While I have discussed how to protect your hardware from viruses and malware, I realized I have never made a post about cleaning/protecting them in the physical sense. So, here are some tips and tricks I use while performing maintenance on smartphones, monitors, laptops, and desktops.
Smartphones and Other Portable Devices
We are on our smartphones so much that they might as well be a permanent extension on our arms; due to their heavy usage and touch-screen capabilities, it is not surprising that cell phones carry up to 10x more bacteria than most toilet seats (Gerba, 2012). Pretty disgusting, right?
Cleaning smartphones is quite simple, as a quick wipe-down of the exterior of the device is all that is required. Before cleaning, I would recommend turning the device off, removing any protective cases, and only using a quality electronics cleaning wipe to gently rub the device from one side to the other. Using a non-electronic wipe is not recommended as products such as baby wipes or kitchen cleaning cloths can damage screens, their protective films, or even have liquid get inside and mess with the internals the device. Furthermore, electronics cleaning wipes use an anti-static solution that helps prevent static discharge, which as we all know can render your new $1k+ graphics card useless if not properly cared for.
Laptop and Desktop Computers
Cleaning larger devices can have more steps involved, but cleaning the exterior of a computer tower, laptop, or even the monitor itself is relatively the same process as mentioned above. Simply use an electronics cleaning wipe to gently remove any dirt or debris from each surface. Depending on the situation, you may want to clean the interior of the device first, as the dust and debris removed in the next step will quickly turn your freshly cleaned computer into a horror scene once again.
Desktop and laptop computers are excellent collectors of dust since they have fans pulling cold air into the unit, and fans pulling hot air out; this directional airflow is necessary for the adequate cooling of your device. Similar to how the engine in your car operates, any obstruction in your air filter or exhaust system can reduce power and gas mileage by restricting the airflow into the engine and outtake of combusted fuel away from it.
To ensure your desktop or laptop computer isn’t invaded by dust devils (a common IT threat), you will need to clean out your device regularly. The interval of when you need to clean a computer depends on a few factors, such as if it is placed on the carpet, the usage of the device, or the type/performance of the PC’s cooling system. For a desktop computer, one of the simplest methods to remove dust and debris is by using a can of compressed air. Before you go blindly shooting every opening on your computer with the tremendous force of a thousand hurricanes, there are several vital lessons you should follow.
The following steps are specific for a desktop computer.
- Before anything, turn off your computer and unplug it from the outlet or surge protector.
- As I previously mentioned, static electricity is a feared force in the world of technology. Depending on factors such as the floor you are standing on (be wary of carpet), the shoes you wear, the humidity of the room, and what device you are intending on working on, you may want to buy an anti-static wristband to ensure you are properly grounded at all times.
- Open your computer’s case; this is usually achieved by removing the side panel, exposing the internals of the machine.
- Do a quick scan of each component, fan, heatsink, and along the interior walls, looking for any large debris or loose wires/cables. Before you start blasting the computer with compressed air, you do not want anything to come undone, get blown into your PSU (Power Supply Unit), or force a loose screw to be shot right into your eye (yeah, that happened once).
- Depending on what tools you have available, you could start with a small electronics vacuum to remove dust and debris before you blast air into it; this can be efficient at reducing the amount of material thrown into the air and also help protect dirt and other particles from being blown into the internals of your components.
- Now for the fun part! Using a can of compressed air, attach the small tube to the end of the nozzle (looks like a drinking straw/coffee stirrer) and then gently blow the internal components of your computer with short, precise bursts of air. Try to remain at least a few inches away from delicate parts, such as memory, the processor, expansion cards, and the motherboard. Pay close attention to removing the dust buildup on your case fans, as the blades can be quite brittle and crack. After cleaning a case fan, an excellent method of further removing dust is to use rubbing alcohol and wipes to rub each individual blade. For the PSU, carefully direct airflow into the case holes/vents, as well as the dust filter underneath the device (if it has one). Deepening on your setup, the processor heatsink and its fan/cooling system should be cleaned next, as it may have collected dust and debris from blowing out the surrounding parts. Using short bursts of air, gently blow into/surrounding the heatsink/fan; if it is extremely dirty, removing the cooling system to clean and then reattaching it might be the best option. Remember to remove the thermal grease off of the processor and then reapply it after you are finished cleaning.
- Finally, blow off all the ports on the computer with compressed air (blowing outward as to not get dust on your already-cleaned parts) and wipe down all exterior vents with rubbing alcohol and a cotton swab.
Liquid Cooling for CPU
If your desktop computer utilizes a liquid cooling setup, there isn’t much internal maintenance to perform on the CPU cooler besides changing the water every 6-12 months, depending on the type of system and if it flows in a custom loop. When in doubt, consult the owner’s manual that came with the cooling setup. Gently removing dust/debris from the exterior of a liquid cooling system is still recommended, as any foreign particles inside your computer case can build over time.
For a laptop computer, many of the steps are similar to cleaning a desktop, but accessing the internals of your device can be quite difficult (requiring special tools). If you cannot access the inside of your laptop, simply clean the screen and exterior of the device, ensure that there aren’t crumbs or other debris in the keyboard, and gently blow compressed air into each open vent/port of the machine. Since you do not want to just have the dust blown around in a closed case, try to make some path for the air/dust go, such as blowing in from the left side of the case and towards an ejected CD drive/open expansion slot.
Performing regular maintenance on your smartphone, laptop, and desktop is necessary to ensure they are always performing at their peak potential. Dust and debris can collect and accumulate quickly, especially if your desktop PC is placed on carpet, thus inhaling hair, skin cells, and carpet particles. If either of your intake/outtake case fans has their airflow blocked, the air inside of your case can become stagnant, greatly increasing the running temperature of your computer, potentially damaging your device’s components, and at the very least, reducing the life cycle of your parts. Do yourself a favor and give your computer a quick look, you may be surprised at what you find!
Gerba, Chuck. (15 Sep 2012). The University of Arizona. “Why your cellphone has more germs than a toilet”. Retrieved from https://cals.arizona.edu/news/why-your-cellphone-has-more-germs-toilet.