Tech Tip Thursday: Keeping Your Computer Clean

In previous articles we’ve talked a lot about ways to keep your computer “clean” in a metaphorical sense: clean from malware, clean from junk files that will slow down your computer, etc. Today, we’re going to talk about the importance of keeping your computer clean in a literal sense, as in, clean from dust and dirt and debris.

Before we get started it’s worth noting that most of this article applies to desktop PCs a lot more than it does to laptops. Laptops can get plenty dusty on the outside, but on the inside they’re typically sealed up a lot tighter than desktops, so they don’t tend to have as much problems with dust as desktops.

Why Dust Is Bad

So, you might be wondering why keeping your computer clean is a big deal. Well, it turns out that dust on your computer isn’t just unsightly, it can actually impact your computer’s performance. As dust builds up inside a computer’s case, it can act as an insulator, causing components to overheat. This is especially true for the processor, which generates a lot of heat and has its own special cooling system to deal with it. Check out the picture below:

Dirty Computer Fan

You’re looking at the fan and heat sink on a PC’s processor. The way it normally works is this: the processor (which handles all the basic operations for your computer) generates a lot of heat. The heat sink, which is basically an array of thin metal blades arranged in a square grid or round sunburst pattern, absorbs the heat from the processor and heats the air between the blades. The fan blows the hot air away from the heat sink, so it can shed more heat from the processor. In this picture, years’ worth of dust has gotten caked between the heat sink and the fan. The heat from the processor didn’t have anywhere to go, so it built up until the processor couldn’t function anymore, and the computer would lock up and stop working.

Here’s the same fan assembly after cleaning (note that now you can see the blades of the heat sink):

Clean PC Fan

Once we got it cleaned up, the computer ran fine again. In other words, a clean computer doesn’t just look better. It works better, too.

Cleaning Outside

So, first comes the easy part: cleaning the outside of your computer. If the top or sides of your computer’s case are dusty, all you really need is a dry dust rag. Just wipe down the case and you’re good to go (you definitely want to avoid cleaning solutions, since liquids and electronics typically don’t mix well). The same goes for your monitor, though you’ll want to be a little more picky in the kind of cloth you use. Any old dust rag will do for the metal case, but your screen is a little more delicate, so you’ll want to use a soft, lint-free cloth.

Cleaning out the keyboard is a little trickier. You can wipe at it with the same cloth you used for your monitor or PC case, but to get underneath the keys, you’ll want to get a can of compressed air. These are pretty cheap at your local department store. Once you’ve got the can of air, put the little red tube down between the keys and squeeze off a few short bursts of air; repeat the process all around the keyboard until you’re satisfied that it’s clean. Just be careful to keep the can upright, since tilting it can cause the air to come out extremely cold, or even as a liquid.

Cleaning Inside

Okay, so, now that you’ve dusted your keyboard and the outside of your computer case, you’re wondering about the inside of the computer. This is important, because as previously discussed, dust on the outside of a PC is unsightly, but dust on the inside can be a much bigger problem, especially if you go too long without taking care of it, as in the picture above.

To clean inside the computer, you’ll simply use your can of compressed air to blow into the case from the outside. First, you’ll want to unplug your computer and take it to an open area, preferably outside, so that the dust you’re about to stir up doesn’t settle back in your house. Then you just put the little red tube into one of the ventilation openings in the computer’s case, and blast some air in at various angles, then do it again for as many vents as your computer case has. This should clear the dust off of many of your components and much of it will be blown out of the other vents. If your computer is still fairly new, or if your house isn’t all that dusty, then this should be more than enough to keep your computer clean enough to prevent any issues.

Of course, just like the rest of your house, your computer will eventually get dusty again, so you should make a point of cleaning it out regularly.

No Vacuums!

Now you might be tempted to do all this cleaning with a vacuum. After all, they’re great for getting the dust off your floor, and if you just vacuum the dust out of your computer you don’t have to worry about it getting blown all over the place. Unfortunately, this is a very bad idea. Vacuums tend to build up a static charge, particularly around the nozzle. When that static electricity discharges, it can cause major damage to your computer’s components. When you zap your finger on a doorknob, you usually just say “ouch,” and go on with your day. If your vacuum nozzle zaps your motherboard, you have to buy a new motherboard. So as tempting as a vacuum might be, stick with the canned air.

We Clean Computers

If you’re worried that blowing air into the case from the outside wasn’t enough to clean out your computer, or if you’re having performance issues from excess dust, then it’s time to bring your computer to the professionals. At Phone Medics + PC, we can open up your computer, blow out the dust, and clean the heat sink and fans, all for an extremely reasonable price. So if you’re suffering from a dirty computer, bring it to our repair facility at 91 E. Merritt Island Causeway and get it cleaned up today.