Clean Your PCIntroduction
Keeping your computer clean can do a lot for your system, and even your overall productivity. Sticky keyboards make it difficult to type (believe me, I know), dirty monitors can make it difficult to read an e-mail or score a frag, and dust inside of your computer can make over clocking difficult. In this guide I will be covering how to eliminate all of these problems, as well as a few others that I’ve come across in my time. Keep in mind that this isn’t the be all, end all system cleaning guide – but following these steps should keep your system in good shape and help your parts live a longer, happier life. Before I start, I’d just like to mention that you should only perform these steps if the hardware in connection is turned off. Cleaning a computer while it is on could damage the equipment and possibly even cause harm to you.

Materials
There are several things that you should have handy if you intend on going through and cleaning your computer components. This isn’t a comprehensive list, and you can definitely substitute some of these materials for others, but this is what I use when I’m cleaning out my computer.

– Can of Compressed Air
– Lint free cotton cloth (available at any electronics store)
– Glass cleaner/TV cleaning solution
– Isopropyl Alcohol
– Q-tip (cotton swab)
– Screwdriver(s)
– Clean rag
– Toothpick

As I said, this is far from a comprehensive list – you may substitute some of these materials for others, or possibly even use a totally different method to clean one of the components we talk about. That’s up to you.

Monitor Cleaning
There are two steps that need to be performed when cleaning a computer monitor – cleaning the screen and cleaning the casing. To clean the monitor, simply apply some window cleaner or TV cleaner to a cloth until it is damp (not soaked) and then rub the monitor screen evenly. Never, and I mean never, apply the cleaner directly to the monitor – that is an easy way to ruin a very expensive piece of computer equipment.

To clean the monitor casing, first take the same damp rag and wipe it over the back casing of the monitor, including the vent holes. Then take the compressed air and use it to clean any leftover dust off of the back of the case and out of the ventilation holes. Whatever you do, however, do NOT open up the casing on the monitor. The cathode ray gun in the back of the monitor acts like a big capacitor and could seriously electrocute you if it isn’t properly handled – so just say no to taking the back of the case off.

It’s best to turn off or even unplug the monitor when cleaning it.

Keyboard Cleaning
There are several ways to clean a keyboard. If it is simply getting clogged up with dust, hair, and other various airborne particles, you can use a screwdriver to remove a few keys from each side of the keyboard and then use the can of compressed air to blow all of the stray particles out of the keyboard. Just be forewarned – it is difficult to pry out large keys such as the shift keys and the spacebar without breaking them, so you probably should probably stick to the smaller keys. To remove a key easily, pry upward gently until the keys pops loose.

If you have spilled ‘sticky stuff’ into the keyboard or some of the keys are still somehow obstructed or sticking after you have tried using the above keyboard cleaning method, your next option is to remove the screws from the back of the keyboard and fully disassemble the keyboard. After you have removed the plastic molding from around the keyboard, simply remove all of the keys from the front of the keyboard (much easier now) and take a damp cloth and wipe down the plastic covered PCB inside the keyboard as well as the key mounts.

If the keys themselves need cleaning, Dan tells me that you can put all of them in an old stocking and throw them in the washing machine with your clothes (remember to tie a knot in the open end, of course). Then reassemble the keyboard, making sure to put all of the keys back in the right place. If you can’t remember exactly where all of the keys go on your keyboard, or you don’t have a second keyboard to use as a reference, make sure you take a photograph of the keyboard before you start the cleaning process or you diagram where they go, so you can make sure you put all of the keys back in the right place.

Mouse Cleaning
There’s almost nothing as frustrating as having a dirty mouse. Your cursor will move erratically and sometimes not at all. It’s especially frustrating when you need to move your mouse in a hurry but it won’t budge because of some scum on the ball. Cleaning a mouse is a necessity! It must be done almost every week. With some combinations of mouse/mouse pads, it has to be done every day even.

Cleaning out the ball tracks on a traditional mouse is a simple endeavor – you simply remove the ball and either scrape the tracks (they are little plastic cylinders) clean or use a q-tip dipped in alcohol to remove the dirt and grime.

If you have a wheel mouse and you find that the wheel just isn’t responding like it used to, or the mouse buttons are sticking, you can disassemble the mouse using a screwdriver to clean it. While you have the mouse open, clean out the button connectors, the wheel axis supports, etc., using a q-tip and some alcohol. If the wheel and/or mouse ball feel a bit oily, you can run them under hot water and use dish soap on them to remove some of the grime.

Mouse Cleaning (cont.)
Cleaning the mouse tracks (the little smooth white bars on the bottom of the mouse) is also important. I personally use a damp cloth to clean the flat part of the tracks, as well as a toothpick to get the grime out from around the edges of the tracks. If you happen to have an optical mouse and need to clean the ‘eye’ of the mouse, I would personally use a q-tip or a lint free cloth as well as some alcohol or glass cleaner to clean the eye, possibly using a toothpick to get the grime out of the hard to get to edges. You have to be careful with the toothpick, however, that you don’t somehow manage to scratch the eye.

