No matter how tidy your office or home, you've probably noticed that your computer often looks dirty. This is because computers generate electro–static energy that attracts dust particles.
Keeping your computer clean, however, is not only good for appearances; it can also guard against equipment failure and improve system performance.
Two indispensable items in the battle against computer grime: dust covers and canned air. (Click here to see dust covers.) A dust cover reduces static and protects your computer monitor (and, with additional cover pieces, your CPU and keyboard) against dust accumulation. For best results, put the dust cover when your computer is not in use — and after it has cooled down. Canned air releases a concentrated blast of air through a thin straw, thereby clearing out dust from areas that are hard to reach (such as between keyboard keys).
Before you begin cleaning, turn off and unplug your monitor and your computer. If your monitor or CPU is still hot, give it time to cool down.
You can use canned air to blow accumulated dust from the monitor display. When cleaning the top, back, and sides of the monitor, however, you should use a hand–held vacuum instead. That's because canned air (or, for that matter, a feather duster) might blow dust into the monitor's vents. Click here to see vacuums.
Some monitor displays come with an anti–glare coating that can be degraded or damaged by abrasive cleaning agents. For this reason, use only a water–dampened, clean cotton cloth when removing gunk from the monitor. And never spray water directly on the display. Wet the cloth instead, and make sure that it's wrung out and not dripping water (like dust, water should not be allowed into the monitor's vents).
An ounce of prevention is the first, most important step. Again, this means putting a dust cover over the keyboard between sessions.
When you do clean the keyboard, avoid popping out individual keys. A broken keyboard is worse than a dirty one. Instead, start by vacuuming the keyboard, or by inserting the thin straw of your canned air in between the keys and administering quick, short blasts. Next, dampen a clean cloth with water and gently wipe each key.
Most people still use a conventional mouse (e.g., a mouse that tracks movement with a small rubber ball on its underside). Those who do might do well to switch to an optical mouse. Since it has no wheel and no moving parts, an optical mouse requires no cleaning and no replacement of parts. (Learn more about different kinds of mice and keyboards).
If you keep your conventional mouse, here are the steps you should take to clean it:
- Unplug the mouse from your computer. Wipe the outside of the mouse with a damp cloth.
- Turn the mouse over and remove the plate around the rubber ball. There should be arrows pointing in the direction you should turn the plate. When the plate is off, remove the rubber ball.
- Clean the rubber ball with a damp cloth. For better results, you can add a small amount of rubbing alcohol to the cloth.
- Examine the inside of the mouse by looking into the casing where the rubber ball usually rests. If you see any lint inside, gently remove it with a pair of tweezers. Use a cotton swab to remove any dirt that's accumulated on the three small rolling bars.
Some people recoil at the thought of opening their CPU, but computer experts recommend that it be cleaned, inside and out, at least once a year. If you feel too uncomfortable cleaning the CPU yourself, you can always call the nearest Staples store and ask about the PC cleaning services at their Tech Center.
- Unplug the CPU. Remove all cords and cables.
- Gently wipe the outer casing with a damp cloth. Dry it using a second cloth.
- To open the casing, refer to the instructions that came with your owner's manual. (If you have trouble finding it, look for a section describing how to install additional memory cards.) Important: to avoid sending a static charge into the circuitry and causing permanent damage, touch a metal object before opening the CPU and don't shuffle your feet. You might also want to purchase an anti–static wrist strap.
- Once the CPU is open, use canned air to blow dust from the motherboard, memory cards, and fan blades. If dust remains, you can also sweep the insides with a dry, unused paint brush.
- Put the casing back together.
Unlike desktop computers, laptops lack components that can be disassembled, cleaned, and reassembled. Cleaning a laptop, then, is a matter of using canned air and a damp cloth — just as described above in the sections about monitors and keyboards.
Two important instructions to keep in mind when cleaning a laptop: turn it off and remove the battery. The battery can be sprayed with canned air.
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