How To: Clean Your Computer

Don’t Let Dust Bunnies Ruin Your Valuable Investment
Scott Holstein

Back when computers filled entire rooms, “bugs” were literally pesky insects. And if they got into the system, somebody had to literally dig amongst the endless wires and vacuum tubes to actually remove the little rascals.

Nowadays, the big problem computer hardware faces is people. We eat, drink, cough and sneeze all over our workstations — and computers bear the brunt of this abuse. We spill drinks on the keyboard, get cookie crumbles in the crevices, and if we read a funny e-mail we may spew coffee all over the monitor.

All of this mayhem is balanced by the fact that personal computers are small enough to be cleaned more easily than their gigantic predecessors. Well-maintained hardware keeps the machine in good working order, and a clean exterior prevents the spread of germs.

Personal computers come in two configurations — desktop and laptop. Their designs, and the environment in which they are used (dusty or clean), have an impact on how thoroughly and how often they should be cleaned. Regardless, they both generate heat that can warp critical components, and removing dust and lint from cooling vents and fans should be part of your cleaning regimen.

Before doing anything, be sure to read the owner’s manual regarding cleaning and have the following tools on hand: a soft cloth, water or rubbing alcohol, cotton or foam swabs, a portable vacuum and compressed air. Be sure to turn the machine off before doing anything and, if it’s a desktop computer, unplug any peripheral devices such as the mouse and keyboard.

Never spray any kind of liquid directly onto or into any computer parts. The easiest thing you can do is take a soft, damp, lint-free cloth and wipe down the exterior case and monitor of whatever device you have.

Once it’s all sparkly, work on the small things. Blow out dust and debris from the keyboard with a can of compressed air, or you can use a specialized portable vacuum to suck it up. But check for loose keys before doing that.

If you’ve spilled something on your desktop computer’s keyboard, turn everything off right away and unplug the keyboard. Turn it upside down and give it a good shake, and while it’s upside down use a cloth to wipe off the places you can easily reach. Once that’s done, leave it upside down to dry overnight, then clean up anything left behind. Cleaning a spill on a laptop is a different matter, because many laptop keyboards can’t be removed completely. If it’s a bad spill and the basic wipe-up doesn’t work, you might have to have it professionally repaired.

Speaking of keys, it might be a good idea to disinfect them. Wipe them down using a germ-killing cloth. Meanwhile, cotton swabs dipped in alcohol can be used to wipe dirt away from those hard-to-reach places between the keys, as well as the mouse and input/output ports. Don’t overlook the touchpad on your laptop; wiping it off with a damp cloth can improve its responsiveness.

Once the external areas are shined up, turn your attention to the computer’s cooling vents. These should be cleaned from the outside using a cloth or vacuum. Care should be taken when using compressed air to clean cooling fans, however. Smaller fans like those found in laptops should be fixed in place with either toothpicks or swabs to prevent spinning, which could cause damage.

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