If you want your DVD player to serve up movies without any glitches, you've got to keep it clean.

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Taking care of a DVD player is a lot like taking care of a cactus. Provide a little moisture once a week by dusting it with a damp (not wet!) cloth and it'll be fine. Too much invasive cleaning isn't good for the DVD player -- in general, it's better to just leave it alone to get on with its movie-playing business. However, when your player does break down, a thorough cleaning can be just what it needs for another few years of life. DVD players aren't heavy-duty electronics, which makes their malfunctions mercifully easy to diagnose. If you didn't drop it off the roof and it's not on fire, all it needs is a good dusting.

There are basically three places that you need to keep clean on your DVD player: the case, the vents and the lens. While the case is only vulnerable to liquid spills and sticky-handed toddlers, both the vents and the lens are extremely sensitive to dust. Electronics are serious dust magnets, and particles that enter through the vents can work their way to the laser lens that reads the disc, making your picture go all weird or even forcing the DVD player give up on reading anything at all. Dust is the enemy.

If your DVD is on the fritz, you need to get that dust out. Before you start cleaning, we have a word or two of caution. DVD players are usually cheerful, obliging machines, but start messing around with them, and even the cheap ones can become dusty little prima donnas. That's why DVD instruction manuals are virtually unanimous in forbidding the use of cleaning discs and alcohol swabs as well as generally mucking around with the hardware. Should you listen to them? That's up to you. Accidents are inevitable, and if the cleaning process somehow scratches the lens or accidentally breaks some fragile yet irreplaceable part, there won't be anyone to cry to. On the other hand, if your beloved but warranty-less DVD player isn't working, what are you supposed to do? Go up to the attic to watch videos on a VCR like some ape creature in a cave? No, thank you.

So, while there's definitely a risk factor to cleaning your DVD player, there are also safe ways to keep it dust-free and in good working order. Coming up, we've got some guidelines for ridding your DVD player of dust bunnies and dirt.