Don’t neglect your computer’s hygiene

Someone on a listserv in which I actively participate was having some laptop problems. His CPU usage was spiking and his computer kept freezing. Those of us helping to trouble shoot the problem focused on the usual issues:

Software conflict
Hardware conflict

None of these items were the cause of the problem. So I wrote something along the lines of, “you might think this is odd, but put your hand up to the vent and see if any air is blowing out. Also, check if your computer is hotter than normal. If so, the fan is broken.”

After I asked the person responded that he had noticed the fan seemed much louder, but it wasn’t until I asked that he check that he connected the dots.  Sure enough, it was the fan.

Computer Fans

Computers, especially laptops, run very hot. If the fan goes, the computer will overheat. Much as with a car, if a computer overheats the damage to the various parts can be extensive.  Most computers will shut down rather than risk serious damage when a computer gets too hot.  This is what causes the computer to freeze or shut down.

Fortunately if your fan breaks, it tends to be a relatively inexpensive part, as computer parts go.  If you find a reputable repair person the cost of installing the fan might not be too bad either.

Computer Maintenance

It is crucial to properly maintain your computer(s).  Most people think this means running good malware protection, updating components, maybe cleaning up the registry and defragmenting the drive.  But another part of maintaining a computer is to clean it physically.

Take my house for example. I have a dog that sheds a lot. His hair gets into the computers, especially the laptops. That hair can wind around the fan, clog the vents, get in between the keys and cause all sorts of problems. If I don’t keep the computer clean, eventually that hair will cause the fan to stop working and maybe break permanently. In turn this will cause my computer to break if I don’t solve the problem.  If this happens I have to buy a new computer.

Here’s how to clean your computer(s).

Step 1 is always to make sure all data is backed up.

Desktop Computers

Clean your desktop computer every 6 months to once a year. Unless you have an especially dirty home because of pets, children, what have you. In that case every 3 months or so. Keep your CPU off the floor if you can. This helps it stay clean longer.

1. Unplug all components.
2. Turn the keyboard upside down. Gently shake out the dirt.
3. Use electronics specific compressed air to clean out the dirt you couldn’t get out.
4. Use q-tips and alcohol to clean each key as needed. Just a little alcohol will do.
5. Use electronic wipes to wipe everything down on the outside of the computer, you can also use alcohol on a lint free cloth.  Don’t use a lot of alcohol, just enough to dampen the cloth.
6. Use q-tips with alcohol to clean all crevices on the outside of the case.

Should you open the computer to clean it?

That depends. Will you void your warranty? If so, don’t open it.  Just do the best you can to clean from the outside. Use compressed air, but make sure it is specifically made for computers.  Pressure that is too high can damage components. You can also get a vacuum specifically made for computers. Don’t use any old vacuum, you can really damage a computer with too much suction.

If you do open your computer be careful not to touch the inside before you touch the outside or something metal. This discharges your static electricity.

Once you are inside the computer, simply wipe down the inside of the case and use compressed air on the fan. Don’t touch any cables, the mother board, anything like that.

Laptop Computers

You need to clean laptops more often. How often depends on whether you have pets, children with dirty hands, you eat around your computer spilling crumbs in it, etc.

1. Unplug the laptop and remove all batteries and any removable components.
2. Gently turn the laptop upside down to help remove debris from the keyboard.
3. Clean the keyboard with q-tips and alcohol.
4. Clean the various crevices on the outside of the laptop with alcohol and q-tips.
5. Use compressed air or a computer safe vacuum to vacuum any dirt you might have missed from the keyboard.
6. Do the same with the vents. I actually prefer to use a computer vacuum for the vents and keys on a laptop because compressed air can actually push the dirt in further.

Don’t take your laptop apart. If you do you will have a terrible time putting it back together.

Mouse/Monitor/Other Components

Make sure all components are unplugged before you clean them.

Clean your mouse with a lint free cloth and a small amount of rubbing alcohol, or wipes made for electronics.

Clean the outside of any other components with electronic safe wipes or alcohol with a lint free cloth. Again, don’t soak the cloth, just dampen it.

Follow directions on maintenance for cleaning the inside of any devices. All devices should provide instructions on proper cleaning and maintenance. Most of these devices, except in a household that has pets, messy children, etc, can be cleaned every 6 months.

Clean your monitor with electronic wipes, the same type you use to clean a big screen tv. You should clean your monitor frequently. Weekly would be fine. Don’t use paper towels, they can scratch the screen.

Microsoft Advice

Microsoft has steps it recommends for cleaning a computer. Microsoft has some different recommendations than do I so I thought I would provide its perspective. I have to disagree with the advice on removing any screws from a laptop on your own unless you really know what you are doing.

Again, remember to check your warranty before you open up any computer. You don’t want to risk voiding it.

Here is a link to Microsoft’s advice.



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