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How often do you physically open your computer to clean it?

by Marc Bennett CNET staff/forum admin / January 5, 2006 3:24 AM PST

How often do you physically open your computer to clean it?

Once a month (wow, why so frequently?)
Every other month (what's your method?)
Every six months (what's your method?)
Once a year (what's your method?)
Every other year (say hello to the dust bunnies for me!)
When the ants start building a home inside (tell us more!)
I never have (why not?)
I don't know how (look to the forums for help!)

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Left open
by geoman / January 5, 2006 5:59 PM PST

I KNOW it's probably a HUGE "no - no" but I leave the side panel open. I like the access it gives me to the guts of the pc. Knowing that it is vulnerable, I am VERY careful to keep hands an objects out of & away from that side of the pc.

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Leaving it open is risky
by MadMark / January 5, 2006 9:44 PM PST
In reply to: Left open

Geoman, I haven't read the whole list of responses yet to see if anyone else will ''scold'' you, but you should be aware of the risks of leaving the PC open.

Other than the obvious risk to parts, persons, and pets, the engineers that designed the PC designed it around several critical factors. Couple of those are airflow, and cooling. If the side or top panel is open, your fan may not be able to route the incoming cool air over the CPU, GPU and other important, sensitive components.

These components are set where they are to allow the fan to draw fresh cool air and move it over them in a specific pattern, to draw heat from them and to vent it out the back. Not allowing the flow to pass through in a controlled manner could lead to inaccurate calculations, poor perfromance, and an early demise for your system.

This practice also ends up causing more dust accumulation, slowly clogging the intakes and interfering with the fan's movement.


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Reply to: Leaving it open is risky
by geoman / January 6, 2006 12:25 AM PST

Thanks for the valuable feedback. You are obviously correct. There ARE risks. However in my situation the risks are balanced out by the convenience.

With respect to pets & people. I have no pets. The pc is in my private office so I have a "shoot on sight" policy with respect to people (JUST KIDDING!). Any visitors ARE kept distant from the open side of the pc.

In this pc model there is a "hood" that funnels air from the opening in the back of the pc directly to the cpu fan. I have left that hood intact.

With respect to dust accumulation, having the pc's inner workings visible to me encourages me to monitor such & keep it fairly immaculate.

In my case, having the pc open works. I understand it is not for everyone. In case of an "early demise" *Shrug* gives me an excuse to go buy a new machine *wink*.

Thanks for the scolding though. I appreciate the info.

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Leaving it open is risky
by mctrebor / January 6, 2006 11:38 AM PST

Airflow is not just critical to the CPU. The RAM, hard drives, and video cards are susceptible to heat stroke. The duct may cool the CPU, but all your other components are suffering. Hard drives subjected to extreme temps tend to fail at a much higher rate. The convenience of leaving the side off is probably not worth the $ to repair, but your choice.

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WHats the big deal
by auyongcheemeng / January 7, 2006 12:35 AM PST

I used to leave my pc closed but temperatuures inside the pc heat up quickly when the case is closed. Later i opened the side panel, it helped cooling. NOw i took out the whole mother board n the power supply and put it on the table, plus added a new fan to my graphics card, not risky to me up to you to decide.

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Cleaning the interior of your computer
by andy1512 / January 5, 2006 6:07 PM PST


Most people don't understand the importance of this task,therefore never do it.

The machine collects dust etc. due to the static electricity that builds up while in use.
This dust over a period of time can hinder both the fan on the CPU and the Chassis fan too by clogging the blades.

This slows the fan down preventing enough cool air circulating arround leading to the CPU overheating.

If this happens it can either burnout the CPU all together or cut short its productive life.

The best method of cleaning the interior of the machine I have found is as follows:

For the blades of any fans I use an old mascara brush of my wifes. It gets into the fan no bother and is hard enough to shift the dirt.

For the rest of the machine I use a small hair dryer on cold setting and just blow the dust out.

I do this about every 6 to 8 Months and it keeps the machine running great.

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Cleaning out dust Bunnies..
by gwats1957 / January 5, 2006 6:16 PM PST

I clean out the inside of my G4 Desktop to install upgrades. This usually happen every 4-6 months. I use a clean duster and compressed air to do the job. a couple of Q-tips for the harder to-reach areas doesn't hurt either. Just be patient and look carefully for dust buildup. Sometimes, you may want to remove a PCI card a give it a more detailed cleaning. Remember to follow a good anti-static protocol and be very careful about handling components with your bare hands ( static discharges which can kill PCI cards)

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Compressed air seems to work best..
by Roy312 / January 5, 2006 6:37 PM PST

Be sure that you don't use over 25or30 lbs.per square inch...You can get it in small cans or go buy a 20 gal. tank for filling automobile tires..They are only $20.00.Plus an air nozzle which costs $5.00...It will last for the rest of your life...But be careful not to get too close to circuit boards

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Cleaning out the dust?
by Starman35 / January 5, 2006 9:33 PM PST

I have a Mac G4, & its easy to open, so I unplug everything, let it sit for a bit, then use a good vacuum cleaner with a soft brush. I have an air compressor, but I don't use it for this purpose since using compressed air just spreads the dust out. I've had the same machine for 4 years now, with no problems.

