Cleaning the computer and its components

Dusty and dirty computer fanCleaning your computer, components, and peripherals helps 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.

How often should I clean my computer?
General cleaning tips
Cleaning tools
Case cleaning
CD-ROM, DVD, and other disc drives
CD and DVD disc cleaning
Fan cleaning
Hard drive cleaning
Headphones cleaning
Keyboard cleaning
Laptop cleaning
LCD cleaning
Monitor cleaning
Motherboard cleaning
Mouse cleaning
Printer cleaning
Scanner cleaning
Miscellaneous cleaning steps

How often should I clean my computer?

The frequency of how often you should clean your computer varies on different factors. To help you determine how often you need to clean your computer we created the checklist below. Check each of the boxes below that apply to your computers conditions to help determine how often you should clean the computer.

Where is computer located?  
In a home environment
In a clean office environment
In construction or industry environment
In school environment
Computer environment  
Have cat or dog in same building as computer
Smoke in same building as computer
Smoke next to computer
Computer is on floor
Room that the computer is in has carpet
Eat or drink by computer
Who uses it?  
Adult (18 and older)
Young adults (ages 10-18) use computer
Pre-teen (younger than 10) use computer
More than one person uses computer

With what is checked above, clean your computer every months.

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 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.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Foam swabs - Whenever possible, it is better to use lint-free swabs such as foam swabs.

Case cleaning

Why? 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.

If you are looking for steps on cleaning the inside of the computer, see the motherboard cleaning section.

CD-ROM, DVD, and other disc drive cleaning

Why? 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 retailer such as a local Radio Shack or other computer retailer. Using a CD-ROM cleaner should sufficiently clean the CD-ROM laser from dust, dirt, and hair.

In addition to cleaning the drive with a special disc designed to clean drives, 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.

See the CD disc cleaning recommendation for further steps on cleaning each of your CDs.

CD and DVD disc cleaning

Why? 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.

Cleaning a CD and DVD disc

Tip: If the substance on a CD cannot be removed using water, pure alcohol can also be used.

Hard drive cleaning

Why? Hard drives cannot be physically cleaned, however, they can be cleaned with software utilities to help it run fast and efficiently. Utilizing these utilities prevent the hard drive from slowing down.

Procedure: Refer to our basic troubleshooting section for your operating system for steps that can be done to help improve the performance of your computer.

Headphones cleaning

Why? Headphones used by many different people 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. 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 many different students use the same headphones, consider having the students using their own headphones, placing 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, it 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 do.

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. aim the air 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.

If you want to clean the keyboard more extensively remove the keys from the keyboard.

After the dust, dirt, and hair has been removed. Spray a disinfectant onto a cloth or use disinfectant cloths and rub each of the keys on the keyboard. As mentioned in our general cleaning tips, never spray any liquid onto the keyboard.

Substance spilt into the keyboard

If the keyboard has anything spilt into it (e.g. pop, cola, Pepsi, Coke, beer, wine, coffee, and milk), not taking the proper steps can destroy the keyboard.

Procedure: Below are a few recommendations that can help prevent a keyboard from becoming bad after something has spilt into the keys.

If anything is spilt onto the keyboard turn the computer off immediately or at the very least disconnect the keyboard from the computer. Once done flip the keyboard over to prevent the substance from penetrating circuits. While the keyboard is upside down, shake the keyboard over a surface that can be cleaned later. While still upside down, use a cloth to start cleaning the keys. After cleaned leave the keyboard upside down for at least one night allowing it to dry. Once dry, continue cleaning the keyboard with any remaining substance.

If after cleaning the keyboard you have keys that stick remove the keys and clean below the keys and the bottom portion of the key.

Finally, if the keyboard still works but remains dirty or sticky before discarding the keyboard as a last resort try washing the keyboard in the dishwasher.

If after doing all the above steps the keyboard still does not work we recommend buying a new keyboard.

LCD cleaning

Why? 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

Tip: This section is for computer monitors if you have an LCD or flat-panel see the LCD cleaning section.

Why? 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.

Other good cleaning solutions

  • Microfiber Towels
  • Swiffer Dusters

Related pages

Motherboard cleaning

Why? 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 up-right 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 to use a portable battery powered vacuum that can effectively remove the dust, dirt, and hair from the motherboard completely and prevent it from getting trapped within the case. However, do not use a standard 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).

Tip: When cleaning the inside of the case also look at any fans or heat sinks. Dust, dirt, and hair collects around these components the most.

Computer motherboard help and support.

Mouse cleaning

Why? 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 removedOnce 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.

Why? To help keep the mouse clean and germ free it can be helpful to clean the mouse.

Procedure: Use a cloth moistened with rubbing alcohol or warm water and rub the surface of the mouse and each of its buttons.

Printer cleaning

Why? 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.

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

Scanner cleaning

Why? 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.

Miscellaneous cleaning steps

Below are a listing of miscellaneous computer hardware that is rarely used today, but kept on this page people working on older computers and need to clean these devices.

Floppy drive cleaning

Why? Dirty read/write heads on the floppy drive can cause errors during the reading or writing process.

Procedures: The floppy drive can be cleaned two different ways. The first method of cleaning a floppy drive is to purchase a kit at your local retail store designed to clean the read/write heads on your floppy drive.

The second method of cleaning the floppy drive is only recommended for experienced computer users. Open the floppy drive casing and physically swab the read/write heads with a lint-free foam swab soaked in pure alcohol, free-on, or trichloroethane. When performing these steps, be extremely careful when cleaning the heads to ensure that you do not lock them out of alignment causing the floppy drive to not work. To help prevent the heads from becoming out of alignment, use a dabbing motion lightly putting the swab on the head and removing it, do not perform a side-to-side motion with the swab.

Palm pilot cleaning

Why? Dirty touch screens can cause difficult navigation.

Procedure: To clean the Palm Pilot Screen, use a soft cloth moistened with rubbing alcohol and rub the screen and the casing of the palm pilot. It is not recommended to use glass cleaner as it could damage plastics over time.

SuperDisk and LS120 cleaning

Why? Cleaning the SuperDisk and LS120 prevents the drive heads from becoming dirty.

Procedure: Purchase the SuperDisk cleaning kit available through Imation. Using any other method voids the warranty on your drive.