What You Need to Know About Cleaning Your Computer (It’s More Dangerous Than You’d Think)


Over time, laptop and desktop computers become littered with dust and dirt particles. And, rather than clean them, most people leave their computers as is — dusty and dirty. This is definitely not good to do.

The dust will collect inside the device, building up in layers on the hardware components, hindering the cooling fans and heatsink units, and generally causing more heat to stay inside rather than dissipate as it should.

That’s why it’s absolutely necessary to clean out that dust regularly. This will not only keep your computer performing better, but it will also extend the lifetime of the components inside.

How do you clean it out, though, especially when the dust seems to attach to everything inside? Brushing it out can be difficult, tedious and inefficient. There’s almost no way to get everything clean. Not to mention, unless you’re using an ESD safe brush — anti-static safe — it can be dangerous for your electronics.

The next go-to is compressed air. But there are differing opinions on that subject as well. Several threads on Stack Exchange exemplify just how heated the debate about whether or not to use compressed air – either from a can or a small air compressor – can become. So, here’s what you need to know.

Is Cleaning Your Computer with Compressed Air Safe?

When it comes to laptop and desktop computers, static discharge and ionization can be bad. It’s entirely possible for a static shock to short out electronic equipment making it unusable. That’s why professionals and experts always discharge themselves before going inside a computer to work. Generally, they also wear static-free gloves and clothing, when they can.

But what does this have to do with compressed air?

Compressed air is a possible source of electrostatic discharge. In general, blowing air increases the risk of a static charge, but blowing cold air — the kind that comes out of a compressed can — has the potential to increase that risk even more, especially if the air in the environment is warm or humid.

Not to mention, compressed air isn’t necessarily safe to use for household cleaning projects, either. It doesn’t remove dust, dirt or particles — it just redistributes them. So, when you use compressed air, you’re not really cleaning. You’re simply blowing the dust elsewhere.

One of those places you’re blowing it is right into your lungs. That’s bad for you, and hence, the debate.

Some people believe the risk of using compressed air is extremely low, and the danger of not cleaning out a PC is much higher. Weighing that argument, they opt to use compressed air inside their laptop or desktop computers. Others don’t feel it is worth the risk, especially when you take into consideration the hundreds or thousands of dollars of hardware inside the computer.

But it’s not the just hardware a person needs to worry about. If anything inside a computer fails and you don’t have the supplies, funds or equipment to get it fixed right away, you lose a whole lot more than just the computer. You lose all of your data, software and work stored inside. Yes, you could potentially remove the hard drive and swap it to another computer, but that’s only possible if you have a spare and the wherewithal to do so.

So, it’s safer just to avoid using compressed air altogether.

Is Using a Vacuum Any Safer?

Not really. But, while vacuums are not 100% safe either, they may be better to use when removing the dust from a computer. Sucking the air and debris in is better than blowing it out as far as static shock is concerned, but keep in mind, static can still happen. To take all possible precautions to avoid static shock:

  • Reduce vacuum speeds if possible
  • Use an ESD-safe vacuum — yes they exist.
  • Always turn off your computer and unplug the power supply, if possible.

You’ll just want to be careful of two things when using a vacuum:

  1. Make sure the air suction is not too powerful, and you don’t ruin the components inside by putting them under too much pressure.
  2. You’ll need to be careful with the vacuum pieces. Don’t jam them inside the computer or rub them up against anything. Don’t use a brush attachment, either. Rubbing a brush against the components can also create a charge.

At the end of the day, how you clean your computer is up to you. Just be aware of the safety risks involved, and always remember to discharge your own body by touching the edge of the metal case before reaching inside.

Image by Kaboompics

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Kayla Matthews

Kayla Matthews is a Pittsburgh-based tech writer contributing to MakeUseOf, The Gadget Flow and Smart Hustle. Follow her on Twitter to read her latest posts!

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