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I agree with you
by Ralphdb / January 5, 2006 10:13 PM PST
In reply to: Cleaning out the dust?

I use the Vacuum cleaner also with the soft brush. doing this every six months makes the job easier. I know sometimes the air passing thru the plastic tube can create static electricity so be careful that you do it on a rainy or humid day.

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I agree compressed air does work good
by garrybarton / January 5, 2006 10:21 PM PST

I use a Black & Decker air compressor, like the kind used to inflate tires on your car or blow up a football (120 VAC not the 12 Volt version). If you use the needle attachment then you can get into very narrow places. The air pulses at a very high pressure and does an amazing job. I shove it into the power supply and the heat sinks and all of the other really tight places. Take the thing outside to do this or you will get pounds of dust in your house.

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Caution - Using compressed air
by littletoe / January 8, 2006 2:12 AM PST

Just a brief note to those who may not be aware. Compressed air, even at relatively low pressures, can be dangerous and lethal. If the "outlet nozzle" is pressed against the skin - even the tip of the finger -air can enter the blood stream and cause serious health complications. DEATH has been known to occur.

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by x_caliber94 / January 22, 2006 7:17 PM PST

what are you talking about? I am a machnist and I use compressed air everyday. I have never heard of dying from blowing dust off oneself. I use 250lbs of air at work with no problems. Sound like a urban myth to me.

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by smartipants / January 5, 2006 7:03 PM PST

When I owned a desktop PC, I cleaned it every couple of months. I left the side cover loose for easy access, and used a small vacuum to remove dust making sure to discharge static before starting.

Now I've switched to a laptop and will probably never go back to a desktop. I love the portability since I'm in college full time and take all of my class notes by typing into the computer.

Should the laptop be cleaned in the same way as a desktop? I've never done it in the two years I've owned this particular unit. I have access to the interior via bays on the underside or by removing the keyboard. I can't find anything in the unit's help files relative to cleaning the interior, so I've assumed it didn't need to be done. :o)

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Re: Laptop
by LazyEight / January 6, 2006 12:00 AM PST
In reply to: Laptop

I have yet to disassemble my notebook for cleaning even to that degree. It's only a matter of time, though. Based on the amount of dust ejected through the exhaust vent when shooting a jet of canned air through the fan intake, I'd say laptops accumulate dust nearly as readily as a desktop model.

Gaining the same degree of access to components available to desktops is a painstaking process--I would be surprised to find a procedure outlined in any user manual. This is a task the manufacturer will always refer to an authorized repair tech, but it can normally be done at home with a small screwdriver and a large amount of patience. If your machine is no longer waranteed, the only real limitation is your comfort level with the job.

Full disassembly is hardly necessary, though. The few notebooks I took apart had very little buildup in areas that could not be reached through an access panel or modular bay. Remove battery, CD drive bay, memory & accessory access panels, lift the keyboard, and vacuum or spray out the dust as best you can. Individual keys can be pried loose on many models, to brush stubborn particles from the keyboard. Spray compressed air through CPU fan inlet and other ventilation grates. This will get you pretty far.

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Higher shelf = once a year
by cnetnettles / January 5, 2006 7:31 PM PST

I use wire shelving, so less dust collects in the area.
Near the floor the first year, the fans had to be done
4x year. Moving it 4ft. up made the difference.

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vacuum cleaner and dry soft paint brush
by dre belgium / January 5, 2006 7:33 PM PST

Never had problems with this combination. Watch out with vacuum cleaner near fans: fans can start turning too fast. Block them witch brush, rather than with hands: fans should never be touched with hands.

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I never clean inside.
by wammac / January 5, 2006 8:01 PM PST

When CPU manufacturers discover that outlets and fans should be in front or on top so mere mortals can gain access, then cleaner machines will prevail. Until then, I blame them for the dust that destroys my satellite brain.

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PC shop here I come
by mrkillerman / January 5, 2006 8:39 PM PST
In reply to: I never clean inside.

I've tried to clean out a PC before and got very bad results. My screw driver couldn't pick up small screws when I tested it so I used it on the PC, after taking it out and almost dropping the very first screw I noticed it was still attached to the screw driver! So I was like dang! I stopped right there because I felt I'd destroyed the PC. Question for people who use vacuums to clean thier PC's. Do you know that the vacuum lets out electicity? Doesn't this affect the PC?

