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You're a dirty, dirty, dusty PC

Marco Chiappetta | May 7, 2013
Is that your PC, or the ugliest dust bunny ever? How to clean the dirt, grime, and gunk from your desktop, inside and out. It will thank you.

If you've had your PC for more than a few months, it's probably lousy with dust, dirt, and worse. It's time to do some spring cleaning on your PC--and I'm talking about the actual hardware here, not your operating system or data files.

Dirt buildup can affect PC performance

Plenty of physical hardware problems crop up on computers after extended use. Dust, dirt, hair, and other debris can build up on fans and heatsinks. Components can come loose or become unseated. Thermal paste can break down and becomes ineffective.

With a little cleaning and basic maintenance--and perhaps a bit of elbow grease--getting your PC back in top condition is easy. Just don't be afraid to get your hands dirty. You may be surprised at the amount of gunk that accumulates in a PC whose hygiene has been neglected for a while.

Tools of the trade

The first thing you need to do is assemble your gear.

I like to keep canned air, a small (about 1-inch-wide) paintbrush, and a Dustbuster or similar small vacuum on hand. In addition, some paper towels and a bit of all-purpose spray cleaner (like Fantastik or Simple Green) are useful, as are a microfiber cloth, a tube of good thermal paste, and some isopropyl alcohol.

The canned air and brush are useful for dislodging hair, dust and other debris from all of your PC's surfaces--especially heatsinks and printed circuit boards (PCBs), which have a countless tiny nooks and crannies. The vacuum sucks up the various detritus. The paper towels, spray cleaner, and microfiber cloth are for wiping down hard, nonelectrical surfaces. An the thermal paste and isopropyl alcohol come into play if and when you need to reseat heatsinks.

What to do


If your dust filters look like this, you have some work to do.

To practice what I preach in this article, I got my hands on a Core i5-based desktop PC that a smoker had been using (and not cleaning) for a couple of years in a house also occupied by along-haired cat. Talk about a perfect storm!

I'm including a few before and after photographs of the case, which had dust filters over all of its intake fans and a door on the front that hid the optical drive and front-mounted fans. As soon as I opened the door, I could see that the fan filters were completely clogged, and the vents on the rear of the system were covered with dust and cat hair. Even a small amount of detritus can choke off your PC's air supply, resulting in higher temperatures that promote system instability and reduce the lifespan of your components. Clogged intake fans can cause negative air pressure within a system, too, forcing the system's exhaust fans to suck air into the case through any open crevice.

 

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