If you follow Sonia at Life, Love and Hiccups, you’ll know that she has a little problem with her computer at the moment. She’s also just discovered that there is some regular maintenance that you should carry out to keep your computer running properly. How could I pass up an opportunity like that for a post on computer maintenance?
How to clean your computer
Whether you’ve got a desktop or laptop/notebook computer, dust and lint can clog the cooling vents. This can cause the components in your computer to heat up, and heat is the biggest cause of failure in computers. Your computer’s brain – Central Processing Unit – is the most susceptible to heat – it even has its own fan to keep it cool.
You can do regular basic maintenance on your computer yourself – you don’t need to pay someone else to do it for you. However, a warning – if you are not careful you can damage your computer, and if you really don’t feel confident to do it yourself you can still pay a computer repair service to do it for you. (If you’re in Sydney I can give you some referrals).
What do you need?
· Phillips head screwdriver
· Can of compressed air (available from office-supply stores – $6-$10 from Officeworks)
· Cotton swabs/tips
· Rubbing alcohol
· Soft, lint-free cloths, microfibre clothes or anti-static cloths
· A pencil or wooden skewer
· A dust mask if you don’t want to breathe in all that dust & maybe some goggles too
There’s no vacuum cleaner on that list – that’s because using a vacuum cleaner can create a static electrical charge that can actually damage the computer's sensitive electronics. The only exception here is if you buy a special anti-static vacuum designed specifically for electrical equipment.
Important: Turn off the computer and unplug it. Disconnect the keyboard, mouse, speakers, and monitor. I’d also recommend backing up your data just in case something goes wrong - actually you better do that before you unplug everything!
If you haven’t cleaned the computer before I wouldn’t clean it anywhere near your nice clean carpet – outside, or in the garage might be better. Don’t forget the dust mask and goggles!
Step 1: Inside the case
If there’s dust around the vents of your computer there’s sure to be more on the inside. To properly remove the dust you need to open the case. Don’t be scared, it’s not that difficult. First, make sure the computer is turned off and unplugged from any power source. However, check your warranty terms first, because opening your computer may void your warranty.
For desktop computers. Open the case by using a Phillips head screwdriver to unscrew the screws on the back of the computer and slide the panel towards the back of the computer. Some computers have hidden screws and clips which you’ll need to find and release before you can open the computer. Check if your computer’s manual has specific instructions for how to open the case.
For laptop/notebook computers. Put the computer upside down on a table on top of a folded towel to prevent scratches (to the table and the computer). Remove the battery. On most laptops, the vents on the underside will be grouped on a removable panel, secured to the case with several screws. They are usually very small and may be of different lengths, so make sure you keep track of which one goes where as you remove them.
Once the cover is off, try not to touch the inside of your computer - keep your fingers away from cards and cables. You may discharge a static shock to the internal components and damage them. Look for any bits of fluff and pick these out carefully with tweezers or a cotton swab, carefully avoiding touching any of the components.
Before you clean the CPU fan, gently stick the pencil or skewer between the blades of the fan to stop it overspinning with the force of the compressed air – it could crack a blade or damage the bearings. Use the compressed air to remove any dust.
When using the can of compressed air keep it upright and keep the nozzle at least 10cm away from the machine, aimed in such a way that it blows debris out of the computer, away from crevices, rather than pushing it even further in. If you invert the can it can let out liquid which can damage the computer. Use short bursts of air rather than a steady blast. I usually give the can a blast away from the computer first to get rid of any moisture in the nozzle.
Next, you will need to get the dust out from the CPU heatsink, just below the CPU fan. Angle the nozzle low and facing towards the back of the case and you should get most of the dust out from between the aluminum grills.
Blow compressed air around all of the components and along the bottom of the case, and blow air into the power supply box and into the fan (again be careful with fans – use that pencil to stop the fan spinning when you use the compressed air).
Lastly, blow air into the CD or DVD drives, but not too aggressively. Wipe the inside of the cover with a lightly moistened cloth, and dry it fully before replacing the cover.
You need to clean the inside of your computer about every six to eight months. However, if your computer sits on the floor, or if you have a dog or cat that sheds, or if you smoke, you’ll need to do it about every three months.
Run a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol around all of the openings on the outside of your case. Do this whenever you clean the inside of your computer.
1. Turn the keyboard upside down and gently shake it. Most of the crumbs and dust will fall out.
2. Wipe the keys using anti-bacterial wipes or a cloth dipped in rubbing alcohol. Wipe around the outside of each key and the tops of the keys.
3. Use a can of compressed air to blow between the keys to get rid of any stubborn bits.
The procedure is the same for a laptop, but be extra careful - treat it very gently – it’s easy to replace a keyboard that’s attached to your desktop computer, but not if it’s part of your laptop. You should wipe your laptop’s touchpad with the same cloth you use for the keys.
Clean your keyboard once a month.
Step 4: Optical Mouse
Disconnect the mouse from your computer. Rub the top and bottom of your mouse with a cloth dipped in rubbing alcohol. Ensure that no lint or other debris obscures the light-emitting lens on the underside of the mouse.
Clean your mouse once a month.
For LCD monitors and laptop screens, you need a lint-free cloth and some cleaning fluid that won’t damage the screen’s TFT coating. Don’t use normal household cleaning products, especially not glass cleaner – they can damage the screen. You can buy special screen wipes (Fellowes Virashield $20.50 from Officeworks) or just slightly moisten a soft, lint-free or microfibre cloth with plain water. Don’t use paper towels, they can scratch monitor surfaces.
Clean your monitor once a week.
· Don’t keep if on the floor
· Use anti-static cloths to remove dust from the outside vents every few days
· Don’t smoke near the computer
· Don’t let pets in the same room as the computer
· Cover the computer when you vacuum or dust the room where the computer is
This won’t stop dust forming, but it can slow down the process.