Cleaning Your Notebook Guide Part 3: Cleaning the Screen

by Reads (4,679)

by Caleb Schmerge

Part three of our four-part notebook cleaning guide continues. This time, we focus on the screen, the whole screen, and nothing but the screen. As you’ll recall from part one and part two of the cleaning guide, cleaning the vents/cooling system and cleaning the keyboard and case are important. But who wants to use a notebook with a dirty screen? See how you can restore that crystal-clear view your notebook had back when it was new.


I trust my screen to two, and only two products.  I will use either ShaggyMac’s Optimist Prime or iKlear Travel Singles.  These two work far better than other products (see tests later in the guide) and have never damaged my screen.  To complement them I use ShaggyMac micro fiber cloths.  They are a little more expensive then some competitors, but I find that they do a better job with the cleaning solutions, and they have held up excellently.  You might note that nearly every cleaning product I recommend can be bought for them.  I will sum these up with links at the end.


To really and completely clean your screen is probably the hardest part of cleaning your notebook.  Getting all of the gunk of the screen and doing so with no streaking isn’t easy.  Using the wrong cleaning products won’t help in the slightest.  I will compare 6 different products for cleaning your screen.  I will recommend two of them to you, and you will see why at the end of this.  The products range from a plain microfiber cloth, pure (distilled water), alcohol, generic screen cleaner (I used office depot brand), Optimist Prime Screen Cleaner, to iKlear Travel Singles.  This is one of those times where you get what you pay for.  The two I suggest are the most expensive, but keeping things relative the cost is pretty insignificant.  At the end you can do what you will and your mileage may vary, however you will see clear results from my tests and I hope to make a believer out of you.

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The four cleaners I used (water and clean cloth not shown).

I broke the first commandment of LCD screens, not only did I touched the screen with my bare hands (the whole hand), I put lotion on my hands and gunked the screen up real good.  I know that this test is extreme, but it’s the only way I could equally test all of the 6 methods on one screen to give you a fair comparison.  The results vary, but here it goes.

The test starts by covering my hands in lotion.  I did not rub it in, just got lotion on my hands, and rubbed in on the screen.  Then I got after cleaning it.  I took a large (about the size of a 15” laptop screen) microfiber and split it in 4 equal pieces.  This will ensure that I am not testing different cloths, just the cleaners used.  The first picture shows the screen after it has been gunked up, hopefully worse than you will ever do.  The next picture shows the first two methods.  First (on the left) is with a dry cloth, second (on the right) is with filtered (the best I could do, distilled is preferable) water.

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Don’t try this at home!  Monitor covered in lotion to serve as a test.

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The left half shows cleaning with a clean cloth, not cleaners.  The right half shows the effect of using filtered water.

The dry cloth made a difference.  However, this difference was basically insignificant.  All it did was help spread the lotion out.  I think that a dry cloth would be good for dust only.  As soon as there is any gunk on your screen, you need to use a cleaner of some sort.  The water didn’t make much of a difference beyond the plain cloth.  Once again, the water helped only to spread the lotion out across the screen.

The next picture shows the next best cleaners.  On the left is alcohol and on the right is the generic (in this case office depot’s LCD cleaner) cleaner.  Results are slightly better, however you can see that the streaking is still a problem.  I think the alcohol did a better job, and the results might be enough for most cleaning jobs (remember that this test is biased because it is harder than most cleaning jobs will be).  The office depot cleaner helped with the lotion, but added its own streaking, which would make most screens worse because you go from spot problems to streaks across the whole screen.

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The left half shows using alcohol.  The right half shows the use of a generic screen cleaner.

This next picture I went all out.  This test was done with a ShaggyMac cloth (my recommendation) and was done with the Optimist Prime screen cleaner (from ShaggyMac).  You can see that it not only cleaned the lotion from the screen, but it cleaned the mess that the previous cleaner made.  I would wager that this is about the cleanest you could expect the screen to be after putting lotion all over it.  The screen is pretty good.  In my normal usage of this cleaner there is no streaking; there is nothing left on the screen.  It has made all other cleaning methods look like child’s play.  This is my pick for normal cleaning.

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This clean screen brought to you by the good folks at ShaggyMac.  Cleaned with Optimist Prime spray and a ShaggyMac microfiber cloth.

The final method got the toughest test, and proved itself quite well.  I lotioned the screen back up, but this time got it really good and nasty.  You can see from the picture that I really went after it with the lotion.  I used an iKlear travel single.  This is a set of two single use, pre packaged cleaning cloths.  One is wet and the other is for polishing the screen clean.  You can see that there is a little streaking left, but again, consider that in less than 2 minutes I took the screen from covered in lotion to pretty clean.  Consider what this would be like in everyday use.  Again, when I have used these in everyday use they have left the screen immaculate.  The reason these aren’t my top recommendation is because they are a little bit more expensive for normal use and I think that the optimist prime is a good enough cleaner.  I do try to keep one of these with me in my laptop bag, or with me when I travel because they are quite practical and effective for this.

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The mother of all screen cleaning tests.

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Not bad for 2 minutes and a disposable cleaner.

Now, I said earlier that I prefer the ShaggyMac cloth.  I find that they are the best for cleaning the screen.  This is compared to many different types of microfiber.  They are somewhat thick, and very soft.  They are also cleaned very easily and effectively (more on this in the preventative section).  I suggest that you use these.  But, other than the cloth, they way you use it matters too.

The generic screen cleaner adds its own streaking, but just wiping the screen with the ShaggyMac cleaner doesn’t do the work by itself (or for the iKlear either).  What you need to do is wipe in a circular motion.  Start in the middle and work your way out.  Don’t expect this to be a onetime thing.  You will need to work at the screen for a while, and start in different places to really get it clean.  The best way to do this is to feel out how you will best get it clean.  I got good at this by doing it often.  I recommend that you clean your screen when its dirty.  Unlike keyboards, this will probably vary based on what happens.  Sometimes people will touch your screen, some people have trouble with the keyboard leaving marks on the screen, something could be spilled, you never know.  Clean you screen when you need it, but don’t be excessive about it, you risk damaging your screen.  To go with that, you don’t need elbow grease to clean a screen.  Be gentle on the screen, just enough to get it clean.  If something is stubborn, don’t press harder; just take your time cleaning it.  Also, don’t let too much gunk build up on your cloth.  If there is something hard (such as dirt) on your screen don’t wipe it all over and scratch your screen and be very upset with yourself.

The final question to be answered on how to properly clean your screen is one that many might not consider; do I spray onto the screen, or onto the cloth?  I see mostly that people recommend that you spray on the cloth.  I used to be religious about this, but I found that I get better results the other way around.  I much prefer to spray onto the screen, then immediately spread it around to prevent it from seeping in somewhere.  I also find that at times I have to spray again on a smaller area to get it clean.  Just don’t douse the computer with spray.  Also, I usually put the computer in my lap, with the screen on my legs, then spray on it.  This helps decrease the amount of running and also keeps overspray down a bit.  You might want to wipe down the keyboard after the screen is clean, but it shouldn’t be a big deal, and you won’t get much on the rest of the computer (its not like you dumped five gallons of screen cleaner on the computer!).

Stay tuned for Part 4: "Preventative Maintenance" tomorrow!



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