Cleaning the Computer and its Components

Cleaning your computer, components, and peripherals help keep everything in good working condition and helps prevent germs from spreading.

The picture shows a good example of just how dirty the inside of your computer case can get.

In this example, it is obvious that all the dust and dirt is going to prevent proper air flow and may even prevent the fan from working.

General Cleaning Tips

Below is a listing of suggestions to follow when cleaning any computer components or peripherals as well as tips to help keep a computer clean.

  1. Never spray or squirt any liquid onto any computer component. If a spray is needed, spray the liquid onto a cloth.
  2. You can use a vacuum to suck up dirt, dust, or hair around the computer. However, do not use a vacuum inside your computer as it generates static electricity that can damage your computer. If you need to use a vacuum inside your computer, use a portable battery powered vacuum or try compressed air.
  3. When cleaning a component or the computer, turn it off before cleaning.
  4. Be cautious when using any cleaning solvents; some people have allergic reactions to chemicals in cleaning solvents, and some solvents can even damage the case. Try always to use water or a highly diluted solvent.
  5. When cleaning, be careful to not accidentally adjust any knobs or controls. Also, when cleaning the back of the computer, if anything is connected make sure not to disconnect the plugs.
  6. When cleaning fans, especially smaller fans, hold the fan or place something in-between the fan blades to prevent it from spinning. Spraying compressed air into a fan or cleaning a fan with a vacuum may cause damage or generate a back voltage.
  7. Never eat or drink around the computer.
  8. Limit smoking around the computer.

Cleaning Tools

Although computer cleaning products are available, you can also use household items to clean your computers and peripherals. Below is a listing of items you may need or want to use while cleaning your computer.

  1. Cloth – A cotton cloth is the best tool used when rubbing down computer components. Paper towels can be used with most hardware, but we always recommend using a cloth whenever possible. However, only use a cloth when cleaning components such as the case, a drive, mouse, and keyboard. You should not use a cloth to clean any circuitry such as the RAM or motherboard.
  2. Water or rubbing alcohol – When moistening a cloth, it is best to use water or rubbing alcohol. Other solvents may be bad for the plastics used with your computer.
  3. Portable Vacuum – Sucking the dust, dirt, hair, cigarette particles, and other particles out of a computer can be one of the best methods of cleaning a computer. However, do not use a vacuum that plugs into the wall since it creates lots of static electricity that can damage your computer.
  4. Cotton swabs – Cotton swaps moistened with rubbing alcohol or water are excellent tools for wiping hard to reach areas in your keyboard, mouse, and other locations.
  5. Foam swabs – Whenever possible, it is better to use lint-free swabs such as foam swabs.

Case Cleaning

Cleaning your case keeps the appearance of the computer looking new. While cleaning, if you see ventilation slots, these can be cleaned or cleared to help keep a steady airflow into the computer and keep all components cool.

Procedure: The plastic case that houses the PC components can be cleaned with a slightly damp lint-free cloth. For stubborn stains, add a little household detergent to the cloth. You should not use a solvent cleaner on plastics.

Make sure all vents and air holes are hair and lint free by rubbing a cloth over the holes and vents. It is also helpful to take a vacuum around each of the hole, vents, and crevices on the computer. It is safe to use a standard vacuum when cleaning the outside vents of a computer.

CD-ROM, DVD, and Other Disc Drive Cleaning

A dirty CD-ROM drive or other disc drives can cause read errors when reading discs. These read errors could cause software installation issues or issues while running the program.

Procedure: To clean the CD-ROM drive we recommend purchasing a CD-ROM cleaner from your local computer retailer. Using a CD-ROM cleaner should sufficiently clean the CD-ROM laser from dust, dirt, and hair.

You can also use a cloth dampened with water to clean the tray that ejects from the drive. However, make sure that after the tray is cleaned that it completely dry before putting the tray back into the drive.

CD and DVD Disc Cleaning

Dirty CDs can cause read errors or cause CDs to not work at all.

Procedure: Use a cleaning kit or damp clean cotton cloth to clean CDs, DVDs, and other discs. When cleaning a disc wipe against the tracks, starting from the middle of the CD or DVD and wiping towards the outer side as shown in the picture below. Never wipe with the tracks; doing so may put more scratches on the disc.

Headphones Cleaning

Headphones and headsets can be used by many different people and may need to be frequently cleaned to help prevent the spreading of germs and head lice.

Procedure: If the headphones being used are plastic or vinyl, moisten a cloth with warm water and rub the head and earpieces of the headphones.

Note: If the headphones are being used for a library or school, do not use any disinfectant or cleaning solvent since some people can have allergic reactions to the chemicals they contain.

Headphones that have cushions also have the availability of having the cushions replaced. Replacing these cushions can also help keep the headphones clean.

Finally, in regards to headphones spreading head lice. If different students use the same headphones, have students use their own headphones, place bags over the headphones, or using headphones that can be wiped with warm water after each use.

Keyboard Cleaning

These steps are for cleaning a desktop keyboard. See the cleaning a laptop keyboard page for laptop steps.

Dust, dirt, and bacteria

Dirt and hair under a keyboard keyThe computer keyboard is usually the most germ infected items in your home or office. A keyboard may even contain more bacteria than your toilet seat. Cleaning it helps remove any dangerous bacteria and keeps the keyboard working properly.

