Computer House Cleaning

Today’s terrific advice comes from Pete (click on any photo for a bigger version):

When mom said “clean your room,” I often thought “why bother — it’s just going to get messy again anyway!”

But what about computers? Do home computer boxes need tidying up?

pc-dustThey sure do! That horrible mess of thick dust in the picture isn’t just a hidden eyesore: it can be the cause of some very expensive repairs. Built-up dust will cause your computer to use more power, to overheat, and ultimately the dusty grime will slow overload the fan motor(s) and burn them out. A burnt-out fan, if you are lucky, “only” needs replacing. But if the computer overheated due to the lack of fresh air, you might end up replacing far more expensive and valuable parts: your hard disk, the main board, or the power supply. That’s no fun at all. Note: this applies to both PC’s and Mac’s. No gloating, folks.

By now, hopefully you are motivated to spend at least a couple of minutes on this. Basic computer cleaning really is that easy to do. Here’s how.

You’ll need:

  • A vacuum cleaner with hose and brush (to do a great job)
  • A can of compressed air
  • Some tissue

And here’s what to do:


Step One: turn off the computer and open the case.

Did you remember to turn it off? I hope so. No, you don’t need to unplug all the wires. They really will not get in the way.

Undo two of these screws to open the case.

Opening the case is the scariest part of this job. There are basically two kinds of cases today. Some open up with thumb screws like in the picture. Others have a lever or button somewhere that you push or slide to get the case open.

If you don’t know how to do it, find the instruction book that came with your computer. Or search online. Or ask a friend. Do not just push hard — in this case you actually could break an important bit of plastic holding the case together.

What part needs opening? If you face the front of the computer box, it will be the left side if the computer has an upright “tower” case, or the top side if the computer is flat.

Dusty CPU fan (case fan in back too)

With that done, you can see all the guts inside. You’ll probably see a lot of dust on a fan that’s attached to the big “main board.” That’s the CPU fan. (Hiding under that fan is the main chip in the computer.)

Notice on the one in the picture how there is a smooth layer of dust underneath the silver fan? That layer of dust is blocking air flow from the fan and making the computer hotter than it needs to be.

Notice the black fan in back? That is attached to the back side of the case in this computer. It too has a coating of dust that makes the fan motor work extra hard.

Dusty case front

This computer is actually not all that bad. We’ve seen much worse. If you have never cleaned your computer, it is probably much dustier than this one (unless you live in Antarctica, or a hospital.)

Let’s take a look at one more picture. This is the front of the computer case. Notice how dust (and cat fur) have collected all over the front of the case? That dust is blocking the air going into the computer.


Gently brush/vac

Step Two: vacuum, dust, brush

Gently use your vacuum brush to pick up most of the dust, moths, spider webs or whatever other grunge you find. Use gentle suction so your vacuum doesn’t swallow up the cables!

Use a piece of soft tissue to pick up more dust. If you treat the parts gently, there’s no need to be concerned about breaking anything.

Compressed air removes sticky bits

Often, some of the dust is quite sticky, and you’ll need a can of compressed air to loosen it up. Quick and simple.

By the way, do not use a big “shop” air compressor. It will likely be too powerful, and the big hose and metal tip will likely cause trouble. Your computer is made of delicate parts!

Step three: reassemble and enjoy the results

That’s really all there is to it! Mark your calendar for three to six months from now. You should do this cleaning job two to four times a year, depending on how much dirt you find.

Here’s how the cleaned up CPU fan and case look on our computer:

Clean CPU fan….Clean case

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