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How to Clean Your Computer

Cleaning your PC can increase its overall lifespan and help keep your components running efficiently. Here’s how to clean your computer.
December 11, 2020

In this Article:

Tools and Cleaning Supplies

Read about the tools and cleaning supplies you’ll need to have on hand to clean your computer.

External Cleaning

Learn the proper process for cleaning the exterior of your PC.

Internal Cleaning

Read about best practices for cleaning the interior of your PC.

CPU Maintenance

Learn about the importance of CPU maintenance, and the steps you can take to keep your PC in top shape.

Tips and Tricks

Read about some expert tips for cleaning your PC.

Computers are like cars. They can run perfectly fine but still benefit from regular maintenance and cleaning. While anti-virus programs and software patches are necessary, they are not the focus of this guide. Physically cleaning your PC regularly can add years to its overall lifespan and help keep your components running as efficiently as possible. To help you get the job done right, here’s how to clean your computer.

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Tools and Cleaning Supplies

When cleaning your computer, it helps to have the right tools and supplies on hand. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Microfiber Cloth - These specialized cleaning cloths are made of a material that is both soft and tough. Microfiber cloths will not damage your screen or computer but do an excellent job cleaning delicate areas.  Shop Now
  • Isopropyl Alcohol - When you need to remove stickers or clean anywhere on your PC that cannot be exposed to moisture, isopropyl alcohol is perfect. The potent liquid dries without leaving residue and dissolves even the peskiest buildups of grime.
  • Cotton Swabs - Sometimes called Q-tips, cotton swabs are perfect for getting into hard to reach or delicate places on your PC.
  • Paper Towels - While not the most elegant cleaning solution, paper towels get the job done when cleaning the outside of a computer or any cases with glass viewing windows.

External Cleaning

The outside of your computer can be cleaned before or after the inside. When cleaning the exterior of your computer, you can be less cautious than with the interior. Glass cleaner sprayed on a paper towel—never directly on the PC—is the best way to clean any external portion of your computer. Remember that ports on the front and back of the machine are susceptible to moisture damage. Using a cloth or paper towel that is too wet can result in excess cleaner getting in ports and causing significant damage to your PC. 

Remove Dust Filters

Before cleaning your desktop, make sure to check for removable dust filters on your case. Often, there will be at least one filter attached to the power supply that can easily be removed and cleaned. Dust filters are amazing at slowing dust buildup on your PC but can have the reverse effect when trying to clean or dust out the inside of your machine. The same technology that keeps dust from coming in will also stop debris from leaving the case, so it is best to remove filters early in the cleaning process.

Internal Cleaning

There are a few key areas which you should regularly clean inside your PC. Remember to take your time and focus on cleaning carefully when working near exposed components.

The good news is that you can clean your computer without having to take the PC apart. Simply opening the case should provide all the access you need. Most modern desktops have enough room in their case to clean comfortably without any disassembly. To be incredibly thorough, you can remove your graphics card, but that is not necessary. 

Cleaning Your Case

As soon as you open your case, you will probably see empty areas occupied by dust and other debris. This is normal and easy to clean. Ensure you are in a well-ventilated space and use compressed air to remove the largest chunks of dust from within the case first. Certain areas like empty hard drive bays or bunches of cables can have significant dirt buildup. If you can, remove cable ties or empty drive bays to clean behind them more easily.

Cleaning Fans

While responsible for cooling your computer, fans are also the leading cause of dirt and dust entering your PC. Debris hitches a ride with cold intake air and attaches itself to fans and any other component it can touch.

Compressed air can usually remove most dirt from case fans. Holding the fan when you spray it with compressed air protects the fan's bearings, preventing it from rotating faster than designed and damaging itself.

Sometimes, compressed air may not be enough to get the job done. That is where cotton swabs come in handy. Using a fresh cotton swab, carefully dislodge any dirt from the fans that the compressed air could not free. Once you have removed all significant dust buildup from the fans, hit the entire area with air again to remove the fallen dust that was just cleaned off the fan. 

