by Caleb Schmerge
Let’s face it, no one likes a dirty computer. Even those that are the most adamant that they don’t mind does, regardless of what they say. We all prefer to see our work displayed on the screen, not the dirt and dinner remains we have let build up. And that keyboard! Who wants to be blinded by those nasty, greasy keys? And let’s not forget that cooling system, which can help your laptop perform better when kept clean.
In a four part series we’ll take a look at how to clean various aspects of your laptop. To start with we’ll look at cleaning the vents and cooling system. This is most important because if your laptop’s vents get clogged up it won’t be able to cool properly and in turn won’t function properly. Later on in this cleaning your laptop series we will look at cleaning your keyboard and case, screen, and finally look at preventative maintenance.
For cleaning your vent you need air. But, this air needs to be special, because it needs to be compressed in some way so that you can direct it to clean the vent. The simplest solution to this is a “can of air”. You can pick this up at most any store that deals with computers, including places like Office Max, Office Depot, Circuit City, Best Buy, and Walmart (to name a few). I usually buy online because I get the best prices online, but I also found that my University book store carries the can of air I like. I buy the “Falcon Dust-Off XL”. I get plenty of use from it and when I buy online it is the best price that I have found, a plus for everyone. Generally speaking a can of air is a can of air. The difference will be in the mileage you get out of it. Buy what you want. In an ideal world I would have a small air compressor so I could have an endless supply of air and control over pressure, but I haven’t found the ideal compressor yet, so I buy can’s of air.
There are some more general products that I recommend you have available when you clean your vents. First, a good, small flashlight. I use a MiniMagLite with LED kit. This allows me to see what I am doing with a nice compact flashlight that runs on one set of batteries for years. You can pick one of these up and most stores for about $15.
Also, you will likely need a set of Electronics screw drivers to get to the fan. I find these to be generally handy, so I always have a set available. A good pair of tweezers or forceps can also help with cleaning the fan. I have a pair of curved forceps and they work wonderfully, and for only a few bucks at RadioShack, you can’t go wrong.
Cleaning the Vents
The vents are the hardest part to give instructions for cleaning. Most laptops have the same keyboard and same screen from the cleaning perspective, but the vents are very different. On my computer, I can remove a few screws and have access to the vents to clean them, however on my previous computer you had to disassemble the entire computer just to get to the vets and fan fully. Don’t be discouraged, however, you can still do some cleaning on a computer like that.
I recommend that if you aren’t sure how to disassemble to get to your fans and aren’t sure of the risks and how to safely do this, you should not try to disassemble your computer to clean the fan. If your fan is really dirty and you can’t clean it personally, you might check into having the manufacturer or a local company clean your cooling system, so you don’t break it.
A complete view of my computer with the vent open
If you are ready to proceed start by turning the computer off and removing all power sources. You might want to hold down the power button for a few seconds once this is done to discharge all static buildup. Once that is done, you can proceed with cleaning your vents. It’s time to get out your can of air and one of your screwdrivers, or some other small, straight item you can use to pin your fan in place. I have found that allowing the fan to be spun around by the compressed air can kill your fan – which would defeat the purpose of cleaning it. The procedure is simple. Pin your fan in place and remove all the dust. If you have access to the vents themselves, you should blow air through the vent from both directions. For larger debris it is better to remove it with the tweezers/forceps that you have available. If not it could just make a big mess, not that it can’t be cleaned. Once the majority of the dust and debris is gone give it a good, through run through with your air, and clean the fan itself. I recommend that you don’t touch too many things inside your computer, just so you don’t risk damaging them. My fan is easy to remove, so I do that to help this process as well.
My two big precautions here are important. First, be careful with the fan. Keep in mind that if you break or damage the fan, you might be unable to use your laptop until it is fixed. This is why you should be sure you are comfortable and capable of doing this before you start. Many fans can be replaced, but the irony is that many people that break fans don’t know how to replace them. Keep the fan pinned and if you handle it do so carefully. Next, DO NOT TIP YOUR CAN OF AIR. If you use the can of air at an angle, it comes out as a liquid, and is freezing cold. If you get this on your heat sink or fins (where the air goes through and where all the dust gets caught) you can destroy the whole assembly. Rapid heating and cooling is bad, and if you were using your computer, and then shut it off and suddenly freeze the heat sink you could be looking at 50 degree Celsius change in temperature, which could cause a crack in the heat sink, and then you can’t use your computer because it won’t stay cool. Once you are all done cleaning it is a good idea to check your airflow. You should be able to see through the fins, and you should feel a good amount of air moving through them if they are clean. Remember, air flow is the critical component of this system, so if there isn’t sufficient airflow, your job isn’t done.
A closer view of the cooling system, note that the fan can be easily removed in this instance
A view with the keyboard removed, notice the fan is visible from here as well
Stay tuned for Part 2: "Cleaning your notebook keyboard and case" tomorrow!