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60. Computer spring cleaning counts

By Andrew D. Wright

Dear Mousepad:

Since it's spring, and most are spring cleaning, how about some tips on spring cleaning your computer?

M. Sheehan, Truro

Here's how to give your computer a spruce-up that can add years to its life.

Cleaning a computer can be done by anyone, so long as you stick to some important safety tips.

No. 1 is to turn the computer off before starting. You can also unplug the computer for added safety.

To clean the outside of the computer case, you can use a mild detergent in water, enough to make a cloth slightly damp. Never use so much liquid that it can drip. This will be enough to wash grimy fingerprints off the front and sides of the case. Leave the back.

Your monitor screen can be cleaned with glass cleaner, but never spray it on the monitor. Spray it on paper towel and wipe the glass with that. Be very careful that there are no drips. Clean in one direction with quick motions running across the screen. Be sure to get into the corners. Repeat if necessary with clean paper towel.

You can run a duster across the vents on the top of the monitor but never use liquid there. Monitors hold a large electrical charge even when unplugged, so don't try cleaning inside.

If your mouse has a ball on the bottom, it needs to be cleaned regularly. Usually, the ball can be removed by twisting off a cover. Inside, there are three rollers, and in the middle of each will be a ridge of grime. Holding the mouse right side up so dirt will fall out, scratch this off with a fingernail or something flat and plastic like a bread bag tie while slowly spinning each roller with a finger. The outside of the mouse and buttons can be cleaned with a lightly damp cloth.

Turn a keyboard upside down and shake larger particles out. Mildly dirty keys can be cleaned with a slightly damp paper towel. Use damp cotton swabs for the sides of keys. For very dirty keys you can - carefully! - use a bread knife to pop off individual keys and wash them in water and detergent. Only do one or two keys at a time so you don't get them mixed up and dry them thoroughly before snapping them back into place. Larger keys like the space bar and shift and enter keys may also have little metal rods holding them in place, so use care or clean them without removing them.

You can remove the cover of the computer to clean inside. Never use any liquid at all inside.

Computer components are sensitive to static electricity, so ground yourself by touching the metal frame of the computer case first. Do not touch any electronic components. You can brush out dust in the bottom of the case with some paper towel. Do not vacuum as this can create static electricity.

You can clean internal case and processor fans by twirling a cotton swab along each side of the fan blade while you hold it from spinning. This will collect the pet hair and fluff that builds up on the blades. Change your swabs often. Canned air from any electronics store can be used to blow out dust from the processor heat sink fins. Be sure to always hold the can upright and only spray in short one- or two-second bursts so there is no liquid condensation. Do not spray fan blades as it can spin them too fast.

Finally, it is best to leave the computer power supply alone except for removing any built-up dust on the outside of the unit with a cotton swab.

The Mousepad runs every two weeks. It's a service of Chebucto Community Net, a community-owned Internet provider. If you have a question about computing, email If we use your question in a column, we'll send you a free mousepad.


The Mousepad Index


Originally published 22 May 2005


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