Computer Cleaning 101: A Complete Guide to a Dust-Free PC

David Murphy

Anyone can buy a PC.  Most of you astute Maximum PC readers can build a PC.  And an elite cadre of you can even build a tricked-out PC with lights, and tubes of fluid flying everywhere, and a beautiful side panel that shows off your system’s tricked-out insides.

But the last thing that you’ll want to see through your pretty plexiglass is a PC that’s covered in dust.  In fact, you don’t want to have a dirty PC regardless of your level of desktop sophistication: It can lead to system overheating, it’s gross, and it only gets worse the longer you put it off.  We always joke that spring cleaning is the perfect time to bust out the ol’ can of compressed air and get to work but, truthfully, cleaning one’s system shouldn’t just be a yearly affair.

So allow us to shave a few seconds off of your quarterly clean with a quick walkthrough of how to best prepare your assault on dust, dirt, and grime. Leave no survivors!

Step The First: Your Peripherals

We’ll start with the easy parts.  Your mouse and keyboard might not be dust magnets, but they sure can attract all sorts of nastiness between their various buttons and surfaces.  Your keyboard is, perhaps, the easiest item to clean in all of your desktop system: Just slap it in the dishwasher.

We jest; You can do that, but it requires more preparation than we’re prepared to go into with this brief cleaning overview.  Instead, you’ll want to hold your keyboard upside-down and use short blasts of compressed air to remove all the fingernail clippings, food particles, hair, and other gunk that’s found a home between your keys.  If you’re facing a herculean amount of gross, you can also use a small wedged object (like a mechanical pencil or the edge of a nail clipper) to gently pop each key off.  Get in there with a nice damp cloth and wipe the crud out, and then test your geek skills at remembering a keyboard’s layout when you go to reattach the keys.

As for your mouse, we’ll assume that you’re rocking a pretty typical design.  If so, you can also gently pop off the left and right mouse buttons without harming the mouse. Now that you have access to the dirt traps underneath, wipe these areas clean.  Once you’ve reattached your buttons, give the mouse a good overall wiping – and don’t forget about the nonstick pads on the bottom of the mouse.  These can be prime targets for accumulated grime.

Step The Second: Your Monitor

Why invest so much money in a beautiful, huge, possibly LED-backlit monitor if it’s covered in dust, dirt, and who-knows-what-else-you’ve-spilled-on-it? Goodbye, picture quality. But before you bust out the Windex and the rag, hear us: You can clean your LCD monitor with a simple damp cloth. Wet part of the cloth, gently use it to rub your monitor’s screen, and use the dry part of the cloth to dry it off. Easy.

Resist the urge to use paper towels. And, please, don’t just attack your monitor with a bevy of Windex sprays. In fact, don’t use Windex or any other cleaner with ammonia in it, and don’t spray any kind of cleaning solution directly onto your screen. If water just isn’t doing the trick for you, make a 50/50 mix of water and isopropyl alcohol and gently apply it to a wet rag before you give your screen some elbow grease.

Step the Third: Your Desktop PC

Roll up your shirtsleeves: It’s time to become the Mike Rowe of computer cleaning. Let’s start by talking about the easy method for de-dusting a filthy desktop computer: compressed air.

Tempting as it might be to just buy a few cans and just blast the heck out of your system’s insides, you’re just going send dust flying all around your desktop or, worse, all over your nice, carpeted floor. You need a battle plan.

For the most thorough clean, you really will want to remove every part and piece inside of your PC. You can then use compressed air to target all the nooks and crannies that you might otherwise miss, and you’ll be able to wipe down some surfaces (like an optical drive, your tangled mess of power supply cables, or even the outside of a video card) to catch all the dust that even compressed air can’t send flying. You’ll also be able to give the entirety of your case a thorough wiping to get rid of all the dust and grime that’s collected over time: Feel free to once again use the 50/50 mix of water and isopropyl alcohol we mentioned earlier for a quick-drying, disinfecting clean.

Now, you might be tempted to do that age-old trick where you blast compressed air against one side of the blades on your system’s fans (or, worse, your videocard or CPU cooler’s fans), get them spinning nice and fast, and then blast air in the other direction to send dust flying every which way. Don’t do that. It’s a great way to damage your fans. Instead, you’ll want to keep the fan blade stuck firmly in place (by way of a pen or some other creative device) before you attack the dust. If you’re especially sensitive to grime, use a cotton swab to wipe the dirt off of the blades manually.

When you’re ready to reassemble your computer, you’ll want to give yourself plenty of time for outfitting your system with proper cable management. Here’s why: Cables strewn about the middle of your system deliver inefficient airflow and serve as magnets for dust. You might have noticed this fact if you just spent the last hour wiping down all of your dirty power supply cables.

The more you can tuck your cords out of sight (between the motherboard and your case’s side panel, for example), the prettier and cleaner your PC will look. And even if you can’t hide your cables within your case, at least you can use Velcro strips or twist-ties to bundle them together into one giant chunk. It’s not the most satisfactory solution, but it’ll at least help you keep your desktop’s insides a little cleaner than the alternative spiderweb of cables. A little foresight goes a long way toward reducing the time you spend during next quarter’s big clean!

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