To make it easy to remember, I schedule my computer maintenance and cleaning, at the Spring and Fall time changes. Since we’ve adjusted our clocks back one hour today (here in North America), it’s time to rerun a primer on how to do a top to bottom physical cleanup of your computer.
Over the years I’ve noticed that many computer users are not too concerned with keeping the physical components clean; and they need to be concerned. Computer maintenance involves not only keeping a computer clean of malware; viruses, Trojans, spyware, and adware – but, keeping the physical machine clean as well.
As regular reader TeX pointed out last year, when I ran this article – “Think of a place that hides more dust than the space under your bed.” He’s right – a computer system can collect an an amazing amount of dust.
No, this is not one of my machines.
Physically cleaning your computer is potentially one of the most important cleanup jobs you’re ever likely to do. Here’s why – heat.
Heat is a component killer, and it’s the chief cause of CPU failure in computers. CPU failure, caused by dust clogged vents, which leads to reduced air flow, is a more common occurrence than many realize.
Killer Dirt = Killer Heat
Overheating of the CPU will, at a minimum, cause the system to behave erratically; the computer spontaneously switches off, or restarts; frequent “blue-screen” error messages, and more.
Here’s a comment from my Australian buddy Mal, on last year’s reposting of this article – “Earlier this year, my computer started beeping at me. It was an alarm to say “I’m overheating”. I took off the cover and cleaned out all the dust, which was everywhere.
When I turned it back on, the temp at dropped 30 degrees Celsius. No wonder the machine was screaming at me. So a good timely article on your part.”
Keeping your computer in top shape, with a regularly scheduled cleaning program, will prevent the inconvenience of having your system go down, and in the long run save you money.
Tools you’ll need:
A can of compressed air
Rubbing alcohol (70% is fine)
Paper towels or anti-static cloths
Make sure you disconnect the machine from the wall outlet before you begin maintenance and cleanup, and be gentle when touching the components inside the case.
Open the case:
If required, use the screwdriver to remove the side of the case that’s opposite the motherboard. Blow compresses air over the components and interior of the case, keeping the can upright and nozzle four inches away from components.
Clean the power supply and the case fan with a shot of compressed air. Next, blow compressed air into the CD/DVD drive. Give the inside of the case a wipe with a slightly moistened cloth before replacing the cover.
Clean the exterior:
Wipe the exterior of the case with a slightly moistened cloth; repeat the wipe with a dry cloth or paper towel. Be sure to clean all case openings using this method.
Clean the keyboard:
Since the keyboard gets more physical contact than any other component, if you can, clean it on a monthly basis. Blowout in and around the keys with compressed air monthly and on your scheduled cleanup rub down the keys and case with a clean cloth slightly dampened with rubbing alcohol.
Clean the mouse:
Like the keyboard, the mouse gets substantial physical contact and requires cleaning on a monthly basis. If you have an optical mouse simply wipe it down just as you wiped down the keyboard. If you have a mechanical mouse then you need to remove, wash, and then dry the ball.
Next, clean inside the mouse with a cotton swab moistened with rubbing alcohol. Finally blow compressed air into the opening and then reassemble the mouse.
Clean the monitor:
Never spray liquid directly onto the screen. Instead, moisten the cloth, or the paper towel, with the cleaning solution. Spraying the screen directly runs the risk of liquid penetrating into the monitor components.
Wipe the screen gently to remove dust and fingerprints. For laptop screens, buy a special cleaning solution available at computer stores. Do this weekly.
I know this is a no-brainer, but before you plug the computer back into the wall outlet, be sure all components are thoroughly dry.
Previous postings of this article drew some very valuable comments from regular readers, including the following:
I always clean my PC one a month. In a tropical country like here, dust is everywhere. Clean, turn around, and there’s a dust again. PC cleaning inside and out is must here, because of very hot temperatures.
Cleaning is nice, but when doing so, one should also change the heat sink compound between hot semiconductors and the respective heat sinks. The CPU is most critical in this respect.
Volatile components evaporate over time, turning the compound into an effective heat insulator with a plaster-like texture. I suggest a change every second year in moderate climates, and an annual change in the tropics.
Just to follow up on Georg’s comment – earlier this year, a reader explained that he had rebuilt his machine and replaced all components (other than the CPU), and yet, the machine still locked up after just a few minutes of operation. I passed on Georg’s advice and voila – problem solved!
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