Procedure: Before cleaning the keyboard first turn off the computer or if you are using a USB keyboard unplug it. Not unplugging the keyboard can cause other computer problems as you may press keys that cause the computer to perform a task you do not want it to perform.

Many people clean the keyboard by turning it upside down and shaking. A more efficient method is to use compressed air. Compressed air is pressurized air contained in a can with a very long nozzle. To clean a keyboard using compressed air aim between the keys and blow away all of the dust and debris that has gathered there. A vacuum cleaner can also be used, but make sure the keyboard does not have loose “pop off ” keys can be sucked up by the vacuum.

LCD Cleaning

Dirt, dust, and fingerprints can cause the computer screen to be difficult to read.

Procedure: Unlike a computer monitor, the LCD or flat-panel display is not glass and requires special cleaning procedures.

When cleaning the LCD screen it is important to remember to not spray any liquids onto the LCD directly, press gently while cleaning, and do not use a paper towel since it scratches the LCD.

To clean the LCD screen use a non-rugged microfiber cloth, soft cotton cloth, or Swiffer duster. If a dry cloth does not completely clean the screen, you can apply rubbing alcohol to the cloth and wipe the screen with a damp cloth. Rubbing alcohol is used to clean the LCD before it leaves the factory.

Monitor Cleaning

Dirt, dust, and fingerprints can cause the computer screen to be difficult to read.

Procedure: A glass monitor screen can be cleaned with ordinary household glass cleaner. Be sure to remove power from the monitor and spray the cleaner onto a lint-free cloth so the fluid does not leak into the electrical components inside the monitor. Vacuum off any dust that has settled on top of the monitor, and make sure no books or papers are covering the air vents. Obstructed monitor vents can cause the monitor to overheat or even catch on fire.

Caution: We suggest only using a cloth dampened with water when cleaning non-glass monitors or any anti-glare screens. Using ordinary household glass cleaner on special screens, especially cleaners with ammonia can remove anti-glare protection or other special surfaces.

Motherboard Cleaning

Dust and especially particles of cigarette smoke can build up and corrode circuitry causing various problems such as computer lockups.

Caution: When inside the computer take the necessary ESD precautions and try to avoid unplugging any cables or other connections.

Procedure: Our recommendation when cleaning the motherboard from dust, dirt, or hair is to use compressed air. When using compressed air, hold it in the upright position to prevent any of the chemicals from coming out of the container, which may damage or corrode the motherboard or other components. Also, ensure when using compressed air that you always blow the dust or dirt away from the motherboard, or out of the case.

Another good alternative to compressed air is a portable battery powered vacuum. Portable vacuum’s can effectively remove the dust, dirt, and hair from the motherboard completely and prevent it from getting trapped within the case.

Warning: Never use an electricity powered vacuum as it can cause lots of static electricity that can damage the computer. When using a vacuum keep it a couple inches away from the motherboard and all other components to prevent damage and anything from being sucked into the vacuum (e.g. jumpers or small cables).

Mouse Cleaning

A dirty optical-mechanical mouse (mouse with a ball) can cause the mouse to be difficult to move as well as cause strange mouse movement.

Procedure: To clean the rollers of an optical-mechanical mouse, you must first remove the bottom cover of the mouse. To do this, examine the bottom of the mouse to see what direction to rotate the cover. As you can see in the below illustration, the mouse cover must be moved counter clockwise. Place two fingers on the mouse cover and push the direction of the arrows.

Rotate bottom of mouse cover

Computer mouse with ball removed Once the cover has rotated about an inch, rotate the mouse into its normal position, covering the bottom of the mouse with one hand and the bottom should fall off including the mouse ball. If the cover does not fall off try shaking the mouse gently.

Once the bottom cover and the ball is removed, you should be able to see three rollers located within the mouse. Use a cotton swab, finger, or fingernail to remove any substance. Usually, there is a small line of hair and dirt in the middle of the roller, remove as much as this substance as possible.

Once you have removed as much dirt and hair as possible, set the ball back within the mouse and place the cover back on.

If the mouse still has the same problems repeat the above process. If after several attempts the mouse is still having the same problems, your mouse has other hardware issues and should be replaced.

Note: Cleaning your mouse pad with a damp cloth can also help improve a computer’s mouse movement.

Printer Cleaning

Cleaning the outside of a printer can help keep the printer’s appearance looking good and if used by many different people keep the printer clean of germs.

Procedure: First, make sure to turn off the printer before cleaning it. Dampen a cloth with water or rubbing alcohol and wipe the case and each of the buttons or knobs on the printer. As mentioned earlier, never spray any liquid directly onto the printer.

Some printers require the inside to be cleaned to help keep the printer running smoothly.

Scanner Cleaning

Flatbed scanners commonly become dirty with dust, fingerprints, and hair. When the scanner is dirty, the images may have distortions.

Procedure: Clean a flatbed scanner’s surface by spraying a window cleaner onto a paper towel or cotton cloth and wipe the glass until clean. As mentioned earlier, never spray a liquid directly onto the component.

The same towel or cotton cloth can also be used to clean the outside of the scanner.