Cleaning your computer is a huge step towards increasing the lifespan and reliability of your computer hardware. Dust and dirt can accumulate inside your system’s case causing a variety of problems ranging from insulating heat inside the case to causing fans to fail and electrical connections to become blocked. Fortunately, cleaning your PCs case is pretty straight forward and only takes a few minutes. In fact, by the time you’re done reading this, you could have already cleaned your system completely!
First Things First
The first thing to always do, before cleaning your PC or even opening it’s case, is to unplug it and drain the power. To perform a power drain, simply hold down the power button for a few seconds while the PC is unplugged from the power outlet. This will remove any electricity residing in the circuitry that could cause a short and damage your system. Even with the power drained you should still be careful, as static electricity can build up on your person and cause damage as well.
The other thing you’ll need to do before commencing on your cleaning operation, is to open the actual PC case. Most basic cases simply have two screws on the right side (when looking from the back) that can be removed, and then the panel they were fastening can be slid backwards slightly and removed. Some cases will have a small lever or push button in place of screws located on the top and bottom or side of the case. Once the side panel is removed you’ll be able to see the motherboard and other components. Removing the panel on the other side will reveal a metal backing plate for the motherboard and not much else. Still, for a more thorough cleaning, I recommend removing both side panels if possible as dirt can accumulate behind the backing plate as well. Once the panels are removed, you should be able to assess just how dirty your PC really is.
There are typically three ‘safe’ cleaning methods for removing the dirt and dust:
Air Compressor: This is my preferred method of cleaning. Using compressed air prevents you from touching any of the parts inside your case while still providing a good clean system at the end of the day. As a precaution: You will want to do this outside! Many times this is a messy job and you will likely end up with a big cloud of dust in the area you clean in.
You will also want to make sure that you hold any fans in place before you start spraying air around them. While it can be fun to spin the fans up using the air gun (and they do sound amusing), you can ruin the fan by spinning it too quickly. Fear not though, simply placing a finger on the fan cap or top of the fan blade before it starts spinning will keep it in place as you clean.
When cleaning with an air compressor you may have the option to set your air pressure level. If your compressor has this functionality, I recommend keeping the air pressure around 60-80psi. Lower pressures will work as well however, I recommend to avoid going above 80psi so you don’t accidentally damage something.
Canned Air: Canned air is much the same as an air compressor and is a fine solution if you don’t have an air compressor handy. It also sprays at a lower pressure which is safe for components and usually even fans. It’s still a messy way of cleaning up, especially if your PC is very dirty, but it has the ability to remove dirt in small spaces that are hard to get to with anything else.
Canned air can be expensive in comparison with a regular air compressor or vacuum cleaner. You will also want to make sure that you don’t hold the can upside down while spraying, as there are chemicals in the can that you’d rather not get all over the inside of your system.
Vacuum Cleaner: This method works if there is no compressed air to be found. This method isn’t usually as messy as compressed air however, it also doesn’t do quite as good a job as air and requires more care so that you don’t accidentally damage a component.
Using a small bristle-brush attachment is handy around fans and the bottom of the case while a small plastic attachment is better around the circuit boards and peripheral cards. This cleaning method can also be used as a bit of a precursor to compressed air to collect all of the major dirt from neglected systems before hitting it with the can of air to remove the rest.
Sprays/Rags: Finally, spray dusting cleaners and cleaning rags are just fine for dusting off the outside of the case. But you should never ever use them on the inside! The goal when cleaning the inside of a PC is to touch the components as little as possible to prevent damage, and rags and cleaning solutions do the exact opposite.
Keeping things Tidy
Depending on how dusty of an environment your computer lives in, you may need to clean it anywhere from once a month to once a year. The cleaner you keep things the better though so don’t be afraid to make it a part of your regular house/office cleaning regimen either. In exceptionally dusty environments you may want to attempt to install some filter material in any case openings to help prevent dirt from infiltrating the computer case. Another way to help reduce the amount of dirt that enters a system is to install additional fans that direct air out of the case. Having fans that blow air out will not only help with heat but will also help direct dust away from openings.
Cleaning out Laptops
Laptops are much trickier to clean up as they are not as easily opened. While they generally don’t get quite as dirty as desktops due to their being much more closed up, dirt can still collect in the vents that push hot air out and away from the cpu. It’s therefor very important to regularly blow some air into the vents that this hot air comes out of to keep these as clean as possible. If they become clogged the laptop must be disassembled to properly clean these vents out so making sure they don’t get to that point is paramount.
No matter what method you use, please do be aware that you can damage your system if you’re not careful. Try to touch the components inside the case as little as possible to prevent damage from knocking into something or static shock. We’re not responsible if you break something! If you’d rather not risk damaging your PC yourself, you can always take it to a professional to have it cleaned. As an added bonus, many times doing so will allow them to look at the components inside the system to ensure there aren’t any problems lurking.