Mouse Pad
The mouse pad you’re using – is it getting old and worn? Having a nice, shiny new mouse pad can make a big difference in games and general use of your PC. Cleaning the mouse pad makes cleaning the mouse worthwhile. If you don’t clean the junk off your mouse pad, it will build up on the mouse immediately.  If you’re just looking for a replacement, try out some different surfaces to get an idea of what you’re looking for. I personally recommend slick surfaces as opposed to those fabric-cotton surfaces that have fibers that act as speed bumps to slow down your mouse. If you’re looking for a seriously good mouse pad, look no further than an Ever glide pad. These mouse pads were designed for gaming and really do help by providing excellent grip and the perfect surface. They do cost a bit more than an average mouse pad, however, and they must be ordered online

Floppy Drive Cleaning
If you want to go all high tech when cleaning out your antiquated floppy drive, there are floppy drive cleaning kits available that come with a fake floppy disk and this gel stuff that can be used to clean the drive head. I won’t go into how to use those, however, because there are instructions on the box. If you don’t have one of those kits, you will need to clean the drive in some other manner – it is the same manner in which I would recommend cleaning all other similar removable media drives (Zip drives, LS120 drives, etc.). Use a finger or other implement to force the bay door to remain open and then use compressed air to blast the dust, dirt, and grime out of the drive.

Optical Drive Cleaning
When you are cleaning a CD or DVD drive, there are two things that generally need to be cleaned – the tray and the lens. Cleaning the tray is simple – take some glass cleaner or isopropyl alcohol, apply it to a cloth, and rub the tray until it is clean. Leave it open for a moment until the tray has dried, and then you’re done. To clean the actual lens, you will have to go out and purchase a CD drive cleaning kit for tray-based CD players (they have different ones for caddy and auto feed drives – if you have one of those you will need a cleaning kit specifically for that type). Follow the directions on the box to clean the drive. Generally this involves applying some fluid to the bogus CD (which conveniently has a brush on it) and allowing the drive to spin up (making this one of the few cleaning operations that needs to be done when the computer is on).

Case Cleaning
When you are cleaning your case, there are several things you should consider doing. The first would be to take a can of compressed air and blow out any and all of the fan ports, air slots, etc. that are in the case. If your case is outfitted with air filters (like the Addtronics cases), you should clean those out with hot soapy water and let them dry before reinserting them into the case. Don’t forget to clean out the power supply fan grille as well (however, don’t open up the actual power supply – it can electrocute even when turned off).

Case Cleaning (cont.)
The next thing to do would be to take the compressed air and blow out the space between the motherboard and the motherboard tray and make sure that there isn’t any gunk stuck under there. While you’re at it, use the compressed air to clean out any other small nooks and crannies within the case to make sure there aren’t any dust bunnies hiding anywhere in the case. Then take a cloth, dampen it with an alcohol solution or glass cleaner and clean all of the accessible parts of the case, inside and out. Take special care around the fan grilles to make sure there isn’t any dust hiding, but also be careful not to touch any of the actual computer components with the damp cloth. If you do by accident, use the compressed air to clean the area and then let the system stand open for several hours until the part in question dries. If you don’t wait, you could ruin a part of the computer.

Connector Cleaning
Goldfinger connectors, as they are known, are notorious for being hiding spaces for grime, as well as being one of the prime reasons that components refuse to work properly. Properly cleaning the goldfingers and their ports is a good way to lengthen the life of a computer as well as improve how well the actual part works. To clean a goldfinger (like you find on a slot-based Pentium II/III processor or a PCI card), take a lint-free cloth and some alcohol cleaning solution and rub down the gold colored connectors at the bottom of the card. It is generally best to clean with the grain of the contacts, not against it. Cleaning against the grain (pattern) could scratch or damage the connector. After you have cleaned the connector, be advised that you should never touch the goldfinger on any piece of hardware and should always handle such hardware from the edge of the PCB.

Putting a clean card (or processor) into a dirty connector, however, is extremely silly. There are two steps to take when cleaning one of these ports. The first would be to take some compressed air and blow out the port the best you can, and then take some other small implement as some alcohol and use it to lightly scrub down the metal connectors to improve contact and surface conductivity.

External Port Cleaning
There isn’t much you can do when it comes down to cleaning your external ports, but if you feel so inclined, blowing out the connectors on the cable and the ports on the back of the computer using some compressed air wouldn’t hurt anything. This can be particularly helpful for USB connections because the unused ports tend to collect dust like nobody’s business. Be careful not to use any liquid (of any type, including alcohol-based solutions) on the female ports on the back of the computer because the small holes tend to trap fluids.

Conclusion
Hopefully, this guide has helped you clean out your system for longer life. One of the added benefits to cleaning all of the connectors inside the PC and getting all of the dust out of the case is that it can help facilitate a successful overclock by increasing conductivity and lowering the temperature within the case. Feel free to e-mail me with any questions or comments about this guide.

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