A couple of decades ago, glass cleaner was a relatively safe product to use for many household cleaning chores, including cleaning the family television set -- well, the screen, anyway. The belief that glass cleaner is benign and a great option for getting grease, grime buildup and fingerprints off all the surfaces you might like to see through is probably a holdover from those simpler times. There are a couple of problems with that notion when dealing with modern electronics, like laptop monitors and flat screen TVs. Modern electronics are very different from simple windows. Actually, there are even window styles these days that you shouldn't treat with conventional glass cleaners.

Although ammonia is often cited as the principal ingredient that makes glass cleaner a bad choice for cleaning electronics, there may be any number of compounds in glass cleaning products that can damage delicate electronic equipment, especially screens and other displays. Even some late model CRT televisions sported glass treated with anti-glare film that was prone to yellowing and cracking from repeated exposure to glass cleaner.

One problem with getting the word out about how harmful glass cleaner can be is that it may take multiple applications for a user to start to see the damage, which presents as a yellowish tint or fogging effect. Screens and monitors may also become brittle and start to crack in places. The damage is cumulative, and over multiple applications, anti-glare and anti-static coatings as well as other synthetic surface materials will begin to break down.

These tips will help you give your electronics the care they need:

  • Check the operating instructions for the recommended cleaning methods for all of your electronic devices and particularly those with screens or displays. If the directions say you're free to use glass cleaner, fine. Chances are they won't, though.
  • Before trying to clean an electronic device, turn it off and disconnect it from the power source.
  • When operating instructions aren't available, clean electronics with a slightly damp, soft, lint-free, cotton cloth moistened with distilled water or a 50 percent solution of water and white vinegar. Never use paper products like paper towels. Paper can scratch coated glass and some plastics. It also leaves small particulates behind that can be hard to get off later.
  • If water on a soft cloth isn't strong enough to remove smudges and grime, try using a microfiber or optical cloth instead. Microfiber has dense hairs that grab and hold grease and dirt for those occasions when a cotton cloth isn't getting the job done.
  • To avoid scratching your laptop, make sure any cloth you use is clean and soft, and always rub gently. If you apply too much pressure to your laptop screen, you may create dead spots, or non-functioning pixels, so take your time and be gentle. Once the screen is clean, avoid touching it with your fingers.
  • If you're using a manufacturer's approved cleaning solution like isopropyl alcohol on your laptop or other electronic device, never pour or spray liquid directly on the case, keyboard or screen. Dab a little on a clean cloth and wipe. The cloth should be moist, not wet.

Some manufacturers advocate cleaning monitors and flat screens from left to right and then from top to bottom in overlapping strokes. However you get the job done, keep moisture away from speakers, vents and keyboards, and wipe everything dry afterward.