How To: Properly Clean Your PC


Every computer collects dust over time. When the computer is running, it creates a field of static electricity, which in turn attracts clumps of dust and hair. These cluttering particles can easily collect around your processor, power supply, and case fans, and can block airflow and lead to overheating. This is why an important part of taking care of a computer is making sure that it’s clean.

To that end, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide on how to clean your computer hardware and peripherals to make your rig look as good as new. We took a 4-year-old computer and thoroughly cleaned it using a few household supplies. All it took was a little bit of patience and a few hours and we managed to get some impressive results. Follow along below to achieve the same cleanliness Zen with your own machine.

And once you're done, read our guide to giving your PC a professional wiring job!

What you need:

  • Compressed air
  • Isopropyl rubbing alcohol
  • Lint-free or microfiber cloths
  • Paper towels
  • Q-tips
  • Scissors
  • Swiffer Dry Refill sheet
  • Masking tape
  • Vacuum with a removable handle and crevice tool

1. Start with Cord Management

First, let’s start with the external cables. Begin by untangling any that have become entwined. Now, grab a soft, microfiber cloth and dampen it with a bit of isopropyl rubbing alcohol, then run it along the length of all of your cords to remove any dust that may have built up (image A). Then, grab a few zip ties and begin organizing your cables in terms of their location in your machine: For example, the wires connecting peripherals reside toward the top; the DVI connector and power supply cord are toward the bottom, and so on. This will prevent your cables from getting tangled over time. Don’t group any power cables with speaker wire. Make sure to put on the zip ties toward the middle of the cords to give yourself some flexibility when you disconnect or connect devices (image B). Now, unplug your cable bundles so they’re out of the way while we clean the inside of your machine.

(Image A)

(Image B)

2. Cleaning Your Case

Now, make sure the power supply is turned off, lay your case on its side, and remove the side door. First, you want to inspect the internal data and power cables to make sure they’re all connected and well-fastened (image A). If there are any damaged cables, consider replacing them entirely—do not attempt to fix them with electrical tape. Generally, electrical tape is only used for insulation purposes, not to patch-up wires, and this rule is especially crucial when dealing with the inside of a computer.

(Image A)

Next, you want to get rid of the dust bunnies around your motherboard. Grab a can of compressed air and make sure that the straw is securely inserted. Stand the case upright—when you shoot at it, make sure the can of compressed air stays upright as well (image B). Do not tilt the can on its side or shoot at the computer sideways.

(Image B)

Squeeze the trigger to blast air in the direction of the key components in your case: the crevices in between your fans, the drive bays, connection ports, and any other areas that are plagued by dust and tiny hairs. If you find that you have excess grime or stray dust balls rolling around, you can actually use your vacuum cleaner to deal with them, provided that it’s equipped with a removable handle and a crevice tool. Vacuum away from the motherboard and use it only to eliminate giant dust bunnies that fall to the bottom of the case. Additionally, if you have an air filter in your case, remove it and run it under warm water to remove the dust. Be certain it’s completely dry before re-inserting.

3. Wipe Down Fans

With a different piece of lint-free cloth, wipe down your fan blades, then sprinkle the cloth with a few droplets of 90 or 99 percent rubbing alcohol solution and run it along the inside of your case (image A). Use a Q-tip to clean tight spots like your CPU cooler’s fan blades (image B). When you’re finished and everything has dried, feel free to close up the case.

(Image A)

(Image B)

4. Make Your Own Filter

A great way to keep dust from infiltrating your PC is to create your own air filter using a Swiffer Dry Refill sheet. All you need to do is cut the sheet to fit the grill on the outside frame of your case and affix it with a few pieces of masking tape. In this instance, we pasted it between the outside of the case chassis and the front-frame. Be sure to place this filter only where air is being sucked in and remember to replace it every few months (or as it visibly accumulates dust).

5. Clean Your Mouse

Assuming your cords are still unplugged, dampen a lint-free cloth with rubbing alcohol and clean the outside shell of the mouse, paying attention to any residue on the buttons.  It’s important that you exercise caution while cleaning peripherals like an optical mouse—cleaning solutions should never come in contact with the optical sensor at the bottom of the mouse—it could ruin it. Also, avoid using paper towels; stick to lint-free materials so that you don’t risk leaving behind any fluff that could stick to the sensor.

6. Clean Your Keyboard

One easy way to clean gunk out of your keyboard is to turn it upside down over a sink and smack the bottom to knock out the colony of crumbs that have undoubtedly settled in. Run through the keyboard’s spaces with a can of compressed air to get loose crumbs and hairs out of the way, and then use rubbing alcohol and Q-tips to clean grease off the surfaces and in between each key.

For a more thorough wipe-down, you could even stick your keyboard in the dishwasher, though we warn you that this is NOT a solution for expensive keyboards with LCD displays and USB slots—there is also a very real chance that it will destroy your keyboard. Before placing it inside the machine, bundle the cord and put a plastic bag over it, making sure it covers the USB/PS2 plug and that it is securely sealed with a rubber band.

Situate the keyboard on the top rack of the dishwasher so that it is facing down—we want the jets to hit up against the keys and wash off the residue. If your dishwasher has a speed dry cycle, turn it off—if you let the inside get too warm it could warp the plastic or crack the circuit board from thermal expansion. For the first run, we suggest omitting soap altogether, but to remove tougher stains, a pea-size amount of soap is also OK, but use at your own risk. After running it through a light cycle, let the keyboard dry for several days or until all the water has dried before reconnecting it.

7. Clean Your Monitor

Grab a microfiber cloth and gently wipe your screen to free it of dust, fingerprints, and any other smudges. You can make your own screen cleaning solution using a half-and-half mix of 70 percent isopropyl alcohol and distilled water, or you can pick up a premixed solution from any computer store or office supply retailer. Under no circumstances should you use Windex or paper towels to clean an LCD screens, especially those with anti-glare surfaces. If you’re using a CRT, use a few dabs of rubbing alcohol to gently wipe away greasy spots from the screen.

Next: Give your PC a professional wiring job!

Have any PC cleaning tips or dusty PC horror stories? Share in the comments section below!

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