clapham.