Use the right cleaners, cloths and techniques to air your filthy laptop, from the screen to the vents.
If you're like me, you're sitting in front of a laptop that's seen cleaner days. No matter the make or model, it doesn't take long for a laptop to start looking tired from a smudged screen and a filthy keyboard to dirty, dusty vents and ports. Some laptops, especially the latest MacBooks, have keyboards that are especially sensitive to dust and debris, and keeping your keyboard clean is one way to reduce the chances that you'll have a problem.
To clean your laptop, you will need:
Before you begin, power down your laptop and unplug it from the wall. The days of removable batteries are long past, so just keep in mind you've still got a giant battRemove the battery, if your model allows such a maneuver.
First area to hit: the lid and bottom panel. Mix a couple drops of Dawn (or another, inferior dish soap) and a couple cups of warm water together, dip your lint-free cloth in the soapy mixture, wring out, and wipe down the surfaces. Rinse out the cloth with clean water and wipe down again. Lastly, to avoid water streaks, wipe down a third time with a dry cloth.
I have found that using this mixture of Dawn and water is also effective in cleaning the display. Read my post on how to clean your monitor or TV screen for more on that.
Next up: the keyboard. The key here is not to let any liquid drip down underneath your keyboard. Use your can of compressed air to remove any crumbs that are lying in the crevices in between the keys. After that, dab a lint-free cloth in isopropyl rubbing alcohol and gently rub your keys.
You might be able to remove some stains with soap and water, but isopropyl rubbing alcohol is better for two reasons. For one, it evaporates almost immediately, which greatly reduces the risk of liquid getting inside your laptop. Secondly, it's effective in removing the oily residue left behind by your fingertips.
If you lent your laptop to a friend who returned it while sneezing and coughing, you can disinfect your keyboard by using a disinfecting wipe containing up to 0.5 percent hydrogen peroxide.
Lastly, if your laptop has large side vents, you'll likely find that they are a magnet for dust bunnies. (Same goes for expansion ports.) Use a can of compressed air to blow the dust bunnies out; this will not only make your laptop look better, but it can also improve performance by letting your laptop better control its temperature with a clean vent.
If there is a dust bunny that you see is stuck behind the vent that you can't dislodge by blasting it with compressed air, then consult your user manual on how to open the case. Be sure you remember which screws went where for the reassembly; snap a picture or two of your laptop before opening the case for a handy reference.
If it's finally time to say good-bye to your beat-up old laptop, take a look through our list of the best laptops you can buy right now.
Originally published April 11, 2014 and updated periodically.