Cleaning Your Desktop or Laptop Computer

This article will help you to properly clean your computer, monitor, keyboard, mouse, trackpad, etc., to keep them looking and working like new.

Keeping your computer clean can not only make it look great, but it can also help your computer to run great. I've seen many really dirty computers (both inside and out) that have problems simply because they are dirty; dust, grime and electricity don't mix well. It is also very hard to see what's on your screen if you have a layer of dirt or grime. And don't get me started on sticky keyboards and mice! Ick!

The following are essential items for cleaning your computer:

Cleaning Different Parts of Your Computer

IMPORTANT NOTES: Always turn off your computer and unplug any parts that you are cleaning. Also, never use a vacuum cleaner near your computer or other devices with memory or hard disks in them (unless the vacuum cleaner is a specialty electronics kind)!

The Monitor/Display (LCD flat panel and laptop displays): Because LCD displays have a special non-glare coating, you should NEVER use any alcohol or ammonia-based cleaners on the LCD screen. Instead, use iKlear (or another approved LCD cleaner) or rubbing alcohol with a microfiber cloth if your monitor is really dirty. If there's only some dust and maybe a few fingerprints, you can dampen a soft cloth (such as a cotton T-shirt or a microfiber cloth) and wipe the screen with it. For the exterior casing, you can use most kinds of general-purpose cleaners (test on an inconspicuous spot first).

The Monitor/Display
(CRT): Since these displays don't have a delicate surface that can be damaged by ammonia or alcohol, you can use Windex or other window cleaners to clean the glass screen; spray it on lightly and use a soft cloth (cotton T-shirt or microfiber cloth) to clean dirty monitors. If the monitor is only dusty, just wipe it with a soft cloth. For the casing, use general-purpose cleaners (test on an inconspicuous spot first).

The Keyboard: (Never spray anything onto the keyboard—spray it onto a cloth, then wipe the keyboard!). Keyboards and mice receive the most abuse and can become quite disgusting (especially if you get hairs and such things under the keys!). You can use most general-purpose cleaners for getting the grime off individual keys (use a paper towel or soft cloth and wipe away, with your keyboard disconnected, of course!). If there are problem areas (especially between keys), use Q-Tips with a little dab of alcohol or cleaner and wipe them. To get the dirt, dust and grit out from under the keys, use either an electronics vacuum cleaner attachment (Shop Vacs may come with these) or hold the keyboard upside-down while spraying small bursts of air from a compressed-air can.

The Mouse: If you have an optical mouse, you can simply use Windex, window cleaner or a general purpose cleaner (test on an inconspicuous spot first!) on the whole mouse while the mouse is disconnected. For tough dirt, use a Q-Tip cotton swab with a little rubbing alcohol and rub the dirt away. If you have a mouse with a rolling ball on the bottom, you may want to take the ball out, clean it in a paper towel with some cleaner on it, and use a Q-Tip to get the dirt and grime off the tracking wheels inside the ball-holding area (fingernails sometimes come in handy here).

The Trackpad
/iPod Scroll Wheel: Because trackpad and iPod scrollwheel surfaces are fairly delicate and hard to replace, it's best to be very gentle with them and not destroy the surface. If you can, clean it using a soft (microfiber, preferrably), dampened cloth. However, if there is a lot of grime, you may want to use Mr. Clean's Magic Eraser (called by other names in other countries, such as "Mr. Propre" in French); dampen it with a little water, then gently rub it on the surface of your trackpad (always test a little corner first, to make sure nothing goes wrong!). Dry the trackpad with a soft cloth immediately after you do this, to prevent any problems.

The Computer (Outside): Most computers have plastic or metal casing that is very tough and can stand up to a lot of abuse and chemicals; always test whatever cleaner you try using on the outside of your computer. If there is visible dust on the computer, wipe it away with a paper towel or cloth. You can use most general-purpose cleaners on computer cases, but always test the cleaner on an inconspicuous area first to make sure. iKlear/Klear Screen polish is good for Macs and other computers with shiny plastic surfaces.

The Computer
(Inside—does NOT apply to laptops): (Make SURE the computer is turned off and unplugged!). Sometimes, computers in dusty environments can become unstable because of the amount of dust in them. To get rid of dust in your computer, you need to take the outer casing off (follow your computer manual's instructions if you don't know how), then use a can of compressed air to spray dust off internal components; if there's a LOT of dust, you can hold the hose of a vacuum cleaner near where you're spraying to suck up the airborn dust (however, be sure to keep the vacuum far away from the computer, and don't stick the hose near any components). Be sure to spray fans from both directions (inside to out and vice-versa) if you can). When spraying the compressed air, spray in short bursts, and NEVER hold the can upside-down, as this can spray a freezing, moist spray that could possibly damage internal components.

The Cables: Many people often overlook cables when cleaning or making sure things are working properly. Many cables, especially mouse cables, can become extremely dirty and grimy over time. The key to cleaning them is to not bend, twist, kink or apply too much pressure to them. Use a soft cloth and some general cleaning solution (such as Windex), and gently pull the cable through the cloth while slightly squeezing on it. Be sure to pull on the cable, and not on the device the cable's attached to (or the plug on the end of the cable. Cables can sometimes be too dirty to clean; in this case, either live with it or buy a new cable!

Other Stuff: Use common sense for cleaning other things; if something is delicate or seems like it could corrode because of certain cleaners, don't use those cleaners. Always test cleaning solutions on inconspicuous, out-of-the-way areas to make sure they won't damage the surface you're cleaning. For advanced cleaning of electronics, you should either take your parts to a repair center or use special alcohol-based electronics cleaners.

Ways to Maintain Cleanliness

Here are some good guidelines for keeping your computer and your peripherals clean:

  1. Never get any of the electronics inside your computer (or other devices) damp or wet, and keep pets and smoke away from your computer. (If you are a smoker, make sure the computer is in a well-ventilated room away from where you smoke).
  2. Never eat food or drink liquids around your computer, ESPECIALLY near your keyboard—it's an accident waiting to happen (trust me!).
  3. It's better to be safe than sorry: always test cleaning solvents and solutions on a small, inconspicuous area of whatever it is you're cleaning. If you do this, you may prevent ruining the whole surface of whatever it is you're cleaning!
  4. Replace the air filter in your Heater/Air Conditioner when it becomes dirty; this will help keep the air in your house or room less dusty.
  5. Keep the area around your computer well-ventilated (especially if the computer is under a desk); this will prevent dust from settling as much.
  6. Keep your computer away from direct sunlight or other sources of heat.