I have taken old remotes apart and cleaned them, but they are very easily broken.
Without opening, and using an old (or someone elses) damped tooth brush, not wet! And brush vigourously to lossen the "stuff". I do this every once and a while and it keeps them working. The trick is to use next to no water at all, just damp. Dish soap added to get greasy dirt off but again almost dry.
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