USU Extension: Cleaning Your Computer

Most if us have not taken the time to do this, don’t realize how important it is, and don’t even know how. Here are some guidelines to make the job quick, easy, and safe to do at home.

Consumer Specialist Teresa Hunsaker with USU Extension shares guidelines to make the job quick, easy, and safe to do at home.


Depending on the environment that your computer operates in determines how often you should clean it. Most computers should be cleaned every 5-6 months—depending on the environment. If you have pets, smoke in the house, or have lots of folks using the computer, more often may be better. Once you’ve owned your computer for awhile, you’ll realize that electrical equipment attracts dust and dirt like nobody’s business. Even in the most carefully kept household, dust and dirt will find their way into and onto your computer. When dust settles onto the circuit board inside your machine casing, the efficiency of the electrical pathway is compromised, and performance suffers. Eventually, damage occurs, and expensive repairs become necessary.

General cleaning Tips

Below is a listing of general tips that should be taken when cleaning any of the components or peripherals of a computer as well as tips to help keep a computer clean.

1. Never spray or squirt any type of liquid onto any computer component. If a spray is needed, spray the liquid onto a cloth and then use that cloth to rub down the component.

2. Use a vacuum to ONLY suck up dirt, dust, or hair around the computer on the outside case and on their keyboards. Do not use a vacuum for the inside of your computer as it generates a lot of static electricity that can damage the internal components of your computer. If you need to use a vacuum to clean the inside of your computer, use a portable battery powered vacuum designed to do this job.

3. Turn off the computer before cleaning!!

4. Never get any component inside the computer or any other circuit board damp or wet.

5. Be cautious when using any type of cleaning solvents; some solvents can damage the case. Try to always use water or a highly diluted solvent. It is recommended to use the least reactive types—rubbing alcohol or vinegar or a little tiny bit of dishwashing detergent.

6. Be careful not to accidentally adjust any knobs or controls. In addition, when cleaning the back of the computer, if anything is plugged in, make sure not to disconnect any of the plugs—unless the computer is turned off and you are planning to unplug such plugs as the monitor, keyboard, or mouse for cleaning purposes.

7. Use extreme care when cleaning fans, especially the smaller fans within a portable computer or laptop. Either hold the fan or place something in-between the fan blades to prevent it from spinning. Spraying compressed air into a fan or cleaning a fan with a vacuum may cause damage to some fans or in some cases cause back voltage.

8. Avoid eating, drinking, or smoking around the computer.

Cleaning tools

Although many companies have created products to help improve the process of cleaning your computer and peripherals, users can also use household items to clean their computers and peripherals. Below is a listing of items you may need or want to use while cleaning your computer or computer peripherals.

Keep in mind that some components in your computer may only be able to be cleaned using a product/method designed for cleaning that component; be sure to check the Use and Care Manual of your specific computer.

Lint Free Cloths (or paper towels) -used when rubbing down a component; paper towels can be used with most hardware, but lint free is best. Caution: Use a cloth when cleaning components such as the outside of the case, a drive, mouse, etc. You should not use a cloth to clean any circuitry such as the RAM or motherboard.

Water or rubbing alcohol or glass cleaner – When moistening a cloth, it is best to use water or rubbing alcohol. Other solvents may be bad for the plastics used with your computer. Vinegar is also an option.

Small Portable Vacuum – Sucking the dust, dirt, hair, and other particles out of a computer can be one of the best methods of cleaning a computer. Over time, these items can restrict the airflow in a computer and cause circuitry to corrode. Do not use a standard vacuum as it can generate a lot of static electricity that can damage your computer.

Cotton swabs or foam swabs – Cotton swaps moistened with rubbing alcohol or water are excellent tools for wiping hard to reach areas in your keyboard, mouse, and other locations. Whenever possible use the foam swabs.

Compressed Air – used to spray the keyboard and some parts of the case interior.

Small Screwdrivers – for taking apart the case.

Tweezers – for lifting dust balls out of hard to reach places.

Anti-static wrist guard/clip—to be used around your wrist when cleaning the inside of the hard drive case./

Case cleaning

This keeps the appearance of the computer looking new. During cleaning, if ventilation locations are found, these can be cleaned helping the case keep a steady airflow to the computer, keeping components cool and in good working condition.