Cleaning Your PSU

As mentioned before, the most crucial part of cleaning a power supply is removing and adequately cleaning the dust filter before attempting to clean the rest of the device. Most components of a power supply are concealed within the part, so there is little you can do besides cleaning the dust cover.

Using intermittent bursts, you can use compressed air to push dust from inside of the power supply out where the dust cover would normally be. Never use any cleaning solution on or near a power supply. You can use isopropyl alcohol to remove any stickers on the device, but apply it carefully using a cotton swab and do not let it run.

Cleaning Your Graphics Card/GPU

These days, most graphics cards have a set of two or even three fans to help keep them cool. While this is fantastic for gaming and other professional tasks, it creates more moving air in your system and thus spreads more dust and debris. There are two ways you could go about cleaning your graphics card:

  • Remove and Clean - Carefully unplug your graphics card from its PCI slot and hold it securely in one hand. Using compressed air, clean around the GPU's heatsink and ports, taking care to remove all debris. Remember to hold the fans as you dust them to avoid damaging your graphics card. You may notice some dust kick out of your GPU once you reinstall it and power it on, but that is normal and easily cleaned with another quick burst of compressed air.
  • Without Removing - If you can place your PC on its side, you can clean your graphics card efficiently without the need to remove it. As long as you can comfortably see and access the fans on your card, you can properly clean your GPU. Using controlled bursts of air, remove significant dirt build up from on and around your graphics card. A microfiber cloth can help to collect large fallen chunks of dust between blasts of air.

CPU Maintenance

The least frequently cleaned place in a computer is the CPU. That is because the processor is usually covered by a cooling device and not accessible without disassembly. Another reason CPU maintenance is rarely completed is that it is only needed every few years. There is little you can do to a CPU besides reapplying a thermal compound and reinstalling the cooler. Replacing thermal paste at least every two years will significantly help to increase the lifespan of your processor.

When reapplying thermal paste, you will first need to remove the cooling device attached to your processor. Never try to separate a CPU and cooler when the device is cold or has not been turned on recently. Cold thermal paste can act like glue, and if the processor sticks to the cooling device as you remove it, you can easily damage or even ruin your CPU. Always run the PC for at least a few minutes before removing a cooler. This will help easily separate the two components without damage.

Once the processor is exposed, use a small amount of isopropyl alcohol on a paper towel to completely remove the old thermal paste. Be careful and make sure to remove every last bit of old thermal compound. Leaving patches of dry thermal paste will result in uneven heat dispersion, which could damage the processor in the future. Once all the old compound has been removed, apply a pea-sized drop of new thermal paste before reinstalling the cooler on your CPU.

Tips and Tricks

Here are a few final tips and tricks to clean your computer:

  • Slow Down - There is absolutely no rush when it comes to cleaning your computer. Taking an extra 10 minutes to clean each blade of a fan is never a bad thing. The slower and more meticulous you are with cleaning, the less often you will have to do it. The slower you go when cleaning, the less likely you are to damage your PC accidentally.
  • Unplug Everything - Always power down and fully unplug your machine before doing any cleaning. Failing to prepare a system for cleaning safely could result in significant damage to your PC or even injury.
  • Laptops - When cleaning a laptop, make sure to fully power the device down before doing any disassembly or deep cleaning. If you can, remove the device's battery to be safe and avoid potential residual charge on the device.
  • Pre- and Post-Dust - No matter what order you clean your PC in, it is a great practice to do a major dusting with compressed air before starting and after finishing the entire process.

Summary

While not the most exciting aspect of owning a PC, cleaning your computer can have significant benefits. Besides increasing your machine's overall lifespan, cleaning can help you feel more comfortable working on and handling your PC. With regular cleaning, tasks like upgrading hard drives or installing more RAM feel incredibly easy and comfortable. Inside of your PC, dust is always building up. If you do not stay on top of it, dust can quickly grow into a problem. Compressed air is a must-have for any PC enthusiast. It quickly and easily removes most dust from the inside of any machine. The outside of your case is basic in its cleaning needs but still requires attention from time to time. Remember before you start cleaning to gather the appropriate materials and set aside ample time to complete the job carefully.

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