How to clean out your computer

When was the last time your computer had a spring clean? It’s not something many of us do often but it’s important to keep your system running at its best.

Dusting your computer

Over time dust will gather on both the inside and outside of a computer, particularly around fans. This can reduce the cooling efficiency, making components run hotter and potentially reducing its lifespan.  

To properly dust the computer you will need to delve inside the casing. If you’ve never done this before, don’t worry - so long as you don’t get rough it’s pretty hard to cause any damage. The most important thing is to make sure you’re grounded so you don’t zap any of the hardware with static. There are various ways to do this, though most commonly it's achieved by wearing an anti-static wristband or regularly touching an unpainted metal surface.

Before you begin you’ll ideally need a can of compressed air, rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol), cotton buds and a clean cloth. At minimum you can get by with just a cloth.

1. Remove all cables and peripherals.

2. Take the PC outside. No use blowing the dust around your house!

3. Pop the case off.

4. If your case has removable air filters, take these off and remove as much of the dust as you can by hand (or cloth) before giving them a blast with the compressed air.

5. Wipe up the worst of the dust from inside the case. This is where a touch of alcohol (just a little, it should be damp but not soaking wet) on the cloth comes in useful for extracting the muck, and cotton buds are handy for the corners.

6. Once the worst of the dust has been cleaned up manually use the compressed air to blow out tight spots.

7. The case, graphics card and CPU fans will probably have quite a lot of gunk too. Use cotton buds to wipe down the fan blades. The compressed air can also be used on the fans, but hold the blades in place with a pen or cotton bud so they don't spin too fast and get damaged.

8. If you’re confident with PC hardware you can go a step further and remove components for a more thorough clean out. It’s a lot easier to get accumulated dust out of a graphics card if it’s removed from the case, plus you can get at the ports and other areas of the motherboard. The CPU can also be removed and re-seated but make sure you’ve got some fresh thermal compound as this will need to be re-applied.

How do you clean laptops?

Dusty laptops can be much trickier to clean as it’s more difficult, if not impossible, to get at the insides without breaking something.

Some models will have removable panels on the bottom which can give limited access. Check your laptop user manual or look for a service manual online to see what can be safely taken apart, but make sure it isn’t going to void the warranty.

If you can pop a panel out compressed air can be used to dislodge dust, though take care when cleaning cooling fans, use short bursts so they don’t spin too fast. You also want to try to avoid pushing dirt deeper into the casing.

If the laptop is older and out of warranty it might be possible to dismantle it further for a very thorough spring clean. However this can be a delicate and slightly complex job, often requiring you to take the keyboard off and unhook the display, and should not be carried out on anything you can’t afford to lose.

In many cases there will be no way to access the inside of the laptop, particularly when it comes to slimline ultraportable models. The best you can do is use compressed air to dislodge dust from the cooling exhaust ports. If it’s really bad and still within warranty speak to the manufacturer about an official repair.

Cleaning keyboards and mice

It doesn’t take long for gunk to form in the nooks and crannies of these peripherals and it can become seriously gross.

Both can be easily and safely cleaned with a microfibre cloth, cotton buds and a little rubbing alcohol (again, damp not wet). Use the cloth to wipe them down, if there are stubborn dirt spots use a cotton bud and alcohol. On mice pay particular attention to the feet and areas around the buttons.

The inside of keyboards can also be cleaned. On some models (often mechanical keyboards) the keys can be removed so you can get at the areas underneath, though another solution is a wet, rubbery cleaning compound (marketed under various names such as Cyber Clean and Super Clean) which can be pushed down onto the keyboard to extract debris. This gloop can be used several times and is effective at getting at the hard to reach places of your keyboard without taking it apart.

Cleaning computer screens

Computer monitors can be easily cleaned with either a dry microfibre cloth or a small amount of water and white vinegar.

Often it just takes a gentle wipe with a cloth to give the display a shine, but don’t press hard as they can be easily damaged with pressure. If there are stubborn spots use a little water, or a 50/50 mix of water and white vinegar. Liquid should only ever be applied to the cloth, do not put it directly on the screen.