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Vacuum = good if used correctly
by rohcky / January 5, 2006 9:09 PM PST
In reply to: PC shop here I come

Use the hose attachment to the cleaner and keep the vacuum far away. Plus wear an anti-static wrist guard jsut in case. The key is not to use the vacuum to clean, but rather a can of compressed air to force dust into the air so the vacuum can pick it up.

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by getsteppin / January 5, 2006 10:56 PM PST

I use a Rainbow vaccum cleaner with the OUTPUT side by reversing the hose>>>>>>>> so the air is blowing OUT not sucking in.
Just make sure the filter cannister is dry before tackling the tower full of 'Ghost turds'
Also, IF you live in a very dusty environment....such as we use to.....get some air conditioning filter material and cut it to fit your side panel 'air inlets...those little holes drilled into the sides of the case??.. and tape the cut filter material into both insides of both panels. Then once a month, replace them as you clean the inside of the tower.
It makes a HUGE difference and the air flow is not hampered one bit AS LONG AS THEY GET REPLACED ONCE A MONTH OR SOONER, AS NEEDED.


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It is really better
by mrobzo / January 6, 2006 1:57 AM PST

To use compressed air than a vacuum cleaner for the static reason alone. With high pressured air, you don't need to even get close to the components. Take it outside or into the garage, set it down and blow away till it looks and sounds like new. Do not overspin the fans even though it looks and sounds cool. Make sure the compressor has a water filter on it as air condenses under high pressure.

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I "blow" my PC guts once a year
by Argie-Salvador / January 5, 2006 8:04 PM PST

With a hairdryer, at room temperature and max speed...

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I "blow" my PC guts once a year
by Argie-Salvador / January 5, 2006 8:13 PM PST

I am however trying to train a bunch of termites to pick the dirt and take it out to their nest... Termites won't damage circuits as they tread along them. Patent being applied for Wink

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My computer doesnt really get dirty my secret...
by konwiddak / January 5, 2006 8:06 PM PST

The secret is very simple, dont put your computer somewhere dusty. Most people who have dust filled computers put them on the carpet, this is one of the dustiest places there is. Even if it doesnt look dusty you can gaurantee its filled with the stuff. Try putting your computer somewhere off the ground, like on a table, or put a solid board underneath your computer. I dont suffer from the problem because I dont have a shagpile carpet and there is plenty of airflow through my computer. I have 8 fans, yet it is a whisper quiet 25dba. This is quieter than the average computer with only 2 fans and the secret is buy quality, it only costs a few pounds (or dollars) more for something much quieter that will reduce temperatures and keep dust away.

I have seen computers chugging away, filled to the brim with dust. They have been running hot but have not had any problems. With newer computers they are not so resilliant and have seen computers regularly crash from the dust.

Finally this isnt really open to everyone but liquid cooling seems to gather a lot less dust.

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Not true
by rohcky / January 5, 2006 9:03 PM PST

It all depends on the house you're living in. My carpet/floors get just as dusty as my desks and the periperals on it. Best way to clean a pc is: vacuum and compressed air. Turn on a vacuum and use the hose attachment. Then aim it at your open pc and blast away with the compressed air.

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I Agree - What Dust?
by PerryZol / January 6, 2006 5:39 AM PST

The dust inside my 3 year old PC is pretty much non-existent. I don't really know why. There are plenty of reasons one would think my PC would be much dirtier, but it's far from it. I've opened up other friend's cases and there are cakes of dust on everything inside. The only difference is that they keep their PC's down on the floor...usually on a carpet. I keep mine on top of my 6'x3' desk, but not everyone has the space.

I'm skeptical about most users needing a fancy cooling system just to fight dust, though. I only have four fans in my system. There's one on the power supply, the processor, the graphics card, and the one I added as an exhaust fan just recently only because it was laying around. I never had a dust problem before that, so that can't be the solution.

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by Johnnyre / January 7, 2006 4:00 AM PST

Sorry but you do have dust just like everyone else. Physics applies to you also. Your PC is like a Hepa filter, draws air in for cooling, along with the air comes particles.Even if you don't see them, they're there. When you have current running thru a system there's a certain amount of electromagnetic properties also. Magnets draw, you can't avoid it. Every 6 months out to the garage and lightly, blow out the machine. Modern PCs have the easiest covers to remove, not like the old days when you had to take out screws, even thumb screws from the cables. Now they just unplug. I've done the college thing, Electronics Engineering, and every PC I have seen, Has Dust. But you're right about the carpet, worst place to put a big magnet.

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Open Computer
by randarac / January 5, 2006 8:24 PM PST

Every 6 months Not only for cleaning but I unpluged and plug the cards on the motherboard, for keeping the contacts clean.

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What does a notebook owner do?
by cgpetroski / January 5, 2006 9:07 PM PST

According to some sources the notebook segment of the computer population has expanded tremendously. What do we do to clean our computers??

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