Be completely honest. When is the last time you actually cleaned your entire computer? The keyboard? The monitor? Inside the tower or laptop? Think about all the time you spend on your computer with your not-always-sanitized hands. There are literally millions of germs, food scraps and demonic dust bunnies from hell lurking inside. Whether you work at home or you’re the company IT admin for a thousand employees, everyone needs to regularly clean their computers. Especially you SysAdmin – not only do you have to be a shining example for others, you also need to make sure everyone knows how to clean their computer correctly and not ruin their expensive display screen by scrubbing it down with harsh glass cleaner and abrasive paper towels.

Since it’s spring cleaning season, now is the perfect time to go over how to correctly clean our computer equipment from the top-down. Before getting started, however, be sure to save and back up your work, power down the computer and unplug from the wall. Grab your favorite caffeinated beverage and roll up your sleeves– things are about to get messy.

Computer Monitor CSI: De-dusting For Prints

LCD screen fingerprintsDoes your monitor look like a crime scene investigation? It’s time to remove those greasy finger prints pronto! But first a word of caution – never use ammonia-based household glass or multi-surface cleaners, as they can etch the surface and damage anti-glare coatings. And never use an ordinary paper towel (aka wood), it will leave fine scratches that eventually cloud the surface.

Use a PH-neutral cleaner specifically formulated for plastic LCD display screens, and a good quality microfiber cloth. You may find LCD screen cleaner advertised as “notebook screen cleaning wet wipes”, “cloth monitor cleaning wipes”, “Screen Kleen” or similar. Regardless of choice, be sure the label specifies it is safe for LCD screens and follow the instructions on the label. Make that screen look pretty!

Keyboard Archeological Adventures!

The keyboard is the harbinger of all things fuzzy and crunchy. Don’t remember what you had for lunch three months ago? Your keyboard does. (Pizza) Do you enjoy poppy seed bagels while reading the morning news? Mister Clicky has stories to tell. We’re talking serious funk here folks. And when the grunge piles up under and between the keys you will start having (more) misclicks and sticky keys. Not good.

If possible, unplug and remove the keyboard, and carry it to an area you don’t mind getting messy. Perhaps the back porch, garage or hazmat-safe room. A can of compressed air “air duster” with extension tube or a low pressure air compressor can be used to blast the debris from under and between the keys (don’t forget eye protection, you might need it). It may help to hold the keyboard up vertically, or upside down if you’re feeling adventurous. Carefully and slowly apply compressed air between each key. Repeat as needed. Now brush the crumbs off your shirt. Yuck.

Are the keys looking smudged and grubby? Use a moistened microfiber cleaning cloth (not a paper towel) to gently clean each key. Do not apply cleaning liquid directly on the keys, only on the cloth. The aforementioned LCD screen cleaner can be used, or dampen your cloth with a mild soap solution. Be careful – keyboard keys are usually attached with tiny plastic clips which are easily dislodged and can be a real pain to reinstall.

The Computer Tower Of DOOM / Laptop Of Burning

Now the real fun begins! It seems like every airborne particle in the environment is magically attracted to computer innards. But don’t just take our word for it; let’s get to work and see for yourself.

What you will need: can(s) of compressed air or low pressure air compressor, tools to open the computer case (if applicable), anti-static ground wrist strap, eye protection, dust mask and a work area you don’t mind getting messy (see keyboard, above). Or very forgiving coworkers. The computer should be turned off and power unplugged. Wear an old shirt and baseball cap, brim turned sideways. Optional: anti-static, computer-safe vacuum cleaner.

Prepare yourself and approach thy worthy adversary. Open the computer case and behold the natural environment of the saber-toothed dust bunny!

Insidious dust bunnies occupy The Computer Tower Of DOOM and Laptop Of Burning

Computer parts are fragile and wires easily dislodged, be careful in there. Put on your eye protection, dust mask and anti-static wrist strap. If there are large clumps of dust you may carefully remove them by hand or computer-safe vacuum cleaner. Then chase out those dusty varmints with compressed air. Be sure to concentrate on the critical heat sink fins for the CPU and video card, inside the power supply and case cooling fans. Dust bunnies also nest inside the front case cover, the back case cover, around the hard drive and CD/DVD drive bays, and inside memory card slots and USB ports. Yep, they pretty much take over the place. Teach them who’s boss!

Laptop – dusty cooling air intake and exhaustIf you have a laptop and de-dust regularly, you may only need to apply compressed air to the cooling air intake and exhaust areas. But if you have rarely or never cleaned the dust, and it has accumulated to the point where the computer runs loud, hot and slow, you may need to disassemble the case to bring the fight to the deeply-entrenched devilish dust monster (see “saber-toothed dust bunny” photo above, right). If necessary, consult with your super hero system admin and/or exorcist.

Keep It Up – Wash, Rinse, Repeat

Ah, that feeling of Zen when your computer looks as clean as when you first got it. Regular maintenance every three to six months can make the job easier and keep you from being overrun with feral dust bunnies. Remember, an ounce of prevention …

In our next post we will discuss how to clean out the operating system of your computer. The bloated files, the inbox that keeps growing and growing, and unwanted adware / malware.