Cleaning PC Hardware

2 min read

It can be difficult to keep hardware clean, but it’s far less expensive than buying new parts to replace poorly-maintained ones. There are many techniques for cleaning, but a few basic tips apply to most situations.

First off, it’s worth spending some time preventing dust buildup. PCs should be kept off the carpet and away from dust if possible (especially the intake fans). Most modern gaming computer cases come with filters, which should be cleaned regularly. House air filters should also be replaced monthly—there’s no point in cleaning anything if the air is full of dust!

Cases which don’t come with filters should generally be avoided. At this point, there are plenty of inexpensive cases with filters, and there’s no real reason to do without. Cases and peripherals with glossy finishes should be treated with caution—anything that needs a plastic film to protect it during shipping will be a magnet for fingerprints. Seams in mice, crannies in keyboards, and fancy shapes on cases are all potential places for nasty substances to collect.

The most important tool for cleaning a PC is compressed air. Compressed air is sold practically everywhere, but it can cost up to $10 a can, and that adds up—it quickly becomes more cost-effective to buy an air compressor, which can be found for under $100. Air compressors are a useful tool in general, but they’re also very noisy, and they’re not the best idea for anyone with thin walls.

Fans can be cleaned with compressed air just like everything else, but it’s important not to let the blades spin freely and damage the bearings. It may help to wipe down the fan blades with a tissue beforehand, especially to get rid of the dust that cakes onto the leading edge of the blades.

Vacuuming ESD-sensitive components isn’t advised, hence the compressed air. As many internet commenters will testify, it’s possible to vacuum computers for years without damaging anything, but it still isn’t worth the risk—it’s much safer to take a PC outside and hose it down with compressed air, or to just vacuum the room once cleaning is finished. ESD-free vacuums do exist, but they’re far too expensive to be practical for the average gamer.

Keyboards don’t usually need any special tools to clean, and they’re refreshingly difficult to break. Most keycaps can be simply popped off (easier with mechanical keyboards), and the bare keyboard can be safely vacuumed. The keycaps themselves can be washed with normal soap and water, as long as they’re just plastic. Unless it’s had something spilled in it, there’s almost never any need to disassemble the keyboard further.

For thermal paste and general grime, rubbing alcohol is the best solution (higher alcohol concentrations are better). It dissolves dirt easily, but more importantly, it evaporates without leaving a residue, making it perfect for cleaning metal contacts or the bottom of a heatsink. On mice and other devices with small cracks, a toothpick can help clean what can’t be wiped off, without scratching plastic surfaces.

With some caution, cleaning a PC inside and out is absolutely safe—and a small investment of time and money to keep a PC clean means not having to spend money replacing melted components later on. – Patrick Lathan, GamersNexus