How to Clean Your PC

Get rid of the dust collecting in your computer

What to Know

  • What you need: Canned air or an electric blower, a dust mask, a screwdriver, and a vacuum.
  • Before you start, turn off the power to your computer.
  • Built-up dust can lead to excessive heat, poor performance, and ultimately even damage components; clean yours once or twice a year.

This article covers the step-by-step process to properly clean the inside of a computer and its components.

What to Do Before You Clean

Before you crack open your PC and start cleaning, it's important to understand what you're doing. Cleaning a PC is essentially just dust removal, but you can't dust a PC like you would your furniture or blinds.

The safest way to remove dust from a PC is with canned air or an electronic blower that's essentially a handheld vacuum motor running in reverse. The basic idea is to remove dust from all the internal components to prevent overheating.

The best place to clean a PC is in a well ventilated area, because you'll be kicking up a lot of dust. You may want to consider wearing a dust mask for protection, and have a vacuum on hand to suck up the dust as soon as it goes airborne.

Here's what you'll need to get the job done:

  • Canned air or an electric blower
  • Dust mask
  • Vacuum

Optional tools include:

  • Screwdriver if your PC case requires it
  • Dust cloth
  • Dust removal gel
  • Cotton swabs with rubbing alcohol (for the case and vents only, not electronics)

How to Clean Dust From Your PC

The basic idea is to blow dust off of components while catching it with a vacuum if possible, and use alternate items like a dust cloth or dust removal gel in tough spots where the canned air doesn't do the trick.

Your PC will be set up somewhat different from our example, but the same general principles apple. Work from the top down, blow dust off everything, and pay special attention to heat sinks and fans. The more dust you can remove, the better.

Here's how to clean your PC:

  1. Disconnect your PC from power, remove all peripherals, and find a good workspace. Use a well-ventilated space, or have a good vacuum on hand to collect the dust as you go.

    A dirty PC witch cleaning supplies.

    The vacuum is to suck up dust as you go. Do not use the vacuum directly on internal PC components. Even getting the vacuum close to internal components carries the risk of damage from static electricity.

  2. Remove the side panel on your PC to gain access to the internal components. You may have to remove a couple of thumb screws, there may be screws that require a screwdriver, or your case may have some other type of fastening method.

    One of the case screws on a PC.
  3. Using canned air or an electronic blower, start blowing off components. Work from the top down to avoid having to re-clean components as dust settles. Here we start by blowing off a fan that's located near the top of the case.

    Cleaning a PC fan.
  4. When cleaning computer fans, blow from both directions to remove the most dust.

    Blowing out a fan on a PC.
  5. In some cases, like when a filter is included, it's easier to vacuum vents from the outside and pick up any stubborn dirt or grit with a cleaning gel.

    Vacuuming fan vents on a PC.
  6. Blow dust off and through the external ports, starting at the top.

    Cleaning the external ports of a PC.
  7. Clean off the external peripheral connectors. If necessary, use a cleaning gel, cloth, or cotton swabs.

    Cleaning external peripheral connectors on a PC.
  8. Blow dust off the power supply. In this case, the power supply is located at the bottom of the case. Yours may be located at the top, in which case you would start with it and work your way down.

    Blowing dust out of a power supply on a PC.
  9. If you have a CPU air cooler, locate it and remove the fan or fans.

    A dirty CPU cooler.

    

  10. Blow the dust out of the cooling fins from both directions.

    Cleaning a CPU cooler.
  11. Clean the dust from the CPU fan.

    Cleaning a CPU fan.
  12. Once the cooler and the fan are both clean, reassemble. Make sure you didn't accidentally unplug the fan from power.

    A reassembled CPU cooler after cleaning.
  13. Starting at the top, blow the dust off your peripheral cards and the motherboard behind them.

    Blowing off a video card in a PC.
  14. Some cards, especially video cards, are covered with shrouds and may include components like heat sinks and fans. Do your best to blow off both sides of your cards, out of any shrouds, and off any fans.

    Removing dust from inside a video card.
  15. Continue working your way down, blowing off any additional peripherals, the motherboard, and any additional fans.

    Blowing off a peripheral card in a PC.
  16. Continue working your way down. In this case, the power supply is near the bottom. Once you reach this point, you can blow out and vacuum the bottom of the case.

    Blowing dust off a power supply with a vacuum to clean up.
  17. Blow out the individual drive bays, catching the dust with a vacuum if necessary.

    Blowing out drive bays in a PC with a vacuum to collect dust.
  18. If your power supply has a filter, examine it to see if it's dirty.

    A dirty power supply fan filter on a PC.
  19. Blow off your power supply dust filter if necessary.

    Blowing off a PC fan filter.
  20. Clean the dust from the power supply air inlet by blowing off the internal fan, then vacuuming or using a cloth to remove the external dust.

    Vacuuming off external PC vents.
  21. Reinstall the power supply fan filter.

    A cleaned power supply fan filter on a PC.
  22. Carefully ensure that you haven't accidentally unplugged anything, make sure your wires and cables are routed safely, and replace the side panel on your PC.

    A cleaned PC with the side panel removed.

What Parts of a PC Should You Clean?

Cleaning the exterior of your PC is a good idea just for aesthetics, but for the purposes of keeping everything running smoothly, you'll want to clean essentially every internal component.

When you finish cleaning your PC, there should be as little dust left as possible. Focus particularly on the fans and heat sinks, but don't stop there. Cleaning a computer isn't that difficult, especially when compared with cleaning a laptop, but you want to be methodical about the process.

When Is It Time to Clean Your PC Again?

If your computer starts running hotter than normal, that's usually a good sign that you've got too much dust buildup. The exact interval differs from one situation to the next, as factors like the amount of dust in your home or office, the type of flooring materials, and whether or not you have pets all come into play.

In general, you should plan on cleaning out your PC between one to two times each year. If you notice that there isn't much buildup after six months, then you're probably fine using a one year interval.