As the weather warms, it's time for everyone's "favorite" pastime: spring cleaning. While you're dusting off the shelves and shoveling out a winter's worth of detritus, spare a moment to check your TV. Dust and grime can accumulate there, and over time it can become more and more noticeable. And if you have children, there may be an array of fingerprints and other smears on the screen.
Regardless, it's worth giving your TV a once-over. But beware! Before you start shining that screen, you'll want to put down the bottle of Windex and paper towels: Spraying Windex on your TV is an easy way to permanently damage the screen. In fact, all modern TVs have special coatings on their surface that can be ruined by strong cleansers.
Fortunately, you can still clean your TV. You just need to be careful and never use harsh chemicals.
The short version? Don't use liquids, don't press too hard, don't use any traditional cleaners. Microfiber cloths are good, but be gentle. Modern TVs are predominantly plastic and therefore far easier to scratch than windows or your phone.
Many new TVs ship with a specialty soft cloth for cleaning the screen. If you've tossed or lost this cloth, it's similar to the kind of microfiber cloth that comes with glasses and sunglasses.
Want the longer version? Here's what the top TV manufacturers say about cleaning their screens:
Cleaning your 4K, OLED, or LED TV screen with a soft, dry cloth is recommended. The goal here is to avoid scratching the screen. Gentle, circular motions tend to give better results, since the circular motion hits each area from several angles in a single swipe.
Caution: Chemicals such as alcohol, thinners, or benzene should be strictly avoided, as they may damage the protective film covering the panel.
Caution: Don't spray water or other liquids directly on the TV, as electric shock could occur.
- Turn the TV off and let it cool down for a few minutes before unplugging it.
- To clean the frame and screen, gently wipe it with a microfiber cleaning cloth. Make sure to wipe the TV frame and screen as gently as possible. TV screens are fragile and can be damaged when pressed too hard.
- If you don't see results, spray distilled water on to your microfiber cleaning cloth and gently wipe the frame and screen.
- Let the TV dry completely before you plug the TV back in.
Important: Never use any type of window cleaner, soap, scouring powder, wax, or any cleanser with solvents such as alcohol, benzene, ammonia, or acetone. Never use abrasive pads or paper towels. If you do, you can scratch the screen or strip the anti-glare coating off the screen and cause permanent damage. Never spray water directly onto the TV. Make sure to wipe the TV as gently as possible. TV screens are fragile and can be damaged when pressed too hard.
- Gently wipe the screen or the exterior with a dry, soft cloth, such as an eyeglass cleaner.
- For inks from oil markers on the screen, soak a cloth in a non-soap synthetic cleanser diluted (by less than 1% ) with water. Squeeze the cloth tightly to eliminate excess liquid, then wipe gently to remove the ink.
- Use non-soap cleansers cautiously because it may cause environmental problems when disposed improperly.
- Immediately afterwards, gently wipe the screen with a soft, dry cloth.
- Don't use detergent with abrasives such as a cleanser.
- The liquid crystal order may collapse if you apply pressure when wiping the TV screen and it may look like dirt. Turn the power off and then back on to recover from this condition.
Should you use TV screen cleaners?
So why not Windex? Regular Windex is formulated for glass windows, plus a few other surfaces. It contains ammonia and alcohol, not the friendliest of chemicals. S. C. Johnson doesn't explicitly say not to use Windex on TVs, but it offers Windex Electronics wipes and cleaners, so infer what you will. The better screen cleaners will clearly state that they do not contain alcohol or ammonia.
At last count, I found a billion companies making TV screen cleaners. Almost all of these are something like 99 percent water, 1 percent other stuff. Years ago I tested a handful and found them, on average, to work well enough. If you don't have luck with a simple cloth and possibly distilled water, a screen cleaner is worth a try, and as a bonus you can also use it for your laptop, tablet and cell phone screens. Plus, they come with a microfiber cloth. If they don't clearly state they don't contain alcohol and ammonia, however, I would skip them.
Generally speaking, though, don't use a cleaner unless you absolutely need to. Just use an ultrasoft cloth to gently wipe away any dust.
So yeah, cleaning your TV is a good idea. But just remember that they're exceptionally fragile. Why risk marring their surface by using cleaning methods the companies themselves don't advise? If you damage your screen with cleaners, you won't be able to fix it.
My advice? Get a nice microfiber cloth (if your TV didn't come with one), and use that. If that doesn't fix your smudges, try a cloth moist with water. Don't press too hard. There's less than a millimeter between your finger and a broken TV.
Screen cleaning kits are fine, though most people won't need them. Remember, like all TV accessories, the store is selling them because they probably make more profit on that $20 kit than on a $500 TV.
Originally published in 2012. Updated with current information and links.
As well as covering TV and other display tech, Geoff does photo tours of cool museums and locations around the world, including nuclear submarines, massive aircraft carriers, medieval castles, epic 10,000 mile road trips, and more. Check out Tech Treks for all his tours and adventures.