Whether or not you use your computer every day, you may not be conscious of how dirty it can get over time. The parts you touch and look at are probably where you'll notice dirt or smudges first, including the keyboard, mouse and screen. Dust also gets sucked into the computer by the fans that keep it cool. These problems can be worse if you use your computer in particularly dusty or dirty environments, such as outdoors or in a woodshop, or if you eat or drink around your computer.
Keeping the computer clean is an essential part of keeping it in top working condition. If you're particular about keeping things clean in your home or office, you probably already have the computer on your regular list of things to keep clean. If not, you may go months, if not years, without cleaning your computer. Even if you don't mind using a dirty computer, you should make keeping it clean a part of your routine. Here are a few reasons why:
- Dust that gets into the computer can cut down on air flow. This can cause the computer to overheat which, in turn, causes damage to important components like the processor.
- Dust or debris that settles on open circuitry can affect the computer's performance
- Spatters of food or drink can get into tight crevices or open spaces and damage circuits and moving parts. The keyboard is a common victim of this, eventually having keys that stick or stop working altogether.
- If two or more people use the same keyboard and mouse, they can pass germs to each other by touching those surfaces.
- Dust and smudges that are left on your screen can distort the colors and images you see.
You can't stop everything from getting on or in your computer. Whether it's a desktop or laptop, though, this article covers what you need to know about keeping it clean.
Computer Cleaning Supplies
In office and electronics stores you can find several commercial products specially designed for cleaning your computer. Some of the most popular cleaning products and cost-saving alternatives are covered on this page. Later in this article you'll find tips on using these products as part of your cleaning routine.
Microfiber is a term referring to very small fibers that are very tightly woven. When used wet or to wipe a wet surface, microfiber cleaning cloths absorb most of the fluid and thinly disperse the rest so that it can evaporate quickly. When used dry, these clothes attract dry particles through a mild static charge. Microfiber is also better than other fabrics for absorbing grease, which adheres to the fabric until it's washed. For your laptop or desktop monitor, a dry microfiber cloth may be all you need to keep the screen clean and smudge-free [source: Microfiber.com].
General-purpose office cleaners
General-purpose cleaners for office and electronics are sold as sprays, aerosols or pre-moistened disposable wipes. These cleaners are free of oils and evaporate quickly, aiming to remove dust and fingerprints from non-porous surfaces. This makes them safe for the external casing of your electronics. Some cleaners advertise anti-static ingredients to reduce the surface's tendency to collect more dust, plus anti-bacterial ingredients to cut down on spreading germs between users.
Screen cleaners are sold as sprays, aerosol foams, pre-moistened disposable wipes and sometimes kits that include brushes, cloths or squeegees. You can clean most glass-covered cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors with any ammonia-based glass cleaner, provided it doesn't have anti-glare coating [source: Broida]. For flat panel LCD, plasma and LED monitors, manufacturers discourage using ammonia-based cleaners, stating that they can damage the screen over time. Instead, you can use a commercial screen cleaner of water and isopropyl alcohol. Look for a cost-saving alternative to these products among the tips later in this article.
Gas duster (aka canned air)
A gas duster provides a powerful burst of air to push dust off surfaces that can't or shouldn't be cleaned with a cloth or brush. This includes tight crevices in your keyboard or the internal parts of your computer. Often called "canned air" because of its packaging, a gas duster actually contains liquid forms of chemicals that, when uncompressed, turn immediately into the gas that emerges from the can. The next page of this article describes how to use compressed air as a way to remove dust from your computer.
Optical drive cleaning kits
Optical drives in your computer are the devices that can read (and sometimes write to) a CD, DVD or Blu-ray disc. An optical drive cleaning kit includes a disc with special brushes or fabric. The disc spins like a normal CD in the drive and cleans the laser lens that reads the disc. Because these drives are enclosed, though, they are protected from most dust and debris and should rarely need cleaning. The best way to keep the drive clean is to make sure the discs themselves are free of dirt and smudges with proper handling, storage and cleaning.
How to Get Dust Out of Your Computer
Keyboards, mice and other peripherals can gather dust, but they're often easier to keep clear of dust and debris since most of it collects where it's easy to wipe away. At the heart of the computer, though, where all the processing takes place, dust can gather out of normal reach. As mentioned earlier, letting this dust accumulate can impact the performance and function of the computer.
The following are steps you can take to get the dust out of your computer.
1. Determine if you can open the computer's casing.
If you have a warranty on the computer, check with the manufacturer to see if opening the case will void your warranty. If so, find out where you can take your computer for warranty service and ask that shop to clean it in accordance with your warranty. Also, if you aren't already familiar with how to open the computer, do a little research to find out how difficult it is to do so. If you're not confident about opening the computer, find a professional who can do it and who is familiar with your computer.
2. Gather a few tools.
First, you'll need to purchase a gas duster, dust mask, cotton swabs and isopropyl alcohol. Then, grab a screwdriver that fits the screws that hold your computer's case together. Also consider using safety glasses to keep dust out of your eyes.
3. Disconnect and move the computer.
Shut down the computer if it's running and disconnect the power and all peripherals from the computer. For laptops, be sure to remove the battery. Then, move the computer to a clean, well-lit workspace. Be prepared for that workspace to get very dusty while you're cleaning.
