Cleaning Alligator Clips

A recent visit to a local classroom to teach students about conductivity using MakeyMakeys presented an unexpected problem: what is the best way to clean alligator clips?

Some Background

During this visit, we had students create banana pianos by sticking alligator clips into bananas. While we had originally envisioned students happily playing their banana pianos, we had failed to think about what happens after. With the first class, we instructed them to open the alligator clips and pinch the banana with them. However, while cleaning up, we realized what a terrible, banana-gunk filled mistake this was.


makey makey banana piano

Photo Credit: Nathan Barry

When the alligator clips were opened, they were completely filled with banana, forming a gum-like goo inside the clips that was all but impossible to clean.

To help mitigate this, we told the next class to simply poke the bananas with the alligator clips. While this lessened the amount of banana residue left inside the alligator clips, it did not completely prevent it.

This left us with the problem of figuring out how to return these alligator clips back to their pre-banana splendor, or at least remove the gunk and make them less disgusting to look at.

Cleaning Tips

After trying paper towels and pointy pencils to no avail in between the two classes, we turned to the internet for help.

The first solution we found was to essentially call it a loss, cut off the clips and put new ones on. This didn’t seem like a realistic option for our needs, and definitely not a real solution for classrooms. So, we kept looking.

Ultimately, we found a video from Aaron Maurer that directed us to mix some dish soap and water and scrub the alligator clips with a toothbrush. While this sounds tedious for an entire class set of alligator clips, it did work and only took about a minute per clip. Allowing the clips to soak for a few moments also helped more easily release the dried on gunk.

In the video, Maurer notes that learning to properly clean tools is an important part of using them and that cleaning the alligator clips could be a class activity. From our experience, this could be as simple as setting aside five minutes or so at the end of class to have students clean the clips they used.

The Ultimate Solution

While the above tip was effective at cleaning the alligator clips, the ultimate goal would be to not have to clean them in the first place. Which is why we love this tip from Makey Makey to attach a paper clip to the alligator clip and stick the paper clip into the icky things instead of the alligator clip. While this wouldn’t completely remove the need for clean up, it would make it much easier by removing the need to get inside the mouth of the alligator clip. Definitely wish we had seen this tip before heading to the classroom.

What’s your best tip for keeping your alligator clips clean or to clean them when they get gunked up?

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