HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns

August 28, 2006, Herald Journal

Time to clean your computer?


How many times do we wash and clean out our cars and trucks? After I wash and clean out my car for some reason, it always seems to run better. I suppose that this is just all in my head.

I would try to logically figure out how my car could get better gas mileage when it was washed and waxed . . . there would be less grime and dirt on it, hence the wind resistance would be less of a factor as being it was clean and waxed to a smooth finish, it could operate using less gas because of this. It seemed to run faster too! Well, it made sense to me at one time.

When I needed to move my desktop computer, I discovered how much dust and dirt had accumulated on the back of the tower, or the computer housing chassis.

I was surprised and shocked that I had not taken the time to keep the computer parts clean and free from the dust and yuck. I knew I should, but I fell into that false sense of security that had me thinking my computer was as stable and solid as this desk.

I knew better than that.

No wonder the fan in the computer seemed to be operating all the time, the dust had covered the back air vents with a sheet of dust. The fan kept trying to cool down the components inside. Computer fans have the ability to pull a lot of dust inside the chassis. If undisturbed, the dust can interfere with ventilation, coating the components in dust and eventually causing parts to fail.

“It is time to clean the ol’ Dell computer,” I thought to myself.

The first place I started was inside the computer plastic housing chassis. I have had this computer for around six years, so there was no maintenance contract with any company out there.

You can also have your computer taken apart and professionally cleaned.

If you’re a “do-it-yourselfer,” here are some steps to take. First, see if there is anything in your computers owner’s manual (where did I put that?). Next, line up the supplies you will need, such as a can of compressed air, which you can find at most electronic stores, Endust for Electronics’ cleaner (or any comparable household plastic or metal cleaning fluid, a soft, brush like a paint brush or unused toothbrush and an anti-static rag. If you’re allergic to dust, you should also use a dust mask. They also have small non-metallic vacuums available for cleaning electronic parts that would be great for removing dust that is loose ahead of time, before going after it with the compressed air. Make sure that you do not use a regular household vacuum as the static discharge will damage your computer components. It is also important that you do not work on a carpeted surface.

I also suggest that if it is a dry and low-humidity day, take your computer outside so you do not have all that dust in the house once you start to clean it out.

With the computer shut off and unplugged (some say to leave the power cord plugged into the surge protector, but I feel this only increases the chances of shorting something out), you can start to disconnect the peripherals (printer, scanner, monitor).

At this point, I would also suggest that you “ground” yourself to eliminate any static discharge from coming into contact with the computer chips inside. You can do this by using a static grounding wrist wrap, by briefly touching a metal part of the computer chassis. Because the computer is unplugged, as soon as you’ve touched the casing once, any charge difference will be gone.

Now, remove the computer cover. Again, refer to your computer’s owners manual if you need instructions for your particular computer.

If you’re really worried about static discharge, just keep the casing grounded (or wear a wrist strap), and don’t wear wool sweaters or something that will increase the likelihood of working up a charge in the first place. Remember to work on a non carpeted surface.

If you have the non-metallic electronic vacuum, you can use it now to remove the loose dust, or you can start with the can of compressed air (make sure the compressed air is dry).

Spray the air onto the fan blades, power supply chassis, drive chassis, heat sinks, and the circuit boards. Note that it is very important to keep the can of air upright or level. This can prevent the risk of having fluid come out of the can onto your components. It could possibly ruin something.

It is important to make sure the compressed air is dry. I noticed that when I was using the compressed air at an angle, it would mix liquid with the air spray, although the super cool liquid would dry right away, it would leave a film on the plastic that I needed to wipe off.

Use the brush to gently remove the dust build-up that the forced air did not dislodge. You can also brush any remaining dust out from the bottom of the computer chassis.

After you have the dust removed, spray the Endust for Electronics, or another electronics cleaning fluid, onto an anti-static rag and wipe the inside and outside cover of the computer housing thoroughly.

After it has dried, and you’re satisfied with the job, replace the cover and reconnect the peripherals.

Some tips: be careful not to touch those little computer chips, as the oil from your fingers or even a static discharge can cause damage. Also, you might be tempted to use a regular air-compressor, but special care would need to be taken, as high p.s.i. air pressure would be damaging to the components.

Taking the proper precautions and appropriate planning will no doubt provide you with results that will improve the operation and longevity of your computer.

With your computer clean and dust-free, I think you might notice that it may, perhaps, run better, too!