Dust in the wind

BY J. CARLTON COLLINS, CPA
February 1, 2013

Q: I heard on the news last week that it is important to clean the inside of your computer regularly, but I’ve never done this before. Is this true, and if so, how do you clean the inside of a computer without causing damage?

A: Ordinarily I would not address a question like this, but your question prompted me to check my computer, and it was sorely in need of a good scrubbing. Thanks for the reminder. The amount of cleaning your computer needs depends on the cleanliness of your computer’s environment. At a minimum you should check your computer’s fan intake regularly to see if it needs cleaning. Dust on a computer fan grill can impede airflow enough to overheat and damage the motherboard or other components. A large amount of dust on the fan grill also might indicate a dust buildup inside of the computer.

Manufacturers typically design desktop computers so you can easily remove the cover to inspect, clean, and maintain the internal workings, as follows.

1. Turn off the computer.

2. Unplug the electrical cord and other USB devices and cables.

3. Ground yourself by touching something metal, such as a filing cabinet (to eliminate any static electricity that might exist in your body or clothing).

4. Remove the computer’s cover.

5. Clean inside the computer gently, as follows:

a. Use a can of compressed air (available at most office supply stores for about $5 to $10) to blow dust off of the circuit boards. Be sure to blow the dust away from the circuit boards and out of the computer case.

b. Office supply stores typically sell small computer vacuum cleaners (priced from $35 to $300) with special attachments designed specifically for cleaning the inside of a computer. Use the soft brush vacuum hose to gently remove dust buildup from the circuit boards.

c. Use a cotton swab dampened in alcohol to remove dust from hard-to-reach corners and crevices. Use a tissue dampened with alcohol to clean plastic and surfaces such as the fan blades or inside walls of the case.

6. Consider documenting the date and the amount of dust encountered on a note taped to the side of the computer to help you judge the necessity/frequency of future cleanings. (Some of your computers may need cleaning more frequently than others, depending upon their immediate environment.)

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