Kristen Ghergich

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A complete guide to cleaning your dirty laptop

You tap away at your keyboard all day long and hey, you keep your hands clean, so — by default — your laptop should be clean too, right?

Think again! Wash your hands all you want. Your laptop will still collect dirt, dust, and food crumbs, not to mention natural oils from your skin.

And yet, few people clean their laptops as frequently as they should, often because they find the task intimidating. There are so many small spaces where dirt and grime can gather, and it’s not like you can just blast that pricy piece of tech with water.

But even if the idea of all that gunk hanging out on your laptop doesn’t bother you, you should still clean your laptop regularly. Consider the following reasons to clean your laptop at least once every other week.

  • It could help you avoid illness
    Research finds that a computer or laptop keyboard may be 20,000 times dirtier than a toilet seat based on the amount of bacteria accumulated — including the types of bacteria that cause strep, staph infections, and food poisoning.
  • Dust can cause your laptop to overheat
    Your computer (and the work you save on it) is too valuable to put at risk, but if you don’t take care of the dust on and around your laptop, that’s exactly what you’re doing. Dust can clog the interior vents and fans, which can prevent your laptop from cooling down properly. That continual overheating can impact performance and battery life.
  • You’ll prevent sticky keys
    If you’ve ever looked up at a document to see a long string of Qs that you’re certain you didn’t type, you know how frustrating a sticky key can be. A quick cleaning every couple weeks is a small price to pay to avoid that issue!

A complete guide to cleaning your dirty laptop

What you’ll need

Ready to commit to cleaning your laptop? We have great news. This process is simple and it doesn’t require expensive supplies. Sure, many of the big box electronics stores stock shelves of specialty cleaners, but they’re unlikely to work any better than the following.

  • Canned air
    You’ll start with this on the inside of your computer. A few puffs of canned air will allow you to get rid of dust, pet hair, and anything else that clings to your internal components — without physically touching or potentially damaging any of them.
  • 90- to 100-percent rubbing alcohol
    High potency rubbing alcohol cleans effectively without damaging your internal components.
  • Microfiber cloths
    You’ll use these soft cloths to scrub the exterior of your laptop clean.
  • Cotton swabs
    Good old cotton swabs can come in handy when you’re trying to get into the smaller spaces on your laptop’s exterior, like between your keys.
  • Use with caution
    A Mr. Clean Magic Eraser can be used on marks that won’t come off, but only very lightly due to their abrasive nature.
  • Consider
    If you’ve got a particularly stinky laptop, which can occur if it’s been subjected to a smoky environment, sealing the device in a bag with some charcoal can come in handy.
  • Avoid
    Harsh chemicals, such as ammonia or alkaline cleaning agents, when cleaning your screen. And yes, that includes Windex!

Step-by-step instructions for cleaning your laptop

With these easy-to-follow instructions, you’ll find yourself falling in love with your squeaky clean, like-new laptop in no time!

  1. Shut down and unplug the laptop. If you’re able to easily remove the battery, do so, but don’t worry about it if it’s not a simple process.
  2. Grab your canned air and lightly squeeze a short burst pointed away from your laptop; this will get rid of any condensation. Then, use your canned air to blow air into the keyboard, vents, and USB ports, but don’t stick the compressed air stick into the vents. Use only short bursts as you clean; long sprays can lead to an accumulation of moisture inside your computer and cause damage to the fans.
    1. You may not notice a big difference, and if so, that’s a good thing! If your laptop starts to run noticeably better or your battery suddenly has loads more life, take that as a cue that you need to get in there more often. If you see actual dust bunnies lurking in there, it may be worthwhile to open up your laptop (or take it to a repair shop if it doesn’t open easily) for a more thorough cleaning.
  3. Now we move to the exterior! The first rule to remember is that you should never apply cleaning products directly to your laptop. Pour some of the alcohol on a microfiber cloth, wring it out so it’s not dripping wet, and scrub away at the laptop surfaces, excluding the screen. This is where, if your laptop has lots of marks and smudges that just won’t budge, a gentle pass with a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser may come in handy.
  4. Next up is the keyboard. Start by wiping it with a dry microfiber cloth, then give it a few short bursts of compressed air. Use a cotton swab dipped in the rubbing alcohol to scrub the keys and clean between them. You could even try using an unused, dry toothbrush to get into the crevices. If you still have crumbs under your keys, do a quick search to see if your keys are removable; if they don’t come off, hit those spots with your air again.
  5. Finally, it’s screen time. Make sure you allow enough time for your screen to reach room temperature before you begin. Once again, you’ll use a clean, dry microfiber cloth, which may do the trick on its own with gentle horizontal or vertical (not circular) swipes. If the screen needs more scrubbing, you’ll either want to use straight water or, if your computer manufacturer states it’s okay (as Dell and Lenovo do), a water-alcohol solution. Like with the rest of the exterior, you should make sure the cloth is merely damp, not wet. Check that the screen is dry before you shut your laptop.

Remember, by repeating these steps every other week or so, you won’t just keep your laptop working well — you’ll help yourself to stay healthy, too.

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