Avast Academy 5 Steps to Physically Clean Out Your PC

5 Steps to Physically Clean Out Your PC

Over time, your PC’s fans, keyboard, and components will get clogged up with dust. This can happen to your trusty old desktop PC sitting under your desk collecting dust bunnies, or to the laptop you’re using outside where dust can easily build up in its fans. It’s only a matter of time until the layers of crud get so thick one of the fans gets stuck and — even worse — a component such as your graphics processor or mainboard gets damaged.

Written by Sandro Villinger
Published on April 12, 2021

Bad computer hygiene can lead to overheating, crashing, low performance, and eventually permanent damage. In this article, we’ll show you how to physically clean out your computer.

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    1. Open it up and check for dust bunnies

    If your desktop PC is more than one year old, chances are its fans have already accumulated crud. This can range from a thin layer of dust on that gaming PC you recently built

    A thin layer of dust can accumulate on even pretty new desktop PC fans.

    Dusty fans

    …to layers of dust on a four-year-old office PC.

    Clogged up fan

    In the pictures above, both the processor — the heart of your PC — and the power supply are clogged with dirt and dust bunnies. The thicker this layer is, the higher the chances of it getting stuck, which leads to overheating and random shutdown problems.

    We got rid of this dust simply by using a vacuum to suck out as much dust as possible, and then by using a compressed air can to blow the rest out.

    Air spraying an old and dusty fan

    Our advice: Do this outdoors if you can. You don’t want dust clouds spreading inside your house.

    Sadly, on many modern laptops, this isn’t easy anymore. But some modern ultrabooks can be opened and cleaned up more easily than others:

    Different types of screws on modern laptops

    A classic screwdriver will easily open up the MSI laptop toward the bottom of the picture above, but some other laptops need Torx or Pentalobe tools to be opened up. If in doubt, let someone else do it for you, or follow the guidelines from iFixit carefully.

    2. Clean out your USB ports

    Ever wondered why some USB devices work only occasionally? I’ve had this happen to me when a mouse would randomly turn off. After about an hour of uninstalling drivers, tinkering with settings and other (on-screen) troubleshooting steps, I had a look at the USB port. Et voilá: Turns out the port was covered with some sand (yes, I once took the laptop to a beach on my vacation) and dust.

    The first thing you should do is to try to blow it all out using the compressed air can or a vacuum as described above. USB ports are usually well isolated from the insides of your PC, so you don’t need to worry about blowing more dust into it.

    Cleaning out USB ports

    As that didn’t help me, I used a cotton swab drenched in a bit of isopropyl alcohol and carefully cleaned up all sides of the USB port and all contacts. Don’t turn on your PC while the alcohol is evaporating, which will take only a few seconds if you’re using any alcohol above 80%. You can get pure alcohol from various outlets, including Amazon, for around $10:

    Clean alcohol used to clean USB portsImportant: Don’t bother drying it up with another cotton swab or dry tissue as you’ll risk leaving behind leftovers.

    3. Clean your laptop display the right way

    Your laptop display or external monitor can easily get filled with smudges, particularly when you have that one coworker or friend that touches your screen with their fingers (don’t we all love that!). Depending on the type of screen you have, you should be very careful about cleaning it up.

    • Glass display: A minority of laptops (usually the ones with touchscreens) or monitors have a solid glass surface. These 100% “glossy” screens are very durable and can be cleaned up with alcohol based cleaners (e.g., window spray cleaners). Examples include Apple’s iMac, iPad, and Thunderbolt displays or Microsoft Surface laptops or tablets.

      Glass displays are more reflective, easy to clean. Matte displays are less reflective, can get easily scratched upLeft: Glass display (more reflective, easy to clean). Right: Matte display (less reflective, can get easily scratched up) 

    • Semi-glossy (coated) or matte displays: Some laptops are glossy, but have applied a special thin coating that reduces reflections. A good example is Apple’s MacBook lineup. Most laptops and displays on the market are matte. While this somewhat reduces clarity, it helps reduce reflections. Unfortunately, those can be easily damaged with alcohol-based cleaners or even slightly tougher cloth wipes. For semi-glossy or matte displays, make sure to use a soft cloth, which usually comes with your laptop (or glasses):

      Soft cleaning cloth for sensitive screens

    If you’re not careful, or if you use an alcohol-based cleaner, you’ll end up damaging the coating:

    Alcohol cleaners can end up damaging a screen

    See the scratches on the lower right of the screen? That’s where alcohol and a rugged cloth rubbed off the coating on the display. Those scuffs can’t be repaired and require a display replacement.

    For more resilient smudges and grease, you can use a non-alcoholic screen cleaner spray, such as the ones found here.

    4. Use a cloth wipe and brush on your PC's internals

    For more resilient crud, especially the type that sticks to your PC’s internals, use a soft cloth wipe. For internal ports or hard-to-reach areas, such as PCIe ports seen below, use a soft brush to loosen it up, and then get the vacuum ready to suck it all out:

    Getting rid of dust using a soft brush

    Make sure to not use any cleaning solutions on the key components of your PC, and don’t leave it powered on while you’re on your cleaning spree.

    5. Clean up your keyboard

    The keyboard is probably the greasiest (and grossest) part of any PC, since you’re touching it every time you use it. Over time, all sorts of unwanted little things can get stuck inside or on the surfaces, including dust, food, and bacteria. My advice is to clean it up at least once a week: Turn it over and shake it a bit to get the largest “chunks” out. Then, use compressed air to blow out dust from between your keys:

    Air spraying keyboard

    Then use a non-alcoholic cleaning wipe to get rid of the smudges:

    Cleaning out a keyboard

    That’s it! Rinse (literally) and repeat this procedure every few weeks to make sure your PC stays clean and healthy.

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    Sandro Villinger