Maintenance Tip – Clean and inspect the inside of your computer

I've even seen instances where the build up of dirt, dust and grunge are so severe that the computer was nothing less than a fire hazard!

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This afternoon I spent about 30 minutes cleaning out one of my home computers. This surely isn’t a very exciting task so its easy to forget about it until its too late.

Note that I’m not referring to an electronic cleaning where we search for and remove unused files and programs clogging up your hard disk. Though that is also a very important task, this time I’m talking about removing the accumulation of dust, lint, fur and general grunge that builds up inside your computer.

As you probably know, the fans on the power supply, CPU and video cards constantly pull cool air into the computer chassis and across the hot electronics to keep them within a comfortable operating temperature. Without the constant supply of cool air many components in your computer can overheat. Overheating can lead to reduced reliability, shorter lifetimes and sometimes to complete system failures and loss of data. Because of this its important to inspect the internals of your computer’s cooling system to ensure that the fans are working properly and that the air can flow freely in and around key components. Most computer fans are remarkably reliable but they most still be inspected at regular intervals and replaced if they are weakening. Even if all the system fans are working, its not uncommon  for air flow to be restricted due to the build up of small bits of dust, pollen, lint, fur, etc.  Over my many years of working on other peoples computers I can tell you that even people with spotlessly clean homes often have incredibly dirty computers. I’ve even seen instances where the build up of dirt, dust and grunge are so severe that the computer was nothing less than a fire hazard!

Since I know many of you have never thought to clean out the inside of your computer I’ve put together a list of bullet points to help guide you through the process.

  1. Make a drawing that shows which cables are connected to which ports on the computer. This step is only necessary if you’re not confident about reconnecting the cables. Note that it’s not uncommon to have a lot of cables of the same type and color. To differentiate them affix a piece of tape near the end of the cables and use a marker to label them accordingly.
  2. Get the necessary tools:
    • One or more cans of compressed air
    • A dust mask
    • A screwdriver for removing the cover from your computer
    • Safety glasses
    • A modest sized paper clip
  3. Disconnect all the external cables from the computer case.
  4. Take the computer case and all tools outdoors. Warning! Do NOT attempt to clean the computer indoors as it will make a huge mess and you can inhale potentially dangerous amounts of dust and other materials that are lodged inside the machine.
  5. Put on the dust mask and safety glasses!
  6. Use the screwdriver to remove the screws holding the cover on the computer.
  7. While holding the can of compressed air vertically, carefully blow the dust and grunge out of the computer. Pay particular attention to grill covers, fans and large heat sinks on the power supply, CPU and graphics cards.
  8. Unfold one end of the paper clip. Insert it into the small hole on the front of the CD/DVD drive to manually eject the tray. Carefully blow the dust out of the drive and close the tray.
  9. If your machine has a floppy drive, prop open the drive cover and blow the dust out of it.
  10. Examine all internal cable connections and make sure that they are properly and securely seated.
  11. Take the computer indoors and reattach all external cables according to your diagram. Leave the cover off for now.
  12. Turn on the computer and visually verify that all fans are turning freely.  If you find one or more fans are not turning properly or that they are making abnormal noises you should take notes and get appropriate replacements.
  13. Reattach the cover.
  14. Set a recurring task in your electronic calendar to remind you to clean and inspect the computer again in 6 months. Do it more often if you have pets or live in a dusty area.
  15. Make sure your computer is located in an area where cool air can flow freely into and out of it. Avoid corner locations, locations near heat vents, or locations with direct sun.

If you have any concerns about your ability to do the above steps safely you should find a local computer shop and have them do it for you.

Lastly, do not use a vacuüm cleaner to remove the dirt from the inside of your computer. You can easily dislodge and lose small parts that may be necessary for your computer to work properly.


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1 comment

  1. William

    Most vacuums (not specifically for electronics) also generate Electro-Static Discharge (ESD), which can damage parts.