Clean Your PC

July 13, 2009

It’s not just your home that needs a good spring cleaning. Your PC and peripherals accumulate dust and grime at a steady clip, and require ongoing attention just like any other frequently used appliance. You need to clean the keyboard, mouse, and screen, of course, but you shouldn’t neglect the interior, as well. Dust buildup inside your PC’s case can lead to overheating and component failure. Follow our simple cleaning schedule to keep your machine spick-and-span.

Clean your keyboard once a week. Start by holding it upside down and gently shaking it to dislodge any crumbs. Large particles like food debris can make keys unresponsive. Next, take a can of compressed air (available at most electronics retailers for around $7) and use the straw-like nozzle to blow out dust from between the keys. These steps should extend the life of your keyboard and keep it working like new.

The scarier detritus, of course, is what you can’t see: germs thriving on your keytops and mouse surface. (Do this when your PC is off, so you don’t send the OS into fits as you press all the keys.) Don’t forget to wipe down your mouse, too.

In addition to your keyboard, it’s also wise to clean your monitor once a week using a microfiber or eyeglass-cleaning cloth. If that doesn’t do the job, use a slightly moistened, soft cloth. Avoid cleansers that aren’t specially formulated for LCDs; stick to water.

If you’re still using a CRT monitor, be sure to run the cloth over the monitor’s air vents, too, to collect dust that has settled there.

Once a month, with your PC off, turn the case around and clear any dust you see around the air intakes. Use a Q-Tip or lint-free foam swab (available at craft and hobby stores) to clean the fan blades and other areas you can’t reach with a cloth. You might be tempted to hit them with a blast of compressed air, but don’t: This will only force the dust deeper into the fan mechanism and PC case, and could damage the fan.

First, disconnect all the cables and bring the PC outside or into your garage. (You don’t want to unleash a dust cloud on the kitchen table.) Have your can of compressed air handy, as well as a dust mask. Making sure the PC is turned off and unplugged (never open a PC case with the power cord still attached), carefully remove the side panel.

Touch the metal chassis to ground yourself and dispel any built-up static charge you might be carrying; electrostatic discharge (ESD) can be lethal to the sensitive components inside your PC. Then, get to work with the compressed air, using it like a tiny leaf blower to herd the dust from crevices and out of the chassis.

No matter how dusty your PC may be, don’t resort to your household vacuum cleaner. The static electricity generated by these appliances will do more harm than the dust itself. You can find inexpensive ($30 or so) battery-powered vacs for electronics that claim to be ideal for cleaning a PC, but we’re hesitant about them, too. You’ll want a machine that’s rated ESD-safe, such as the 3M Electronics Vacuum. These units cost around $200, however, and are really worth the money only for IT and service departments that need to clean PCs all the time.

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