How To Clean Common Computer Parts and Devices

From dusty computer fans to fingerprints on compact discs, computer parts and devices can get awfully dirty. Here are some tips to help keep things clean.

From dusty computer fans to fingerprints on compact discs, computer parts and devices can get awfully dirty from normal everyday use or when left sitting unused. The best way to have any computer component cleaned is to have it professionally serviced, but if you no longer have a service warranty, or if you picked up a second-hand item and want to clean it to see if it even works, here are some tips on how to clean some common items.

General Precautions

When working around electronics there are some precautions you should always take when cleaning:

  • The best way to clean any computer component or device is to follow the manufacturer’s instructions in your user manual.
  • Always power off the system first
  • Always use anti-static wristband or other professional grounding devices
  • Never work on carpeted surfaces
  • Never spray cleaning fluids directly onto computer components. Always spray the cleaner onto a cloth then wipe
  • Do not allow any cleaner to run or drip near circuit boards, or near seams on device casings.
  • Never allow circuits or electronics to become damp or wet.
  • Some cleaning solvents can damage components. In most cases, water will work just as well.
  • Cleaning electronics and circuit boards requires experience, knowledge and special electronics cleaners. This type of cleaning is best left to professionals.

General Cleaning Tricks & Tips

  • If compressed air is too strong for little dust jobs, try using a plastic liquid medicine plunger style dispenser. Pull the plunger all the way back to fill it with air and then push it forward quickly for a quick output of air to blow away dust in small places such as USB ports or SD memory card slots. The small ends of these dispensers enable you to reach a more concentrated area with the air then you could get with just blowing our air yourself (from your mouth).
  • When using compressed air, always release in short blasts. Longer blasts can actually result in condensation.
  • Anti-static cloths are great for attracting dust and are safe to use around computer equipment.
  • The cleaner you keep your work space, the cleaner your equipment will be
  • Be sure to hang on to your user manuals as they provide you with the best cleaning methods for that particular device.

How Do I Clean That?

A Digital Camera

The lens on a digital camera should never be touched and should be cleaned only when absolutely necessary, so be sure to put that lens cap to good use. For basic dust removal, you can buy a soft lens brush or plastic air blowers which remove dust and particles without anything touching the lens that could damage it.

For cleansing stubborn dirt, invest in a microfiber cleaning cloth for gently wiping off the lens. It’s very important to use a brush or blower first, then use a cloth to remove particles. For more stubborn dirt, you should use only a special fluid designed for lens cleaning. Never use paper towel or similar paper products to clean the lens as it may result in scratching. If you are using a fluid lens cleaner, be sure to put a drop onto proper lens tissues to clean never put the fluid directly on the lens itself. Cannon also recommends that in place of a lens cleaner you can blow gently on the lens so that moisture condenses on its surface. Use gentle lifting motions (not rubbing motions) to clean and do not press hard. Use a clean lens tissue each time you move over the surface. This will prevent any dirt that is clinging to the tissue from scratching the lens.

The outside of the camera can be wiped down using a lint-free cotton cloth, and you can also use the soft brush and blower for cleaning dust from the battery, memory card, power adapter and USB adapter slots.

CD & DVD Discs

Dirty media can cause errors or make the media not work at all. You can remove fingerprints and dirt by lightly rubbing with a clean lint-free cloth. Cotton is the best material to use. You need to wipe starting at the middle of the disc and work your way to the outer edge. Never wipe in the direction of the tracks (the lines running around the disc). If the dirt is harder to remove, like dried on liquids for example, use water or a spot of rubbing alcohol on a cotton swab to clean it. You can also purchase disc cleaning kits. Never use a general all-purpose cleaner on a disc.

Dust Inside The Case

If you want to clean the build-up of dust from inside your computer case, you must shut the system down first, and make sure you are not working on carpet or any surface which is a electricity conductor. It is recommended you ground yourself (using an electronics wristband or other professional grounding equipment and follow the procedure for your equipment). To clean dust from the components inside you will need compressed air, an anti-static cloth, a small (child size) soft paint brush, and a cleaning fluid made specifically for electronics.

Inside the case you will want to use the compressed air to clean around the fans, power supply and areas where the dust is building up. Be careful not to aim the air directly towards any circuit board or electronic components in the case. Use short blasts and arm movement to direct the falling dust outside of the case. You can use the small brush to dislodge dust in areas where the compressed air did not remove the build-up (such as the edges of fan blades). You can also use the brush to wipe dust away from the inside case walls and the wires. If you find dust has fallen down to the bottom of your case, dampen the anti-static cloth with the electronics cleaner and wipe along the bottom of the case to remove it. You can also use the damp cloth to wipe all around the metal case of your tower and the cover.

A CRT Monitor

Monitors that are made of glass and do not have any special coatings can be cleaned using a basic glass cleaner, or water (preferred). Do not spray directly on the monitor as the liquid could run down into seams and into the electronics. Using a soft lint-free cloth cloth such as cotton, spray the cleaner onto the cloth to moisten it and gently wipe the viewable surface. You can use a computer vacuum or compressed air to remove dust from the monitor housing, paying special attention to the vents, to make sure they are free of dust. Cleaners may damage the plastic casing of your monitor, so avoid this. Use a cloth slightly moistened with water if you need on the case.

