How to Physically Clean Your Laptop

Keep your laptop running in tiptop shape

When was the last time you cleaned your laptop? This simple computer maintenance task doesn't just get rid of accumulated dirt and dust; it keeps your laptop running in tiptop shape.

Laptop Parts to Clean

The parts of the laptop you should keep clean are the case, the display, the keyboard and touchpad, the ports, and the cooling vents.

If you're comfortable opening up your laptop, you can clean its cooling system—the fan and heat sink—but don't attempt this if you've never opened a laptop before. Cleaning the cooling system can help solve laptop overheating problems and related symptoms such as your laptop freezing or shutting down unexpectedly.

You should defer to your laptop manufacturer's manual for the recommended procedure for laptop cleaning, but some steps are fundamental for most laptops.

Gather the Materials

You need the following material to clean your laptop:

  • Isopropyl alcohol, available at drugstores and supermarkets. Because it evaporates quickly and doesn't leave a residue, isopropyl alcohol is safe to use on electronic equipment and displays. Do not use: ammonia, tap water, mineral water, or household window cleaners.
  • Distilled, purified, or bottled water. Do not use: tap water, which can leave permanent mineral spots.
  • Can of compressed air, available at many types of stores.
  • Lint-free cloth like the kind used for cleaning eyeglasses. In a pinch, you can use a soft, 100% cotton cloth. Do not use paper towels, facial tissues, or scratchy or abrasive cloths.

Prepare to Clean

  • Turn off the computer and unplug it. If your laptop has a removable battery, remove it.
  • Make a 1:1 cleaning solution using the water and alcohol.
  • Dampen the lint-free cloth with the cleaning solution. It should be slightly moistened, not wet.

Never spray anything directly on the computer; the liquid should go on the lint-free cloth first.

Clean the Laptop Case

Use the damp cloth to wipe down the exterior of the laptop. This makes it look new again. Then, open the lid and wipe the areas around the keyboard with the damp cloth.

Clean the Display

Clean the display using the same lint-free cloth or a newly moistened one if the original is too grimy (don't spray any solution directly on the screen). Use gentle circular motions or wipe the screen from left to right, top to bottom.

Clean the Keyboard and Touchpad

Use a can of compressed air to loosen and remove dirt, crumbs, and anything else stuck in the keys. You can also clean the keyboard by turning the laptop over and gently shake out any loose debris, running your fingers over the keys to aid the process.

cleaning laptop keyboard with cloth
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If you have stuck keys or an extra dirty keyboard (due to a spilled drink on the keyboard, for example), you can remove the individual keys on some keyboards and wipe beneath them with a cotton swab dipped in the cleaning solution. Put them back the right way.

Check your laptop manual to make sure the keys can be removed for cleaning. Not all laptops have removable keys.

Finally, use the damp cloth to wipe the keys and the touchpad.

Clean the Ports and Cooling Vents

Use the can of compressed air to clean the case openings: the ports and cooling vents. Spray from an angle so that the debris is blown away from the computer, rather than into it.

If you opened your laptop to reach the cooling system, be careful when spraying the fans. To prevent the fans from over spinning while you're blowing air on them, which can damage the fans, place a cotton swab or toothpick between the fan blades to hold them in place.

Last But Not Least

Make sure your laptop is completely dry before turning it on.