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How Often Should a PC Be Cleaned?

You count on your computer for an ever-increasing number of activities:

  • Online shopping
  • Conducting business or doing schoolwork
  • Financial services including banking and tax preparation
  • Video streaming and other entertainment
  • Social media and email

In a world where your computer gets as much use as your microwave, shouldn’t you clean it just as often?

How Often Should You Clean Your PC?
Cleaning your computer is more than just cleaning out the keyboard – there are a lot of parts that can collect dust, which can cause parts to fail – or even start fires!

Other parts of your system may not be so obvious when they need cleaning, but they can be critical to the life and performance of your computer:

  • Fans and filters
  • Motherboard and drives
  • Heat sinks
  • Video/graphics cards

These devices need a little TLC periodically as well, to keep your computer running efficiently.

The Basics of Cleaning a PC Safely

stain in a monitor

Depending on the type of computer you’re cleaning (desktop or laptop), the process will vary for different components of your system.

One of the most useful tools for keeping your system clean is a can of compressed air, which you can pick up at any office supply or computer store. When used correctly, in short bursts, it  can get dust and dirt out of hard-to-clean crevices.

Cleaning a Keyboard

Even if it doesn’t look like it, your keyboard can get really dirty. A lot of things can end up being under the keys – ultimately damaging the keys. There can be a lot of different objects that can build up on and under a keyboard:

  • Germs (especially important for shared computers)
  • Body oils
  • Dust
  • Snacks and crumbs
  • Spills

Some keyboards on the market are constructed and sold as being dishwasher safe. If yours is in that category, take advantage and toss it in the dishwasher periodically to clean and sanitize it (follow manufacturer instructions).

Most keyboards are not so easily cleaned, and require regular attention to keep them sanitary, working properly, and – well – not gross.

Cleaning your keyboard is not difficult, although spills of coffee and sticky soda may be the exception.

What you need:

  • compressed air
  • microfiber cloth
  • isopropyl alcohol
  • cotton swabs

For spills, you may also need a small slotted screwdriver or thin blade, to remove key caps.

How to clean the keyboard

Your first step is to unplug the keyboard from your computer or turn off your computer if working with a laptop or wireless keyboard.

Next, turn the keyboard upside down, and give it a few solid shakes (if your computer is a laptop, shake gently). This should remove larger particles or crumbs that may be present.

Use the compressed air to blow stubborn debris from between the keys, keeping the nozzle at least ½” from the keys. Spray from different angles to free all the particles you can dislodge easily. Once you’ve sprayed the keys, repeat the shaking process with the keyboard turned over.

Spray can

If there are still dust or other contaminants present, a brush or small vacuum with a brush tip will help clean them from the keyboard.

If your keys have considerable build-up that requires more thorough cleaning, use cotton swabs dampened (not soaked) with isopropyl alcohol to clean around each key.

Cotton sticks

For a deep clean of a mechanical keyboard, remove key caps by gently prying them up with a small screwdriver or thin blade (note: take a picture of the keyboard first, so that you know where the keys go). Soak them in a mixture of water and a mild detergent such as dish soap. You can then wipe them clean with a cloth, and lay them out to air dry. Be certain they are completely dry before pushing each key gently back in place.

keyboard keys

In the case of spills, turn your system off quickly to avoid electronic damage – especially for laptops. Your best defense is to power the laptop off immediately – not by a proper shutdown, but by holding down the power button to force it off. Remove the battery, and turn the laptop upside down or on its side to drain as much fluid as possible. Allow the laptop to dry thoroughly, cleaning the keyboard and casing with a dry cloth before attempting to restart your computer.

Monitor or LCD Screen

Today’s LCD screens, whether desktop monitor or laptop screen, require special cleaning consideration. While their resolution has improved significantly over the glass monitors of years past, they are delicate electronic devices that must be cleaned with care.

First, be sure NOT to use abrasive cloths such as paper towels to do the job. They can do more damage than good. Also never use alcohol or ammonia-based solutions to clean your monitor or LCD television.

To clean your monitor or laptop screen:

First, turn off your laptop computer and unplug your monitor from the computer.

Using a soft clean cloth, lightly brush the screen from side to side, top to bottom. Avoid circular, swirling motions. A clean microfiber cloth is the best choice for giving your screen a good dusting and removing such distractions as smudges or fingerprints.

For more stubborn grime, make a solution of soap and a very small amount of mild detergent such as dish soap. Lightly dampen your microfiber cloth and wipe the screen gently, avoiding dripping or saturating the screen. Be certain the screen is thoroughly dry before restarting the monitor or laptop.

close up of woman hands cleaning laptop screen

How Do You Maintain a Healthy Computer?

As electronic devices, computers generate heat when they run. Fans are incorporated into most systems to cool components and extend their useful life. As air is pulled into the computer to reduce heat, human and animal hair, dust, and other potentially harmful particles are carried into your system. These elements will build up over time and must be cleaned out to keep your system running efficiently.

If your fans are equipped with filters, a quick look at them will reveal a need to conduct a thorough cleaning. Filters that restrict airflow for cooling your system will reduce efficiency and shorten the life of your components.

Cleaning the Inside of Your Computer

Fans or filters that look like this are a sure bet that your computer needs some serious attention:

dusty hardware

It’s a safe bet that if the fan looks like this (or worse), the inside is just as bad. This can affect system performance and will shorten the life of your components. A little time and attention will keep your system running cooler and more efficiently.

Deep-cleaning your system

To give your computer a thorough cleaning, first, turn off and unplug the system, and disconnect such peripherals as monitors, keyboards, and others.

Next, open the computer’s case.

Woman fixing a computer hard drive

Your most useful tool will be a can of compressed air, to dislodge dust on your fans and other internal components. Electronics generate heat, which is a natural attraction for dust and hair that make their way into your system.

Move your computer to a well-ventilated area, as you may be stirring up a significant amount of dust.

Using the compressed air, a squeeze bulb, or a soft brush remove dust from the most contaminated surfaces first – likely the computer case, CPU, and graphics card fans. To get the fan blades cleanest, keep the blades stationary while blowing by carefully inserting a pencil or thin screwdriver between the blades.

Computer repair man cleaning dust with brush

Repeat use of the compressed air in RAM slots, around the CPU, around heat sinks, and throughout the case interior. You should not utilize a standard vacuum to remove dust from your computer, especially the interior. Plastic nozzles on household vacuums tend to build up static, and a static discharge against your CPU or other sensitive electronics could severely damage your system.

There have been some computer users who suggest taking your system outside and blowing it out with a leaf blower, but that seems a bit extreme (although it may actually be effective).

Once you have the dust and other toxic elements removed from your system, close the case, reconnect the power and peripherals, and your system should be running cleaner, cooler, and possibly even faster.

How Often Should You Clean Your PC?

To keep your PC clean, sanitary, and running smoothly, give each component a cleaning on a regular basis.

It’s a good practice to open up your computer and follow the cleaning process at least every three to six months. If you notice that your system has a significant level of dust and hair present the first time you clean it, more frequent cleaning is in order.

Driver Maintenance Is Important Too

In addition to keeping your computer and peripherals clean and healthy, there is another part of your system that requires regular maintenance.

Your drivers.

Keeping your drivers up-to-date ensures that your system is running at peak performance and that you get the most from your hardware investment. Driver Support analyzes your computer and finds the right drivers for every component of your system. Contact the pros at Driver Support to make driver maintenance one of the easiest and most secure ways to maintain a healthy computer.