An LCD Display

LCD monitors require a different cleaning than a CRT does. LCDs are not made of glass and will have special coating on them for anti-glare. Following your manufacturer’s recommendations is the best method for cleaning an LCD. If you can’t obtained this information, here are a few general tips: Never use paper towel on an LCD as it can cause scratching. Instead be sure to use a soft cotton cloth. You can also purchase microfiber cleaning cloths that are designed for LCD and camera lens cleaning. If a dry cloth cannot remove the prints, you can use a special LCD cleaning liquid. Always slightly dampen the cloth and wipe, do not put any liquid directly onto the display.

A Keyboard

Keyboards that are dirty can cause some keys to stick when pressed or other malfunctions. Dirt and dust can easily be cleaned from your keyboard by periodically holding it upside down and shaking it, or blasting it with compressed air. If the keys are dirty, once you have powered off the system, you can use a damp lint-free cloth to wipe the top facings of the keys. Never spray cleaner directly onto the keys as it may drip down into the circuitry beneath.

If you spill a liquid on the keyboard, you should immediately shut down the computer (or if using a plug-and-play keyboard, unplug it from the computer). Turn the keyboard over onto a towel or cloth to prevent as much liquid from getting into the circuits as possible. You can use a small lint-free cloth to help clean the liquid out from between the keys, but do so with the keyboard still upside down. Leave the keyboard upside down for a day to help ensure as much of the liquid dries out as possible. A large amount of liquid spilled into the keyboard will usually result in the keyboard needing to be replaced, regardless of how well you try to clean it.

If you just want to freshen up the look of the keyboard (e.g. not clean due from problems or spilling of liquid) a cloth that has been moistened with warm water and a gentle soap will work quite well.

A PDA, Smartphone, Cellphone, & Similar Displays

Many of these devices do not contain glass, and glass cleaner and paper towel should never be used. For these devices, use the same procedure for cleaning the display area as listed for LCD monitors. Use a slightly moistened (water and gently soap) soft cotton cloth to wipe the external casing on these types of devices.

Non-optical Mouse

A trackball and roller mouse will need regular cleaning. When you begin to notice delays or jerkiness in cursor movement on the screen chances are your mouse needs a a good cleaning. To clean the mouse you will need to have a few supplies in easy reach such as cotton swabs, rubbing alcohol and a soft lint-free cloth.

With the mouse disconnected from the computer, you turn the mouse over and unlock the cover ring that holds the trackball inside. When you turn the mouse back over, both should fall out easily (be sure to catch them with your hand don’t drop the trackball onto your desk or other surface). Both the trackball and ring can be cleaned using a soft lint-free cloth. Set the ring down and place the trackball on top of the ring to securely hold it while cleaning the rest of the mouse.

Start by blowing into the trackball holder area of the mouse to get rid of dust and loose particles. Inside you will see the rollers that hold the trackball in place. Chances are you will also see strands of dirt all the way around the rollers. Use a drop of alcohol on the cotton swap (just enough to dampen it) and use the swab to push against the dirt buildup on the roller to free it. Keep the tip of the swab against the dirt and rotate the rollers. You usually will see the dirt come off in a long piece (or several small if it breaks). You can also use your fingernail to pull the strip off instead of the cotton swab, once it has been loosened. Don’t use anything sharp that could damage the rollers. Make sure you pull the gunk out of the trackball hole when it comes off the roller. You will need to repeat the process on each of the rollers inside. Leave the mouse opened to the air to ensure any wetness from the alcohol has completely dried up before replacing the trackball and cover ring.

Every time you move this type of mouse across a mouse pad it picks up dirt and dust. To help cut down on the amount of dirt buildup in the mouse, you should ensure that the surface of your mouse pad is clean and dry. Wash it frequently making sure you give it lots of drying time before using the mouse on it again.

Optical or Laser Mouse

An optical or laser mouse usually won’t malfunction like a mechanical trackball mouse will, but you can still clean them for optimal performance. Wipe the bottom surface of the mouse with a clean lint-free cloth. For dust and particles over the lens area, you can use compressed air to blow it away. If you don’t have compressed air you can also try just blowing air (from your mouth) in a couple quick strong spurts. If this doesn’t clear the lens, you can also try a cotton swab to clean it without scratching.

USB Connectors and Ports

With USB powering so many devices, these ports get a lot of usage. Some front USB ports come with covers, which many people actually leave open because they are used so frequently. Thumb drives get left laying on desks, without the caps on and so on. Digital camera cords pick up dust then get transferred when plugged into the USB port. The list goes on. For the most part you can clean around the USB connector to remove dust and particles, simply by using compressed air or blowing inside of it. You can also wipe the plastic case area near the USB port every so often with an anti-static wipe which helps to repel dust.

Battery Contacts

There are professional battery contact cleaners available. If there is only a small buildup but enough to cause problems with enabling the battery to get a good contact you can clean the contact by rubbing them gently with a cotton swab that has been slightly dampened with alcohol. If it is a heavier buildup, you can also try rubbing gently with a pencil eraser. Just remember not to apply too much pressure when rubbing as you could damage the contacts.

Based in Nova Scotia, Vangie Beal is has been writing about technology for more than a decade. She is a frequent contributor to EcommerceGuide and managing editor at Webopedia. You can tweet her online @AuroraGG.

This article was originally published on February 16, 2007

Vangie Beal
Vangie Beal
Vangie Beal is a freelance business and technology writer covering Internet technologies and online business since the late '90s.
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