The plastic case that houses the PC components can be cleaned with a lint-free cloth that has been slightly dampened with water. For stubborn stains, add a little household detergent to the cloth. Never use a solvent cleaner on plastics.

Make sure all vents and air holes are hair and lint free by rubbing a cloth over the holes and vents. It is also helpful to take a vacuum around each of the hole, vents, and crevices on the computer. It is safe to use a standard vacuum when cleaning the outside vents of a computer; however, if you need to clean the inside of the computer, use a portable battery powered vacuum to prevent static electricity. It is also a good idea to wear an anti-static wrist band clipped to the main frame of the unit to avoid any possible static “frying” your computer components.

To clean the CD-ROM drive we recommend purchasing a CD-ROM cleaner from your local electronics retailer. Using a CD-ROM cleaner should sufficiently clean the CD-ROM laser from dust, dirt, and hair.

In addition to cleaning the drive with a special disc designed to clean drives users can also use a cloth dampened with water to clean the tray that ejects from the drive. Make sure however that after the tray has been cleaned that it completely dry before putting the tray back into the drive.

Mouse Cleaning

The type of mouse you have will determine the procedure for cleaning.

Cleaning an Optical Mouse:

You should exercise more caution when cleaning an optical (laser) mouse. You do not want any cleaning products to come in contact with the optical sensor on the bottom of the mouse. If anything does come in contact with the sensor you may experience difficulties when attempting to move the mouse cursor. Also, do not use any paper towels or non-lint-free materials when cleaning the mouse. Lint or paper fibers could find their way to the optical sensor and impair mouse precision.

1. Disconnect the optical mouse from the back of the computer.

2. Dampen one of your lint-free cloths with some isopropyl rubbing alcohol.

3. Clean the outside of the mouse with the cloth. Pay extra attention to the mouse buttons DO NOT attempt to clean the optical sensor!

4. Reconnect the optical mouse to the back of the computer.

Cleaning a ball mouse:

1. Disconnect the trackball mouse from the back of the computer.

2. Dampen one of your lint-free cloths with some isopropyl rubbing alcohol.

3. Clean the outside of the mouse with the damp cloth. Pay extra attention to the mouse buttons. Locate and remove the circular disc that holds the trackball in place. There should be a set of arrows on the disc indicating which direction to turn.

4. After removing the circular disc place both the trackball and the disc on a clean surface.

5. Use the same damp, lint-free cloth containing isopropyl rubbing alcohol and gently dab at the inside of the trackball cage. Be careful not to get it too wet.

6. Inside the ball cage you should see two rotating wheels. Most likely these wheels have a layer of dirt around the entire surface of the wheel. You can easily get this dirt out by using a tweezers. We recommend a tweezers because it will decrease your chances of dropping the dirt deeper inside the mouse.

7. Put the ball mouse back together and reconnect it to the back of the computer.

Keyboard Cleaning

Keyboards also collect the oils off hands. The keys may become harder to read over time because they tend to collect brownish colored grime where you would usually place your fingers. Cleaning your keyboard can rid yourself of sticky keys. First, disconnect the keyboard from the back of the computer.

Then, holding the keyboard upside down over a garbage or counter, gently tap the bottom of the keyboard to knock out any filth. Next, lay your keyboard back down on a table and use compressed air to spray between the keys to get out anything loosened, but not removed from the tapping you gave it. We recommend shooting the compressed air into the keyboard using a crisscross pattern. A vacuum attachment brush can also be used to vacuum the keys clean. Now, use your isopropyl rubbing alcohol dampened cloth and clean the surface of each key along with the surrounding areas of your keyboard.
Lastly, reconnect the keyboard to the back of the computer.

Monitor Cleaning—outside only!
Simply turn off the monitor. Spray your lint free cloth with the cleaning solution you have selected and wipe down the screen and all around the monitor. Please do not attempt to open the inside of your monitor for cleaning purposes unless you are an experienced technician. One last word of caution on the monitor—if you have the new thin screen LCD monitors, please be sure to read the Use and Care Manual for cleaning these monitors—many recommend no cleaning products on them at all. Congratulations—you are now the proud owner of a clean computer!


For more consumer tips, visit the USU Extension/Weber County website at or call the Family and Consumer Science Education Division at (801) 399-8200

Add comment