Cleaning Your Computer Part 2: The Laptop, Netbook or Notebook

Cleaning Your Computer Part 2:
The Laptop, Netbook or Notebook

To repeat some of what was said in the previous cleaning article, you’ll have a more reliable and longer lasting machine if you clean it regularly. This is especially true of laptops, netbooks, and notebooks. There is very little free space in portable computers, so any blockages are proportionally larger. A clean machine is quieter, as the fans aren’t working as hard. A clean machine runs cooler, increasing both reliability and also the life of the components inside.

Unfortunately, unlike the standard desktop, a laptop is not as easy to open and clean. If you are very confident and know just what you’re doing, the keyboard and covers can be removed for access to the inside. If you’re not that confident there are still several things that you can do to clean and maintain your laptop or portable device.

Some of this article is reproduced from the previous cleaning article, because the steps are the same.

Laptop CPU heatsink blocked with dirt.

If your computer is this dirty, its life-span is probably measured in minutes!

Although cleaning your laptop or portable device is a fairly simple procedure, Daftdog cannot be held responsible for any damage you may cause yourself, your computer, or your environment. With that in mind, let’s press on.

For a really good clean, including disassembly, the tools you will need are:

  • Phillips head screwdrivers, size #1, #0, and probably #00, and maybe even Torx (star) bits – this will depend on your laptop. (You can get these from any half-reasonable tool store, and they won’t cost the earth – here’s a set that contains everything.)
  • A can of compressed air (you can also get this from most photographic stores.)
  • A CD or DVD cleaning disc (you can also get this from your local audio or music store.)
  • Cleaning solution (I use a half a cup of white vinegar to two cups (cold) boiled water.)
  • A microfibre cleaning cloth.
  • Anti-static cleaning brushes, or a stiff bristled clean household paintbrush (I like a 1″ wide bristle size.)
  • A vacuum cleaner with hose and smallish nozzle.

If you don’t intend to take your laptop apart, forget about the screwdrivers.

The first thing I do when going over a laptop is to clean the optical drive. This advice applies to tray-loading drives; if you have a slot-loading drive refer to your user manual for recommended cleaning procedures.
Wet the microfibre cloth with the cleaning solution. Wring out the cloth, so that it is barely damp. Open the CD/DVD tray, and carefully wipe the disc side of the tray removing as much dust as possible. I’ll sometimes use the stiff brush to dislodge dust between the tray front and the tray if necessary. Let the tray dry (it should only take a few seconds.) Read the instructions that came with the CD/DVD cleaner, and run it through the drive. I usually do this two or three times, especially if you’ve not cleaned your computer in a while. Remove the CD/DVD cleaner, and shut down the computer.
Unplug the computer from its power supply, and then flip it upside down (gently!) and remove the battery. You may have to have a look in the manual if it’s not obvious how this is done.

Dust and hair build-up around laptop vents.

Dust and hair build-up around vents.

Examine the vents around the sides and on the underneath of your computer. The odds are you’ll find them surrounded (or even stuffed) with dust, dirt, fibres and hair. These blockages prevent air from getting into or out of the laptop. This can cause the overall internal heat of the laptop to increase beyond recommended levels, and this can cause such issues as random reboots, blue screens, and overall poor reliability. It can also cause long-term damage to internal components.
I usually use the vacuum cleaner to start. Go over the openings quickly, and remover the largest obstructions and dirt. Then I use the stiff brush to go over the vents, dislodging more of the muck. Vacuum again. Now use the compressed air, and blow any remaining dust from the vents. Vacuum again. Can you tell I like my vacuum cleaner? He’s called Henry…

Dirt and muck inside a laptops removeable covers is easily cleaned.

Dirt and muck inside removeable covers is easily cleaned.

You can remove the external covers for the memory, hard-drive, and other components at this point. Dust and muck can collect inside, and these are easy to access.
The most important vent is where the CPU and graphics blows air through the heatsink. It’s easy to tell which vent it is, as it’s the one that blows warm or hot air when the computer is on. A good blast or two with compressed air and another vacuum is needed here. Keep the blasts short, and leave a few seconds between blasts. When using compressed air to clean the openings that have fans within them, it’s possible that the amount of air blown on the fans can cause them to over-spin, damaging the fan or the fan drive circuits. This has never happened to me, and I’ve done many laptops, but be aware it is a possibility. If it happens to you, it’s not my responsibility!

Laptop keyboard showing dirt and grime build-up.

You wash your hands after using the toilet. What about after using the keyboard?

Now the vents are clear, it’s time to start on the keyboard. Like almost everything else on a laptop, the keyboard is also different from a standard computer keyboard. With many laptop keyboards the keys cannot be removed without damaging them. I start by carefully turning the computer on its side, and carefully use the brush to dislodge hairs and muck. Then I use the compressed air to blow out the gunk that’s collected under the keys over time. I don’t like to vacuum the keyboard, as keytops have an annoying habit of coming off and being sucked away! At this time, it’s a good idea to use the compressed air on the screen and mousepad/buttons too. Now it’s time for the cleaning cloth again. Make sure it’s damp, and gently wipe over the keyboard. pay attention, and don’t catch the keys – you may pull a key-top off, and then you might be in trouble! Wipe gently, wipe often.

If you’ve managed to spill something onto the keyboard, like beverages or ketchup (don’t ask!) then I would suggest you contact your local computer shop to have the laptop repaired, since the keyboard will probably need be replaced and there may be other damage internally.

Laptop LCD showing dirt.

How can you see through this? Glossy screens are even worse…

Wet the cleaning cloth in the cleaning solution, and wring it out so that it’s barely damp. Gently wipe the LCD screen surround, and the LCD screen too. Be careful to wipe lightly and often rather than heavily scrub at it. The screen will dry in seconds if your cloth is barely damp. Now you can do the same to the keyboard and mousepad. Remember, barely damp cloth and don’t scrub. Let the laptop dry for a minute.

Close the lid, and wet your cloth again. Squeeze out excess solution, and start going over the outside of the laptop. Be firm, but gentle. When cleaning plastics be careful to wipe lightly and often rather than heavily scrub at it.

Clean laptop.

A clean laptop is a healthy laptop.

That’s it for most of you. Your computer should be clean, and you will no longer be embarrased when taking it out to a clients or even just posing in the local coffe shop.

For those who want to clean the inside of a laptop computer it can be a difficult task. However, in some situations, it may be necessary because of excessive dust and dirt buildup within the computer, such as on the processor’s heatsink.

Dirt on laptop CPU fan and heatsink.

Some dirt is harder to shift, especially if the laptop belongs to someone who smokes!

Unfortunately however, because of the complexity often involved in disassembling the laptop to reach many of these areas, it’s impossible for me to provide this information online for each and every laptop. If you believe after cleaning your computer that it is still overheating because of dust and dirt buildup, I suggest taking the laptop to an authorized repair center or computer specialist.

Part 1 of  “Cleaning Your Computer” covers desktop and tower style computers, and can be found here