How to properly clean a computer

Knowing how to clean a computer properly could add years to its lifespan, while protecting you against real-world viruses.

Wednesday, 1 November, 2023

It’s been widely reported that there are more germs on the average smartphone screen than on the average toilet.

Remarkably, our post-pandemic paranoia about cleanliness doesn’t always extend to our digital devices.

Yet a dirty computer is more than just a minor health hazard. It’s also likely to knock months – or even years – off a computer’s lifespan.

Don’t dismiss the importance of knowing how to clean a computer – its health is at stake, and so is yours…

Crumbs., Penfold

Before we offer expert advice on how to clean a computer properly, let’s firstly consider why you might want to.

Computers may seem robust, yet they’re surprisingly fragile collections of delicate and easily damaged components.

Millions of us are guilty of eating meals and snacks at our desks, often while trying to respond to an email or browsing the web.

We think nothing of using sticky fingers to type, not realising that those sticky substances could ooze between the keys and gum them in place permanently.

That’s bad enough on a detachable desktop keyboard. On an integral laptop keyboard, it could spell disaster.

Solid food particles – among other contaminants – may have the same effect if they become lodged between keys.

Then there’s dust – the mortal enemy of the fans that regulate temperatures inside a computer’s chassis.

Desktop devices are often left in cupboards or on the floor for years at a time, with fans gradually sucking in fluff and hair until their vents become clogged.

The result? Potentially fatal overheating, manifesting as CPU errors and sudden shutdowns that render the device inoperable.

Mice will stop working if their light sensors are contaminated with grease; dirt can cause motherboard short-circuits; liquids may corrode connections… the list goes on.

And that’s before we consider the petri dish of keyboards, often used when our hands aren’t properly clean – spreading germs and bacteria that will fester and reattach to us later on.

New broom sweeps clean

Having established the importance of ongoing maintenance and effective device hygiene, let’s consider how to clean a computer properly.

Start at the top and work down. Remove smears or contaminants from monitor screens which might cause headaches, by gently rubbing with alcohol wipes or a dry microfibre cloth.

Turn your keyboard upside down and shake it gently to dislodge loose crumbs. More stubborn matter may need to be evicted using a can of compressed air, a low-power vacuum, or fine tweezers.

Take an antibacterial wipe and slowly run it across each row of the keyboard, avoiding excess pressure but ensuring every key is wiped clean of bacteria and viruses.

(A useful tip is to always wash your hands before sitting down at a computer, regardless of whether you’ve been sleeping, making a sandwich or walking the dog.)

Take a vacuum attachment to the air vents, removing fluff and dust. If you want to clean inside a tower, unplug it before unscrewing it.

Hold the nozzle a few inches away from any components, to minimise static damage. Mini vacuums are safer, since they’re specifically designed for cleaning computers.

You might also want to invest in a soft brush to clear the folds and creases of desktop towers of any detritus.

Pay particular attention to unused ports, which could become clogged or contaminated with pollutants; these might then be rammed in further when a cable is subsequently inserted.

Repeating this process every couple of months should minimise health risks, maximise the lifespan of device components – and create a far nicer working environment…

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!