4. Open the case.
Use your manufacturer's instructions for opening it so that the motherboard and everything attached to it is easy to access. For desktops and towers, this is often as easy as removing a couple of case screws and sliding or detaching a panel. For laptops, this may be more involved, including removing several screws and panels.
5. Attack the dust bunnies.
Before the attack, put on your dust mask and safety glasses and prepare for much of the dust to fly out of the case. Then, with the case open, find a spot where it would be easy to remove any dust from the case without touching any circuit boards. This could be an opening in the side or a place where you can easily wipe the inside surface of the case. Using a gas duster, aim the gas bursts no closer than about 4 inches to each surface and blow the dust toward that easy-to-reach spot. Keep the can as upright as possible to avoid the liquid coming out of the can. Be sure to target all the fans and narrow spaces, and push the cables aside gently to get to spaces you can't easily reach. Don't open the power supply, from which a fountain of cabling attaches to several parts of the computer, but do blow the dust off its fan -- at least, as much as possible.
6. Swab the tough spots.
If you find a spot where dust has stuck to the surface, put the gas duster aside and pick up a cotton swab. Wet the tip of the cotton swab with some isopropyl alcohol, and use that to rub away the stubborn dust.
7. Evacuate the bunnies.
With the dust moved to one spot, carefully use your hand or an anti-static cloth to pick up the dust and remove it from the case. Avoid touching the motherboard and attached cards when you do this, but moving the cables out of the way is fine.
8. Close up.
With the dust removed, close the computer case in accordance with your manufacturer's instructions and reattach any peripherals and power sources. Then, boot the computer and make sure everything's working.
Computer Cleaning Tips
So far, you've read about the computer cleaning products you can use and how to get dust out of your computer. Here are some more useful computer cleaning tips, including both things you can do and things you should avoid:
- Set a regular schedule for cleaning the surface of your computer as well as for getting the dust out of it. Clean the surface at least once a month, and clean the dust out of the inside at least once every six months [source: Munroe]. Clean it more often if its in a dusty room, it sits on the floor, you eat or drink around it, multiple people share it or you often have dirty hands when you're using it.
- Sometimes dust isn't just from the air around you, but from another object that comes in contact with it. Dogs, cats and birds shed hair, feathers and skin particles that can find their way into the computer. Plus, a laptop can collect dust, fuzz and other debris from the bag you carry it in.
- Note that "anti-static" could mean one of two different things when you're reading product labels. Anti-static cleaners are chemicals that can help cut down on a surface's natural attraction to dust, which is good for the outside surface of your computer. Anti-static cloths are cloths that are free of static electricity that can damage computers.
- Avoid getting liquid cleaners in crevices where they can do damage. To prevent this, apply the cleaner to the cloth instead of directly on the surface, and don't make the cloth so damp that it'll drip when you wipe. If you're using pre-moistened wipes, wring them out some before use if they're dripping wet.
- A less expensive alternative to using commercial screen cleaners is to use a microfiber cleaning cloth that's slightly dampened with regular tap water. You can add isopropyl alcohol to the water to help cut greasy fingerprints, but keep the alcohol at less than 50 percent of the mixture to prevent possible screen damage [source: Johnson].
- Even if you don't open the computer's case, you can use still a gas duster to remove dust from fans, grates, keys and ports. Before you do, be sure to disconnect the power, and hold the gas duster at a slight angle so that most of the dust falls outside the case instead of into it. Be careful to avoid spraying chemicals onto your computer components.
- Don't use a vacuum cleaner in or near your computer. Whether it's sucking or blowing the air, the vacuum may be too strong for the computer, and it can create a static charge that can damage important parts of the computer [source: Broida].
- Even though gas dusters are often called "compressed air," don't substitute them with an air compressor. The air pressure from these compressors is too high for this task and can contain chemicals that could damage the computer [source: Acklan and Rimmer].
- As with any chemical cleaners, keep gas dusters away from children. The chemicals used to create the gas in gas dusters have proven to be deadly when directly inhaled [source: Alexander].
Hop on to the next page for lots more information about cleaning the dust bunnies and other dirt from your computer.
- Acklan and Rimmer. "Cleaning the Interior of your PC." Bleeping Computer LLC. January 2006. (Nov.7, 2010)http://www.bleepingcomputer.com/tutorials/tutorial118.html
- Alexander, Peter. "'Dusting' is the new killer high for teens." TODAY. MSNBC. NBC News. July 27, 2005. (Nov. 7, 2010)http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/8714725
- Broida, Rick. "Clean up your grungy PC." CNET. June 15, 2005. (Nov. 5, 2010)http://reviews.cnet.com/4520-11319_7-6240575-1.html
- Johnson, Joel. "How to Clean an LCD Screen." Popular Mechanics. Hearst Communication, Inc. March 1, 2007. (Nov. 5, 2010)http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/how-to/tv/4213061
- Microfiber.com. "What is microfiber?" 2008. (Nov. 7, 2010)http://microfiber.com/microfiber.html
- Munroe, Alyson. "Clean your computer." Microsoft. (Nov. 7, 2010)http://www.microsoft.com/athome/setup/cleancomputer.aspx
- Trapani, Gina. "Geek to Live: Evacuate PC dust bunnies." Lifehacker. Feb. 8, 2006. (Nov.7, 2010)http://lifehacker.com/153409/geek-to-live--evacuate-pc-dust-bunnies